Central American Migration

︎︎︎ Project Website

Report Authors
Ariel G. Ruiz Soto (MPI)
Rossella Bottone (WFP)
Jaret Waters (MPI)
Sarah Williams (MIT)
Ashley Louie (MIT)
Yuehan Wang (MIT)

CDDL Researchers
Sarah Williams (Director)
Ashley Louie (Project Manager)
Octavie Berendschot
Carlos Centeno
Victor Chau
Zoë Kuhlken
Nikolas McGlashan
Alberto Meouchi
Yuehan Wang

Civic Data Design Lab
Sarah Williams
Ashley Louie
Alberto Meouchi
Nikolas McGlashan
Octavie Berendschot
Yuehan Wang

World Food Programme (WFP)
Migration Policy Institute (MPI)
Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
Organization of American States (OAS)


The number of refugees and asylum-seekers from the northern countries in Central America has soared in the past 5 years, and studies show that food security, violence, and climate variability are factors for why people flee. With over 47,000 asylum-seekers from Central America worldwide, the phenomenon of migration out of destitution from Central America is likely to increase in 2021. This research explores the factors that drive people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to consider and decide to migrate irregularly or regularly, as well as the cost and economic implications of migration for households and communities throughout the region.

Using a survey administered by the WFP of 5,000 households in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in Spring 2021. Analysis of the data shows that migration from Central America costs close to 2.2 billion dollars in 2020. This cost is fundraised by the migrants through diverse means, everything from family and friends abroad to bank loans. The migrants' debt is compounded by the fact that only 57% of migrants reach their destination. Our research also shows the main reasons people migrate from this region are economics. Migrants cite not being able to provide basic needs for their families. Our analysis also shows that remittances only provide for basic needs, showing families depend on them to survive. Ultimately the work shows that the Economic cost of migration is shouldered by the migrant while both the US and the country of origin benefit from the economics involved.