Central American Migration

︎︎︎ Report & Executive Summary
︎︎︎ 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)
Data visualization techniques in this project were designed to enhance the communication of this migration study to reach policy makers and broader audiences. This project advocates to expand legal pathways for migrants, and data visualizations illustrating key findings were presented at a U.S. Congressional hearing in November 2021. Research from this project was later cited in a letter signed by thirty-three U.S. Senators recommending equitable action be taken to support humanitarian needs in Central America in June 2022. This letter appealed for Temporary Protected Status designations for the northern countries in Central America, and ultimately contributed to policy action in June 2022, when Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Call to Action for Northern Central America.


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.

Explore the interactive website with data visualizations at migration.mit.edu .

Read the full report, Charting a New Regional Course of Action: The Complex Motivations and Costs of Central American Migration.
︎︎︎ Rouhandeh, Alex J. “Over 2M Migrants Came to the Border in 2021, 565K More Than the Past Two Years Combined.” Newsweek, 25 January 2022.
︎︎︎ Call for TPS Designations for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua. U.S. Senate, 10 January 2022.
︎︎︎ UN News. “Poverty and violence push 378,000 Central Americans North each year.” The Final Call, 7 December 2021.
︎︎︎ Edwards, Jonathan. “Can Biden Make Mexico Stop Migrants? Drug Cartels Control the Flow of Migrants at the Border.” The Washington Newsday, 3 December 2021.
︎︎︎ Rouhandeh, Alex J. “Pandemic Prompted 35 Percent Spike in Central Americans Who Wanted to Migrate: Report.” Newsweek, 29 November 2021.
︎︎︎ Kumar, Natasha. “The migrant exodus costs 2,200 million dollars – Luces del Siglo.” The Times Hub, 29 November 2021.
︎︎︎ Resendiz, Julian. “Report: 1 in 2 in Central America considered migrating to the U.S. in 2021.” Border Report, 29 November 2021.
︎︎︎ “At least 67% of the 11m undocumented immigrants living in US are Mexicans and Central Americans.” Nation Online, 26 November 2021.
︎︎︎ “At least 67% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States are Mexicans and Central Americans.” Texas News Today, 25 November 2021.
︎︎︎ Dizikes, Peter. “Economics drives migration from Central America to the U.S.
Phys.org, 24 November 2021.
︎︎︎ CNN Newsource. “Migrants from three countries paid $2.2 billion trying to reach the US. Most of it went to smugglers.” ABC 17 News, 24 November 2021.
︎︎︎ Shoichet, Catherine “Migrants from three countries paid $2.2 billion trying to reach the US. Most of it went to smugglers.” CNN, 24 November 2021.
︎︎︎ “Poverty and violence push 378,000 Central Americans north each year” UN News, 23 November 2021.
︎︎︎ Dizikes, Peter. “Report: Economics drives migration from Central America to the U.S.” MIT News, 23 November 2021.
︎︎︎ “MPI-WFP-MIT Report: Stemming Rising Migration from Central America Calls for Tackling Immediate Needs and Root Causes.” Migration Policy Institute, 23 November 2021.
︎︎︎ “Report: Stemming rising migration from Central America calls for tackling immediate needs and root causes.” World Food Programme, 23 November 2021.