NicaNotes: New US Immigration Policies’ Effect on Nicaragua: Brain Drain and Deportation

By Nan McCurdy

(Nan McCurdy is editor of NicaNotes, and the Nicaragua Webinar series. She has lived for 32 of the last 38 years in Nicaragua. Currently she works in the state of Puebla Mexico in health, appropriate technology and other development programs with rural families.)

On Jan. 5, the Biden administration announced new legal pathways to the US which include expanding the “Parole Process” for Venezuelans to Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans, a policy that will favor richer migrants. Migration from these countries has dropped since then.

The Sandinista party won the presidency of Nicaragua in January 2007 and from that time through 2020 there was only a trickle of migrants to the US – at most a few hundred a month. But that began to change in 2020 when Nicaraguans who crossed into the US and were encountered by the border officials found that they were not expelled, and instead given help with air or bus transportation to get to their final destination.

In February 2021 many of us, inside and outside of Nicaragua, began to hear the stories from people who crossed the border or from their family or friends that, once they crossed the border, they should just find a border official and they would receive help with transportation getting to the home of family or friends. The other news that traveled like wildfire was that there were jobs available and with pretty good wages (US$14 to 18 an hour). Since 2021 the number of Nicaraguan migrants increased substantially. And the dream of migrating north spread like a virus.

From Nicaragua’s population of 6.5 million, more than 163,876 Nicaraguans were “encountered” at the US border in FY2022 (Sept. 30, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022) — many times more than those who entered during the same period in 2020 – just 2,291, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. In FY 2021 there were 50,109. In the first three months of FY 2023 (Oct., Nov. and Dec.) there were 90,553.

This graph shows how migration from Nicaragua has grown in the last three years from a very low level in US fiscal year 2020 to a much higher level in the first months of fiscal year 2023, that is Oct.-Dec. 2022. Source:

U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended a record 2.2 million migrants at the southwest border in the 2022 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Close to half were rapidly expelled under the Title 42 policy.

It is uncertain how many people are migrating to the U.S. from Central America. But the Migration Policy Institute says of the 3.4 million Central Americans living in the U.S., about 85% of them are from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, over 450,000 people arrived at the border in 2020, as the pandemic slowed world-wide migration. In 2021 the number nearly quadrupled to at least 1.7 million migrants who were expelled or detained in the U.S, or in Mexico. More than 189,000 arrived at the U.S. border in June 2021, the record for one month.

Under Title 8, which is what has been primarily used with Nicaraguan migrants in recent years, a person can be removed quickly or allowed to stay. Most Nicaraguans are released temporarily into the US while their removal cases (and possible asylum claims) are adjudicated. They have also been largely exempt from Title 42, unlike other Central Americans and Mexicans. Title 42 began under the Trump Administration as what they called a “Covid health-related norm,” and is used as an express mechanism to expel undocumented migrants. Under Title 42 when border officials encounter most people from Mexico and the northern triangle of Central America they are expelled to Mexico without immigration charges. The one good thing for these migrants is that they can try again, if necessary, multiple times; recidivism rates are now 26% compared to 7% in 2019.

The Biden Administration, like that of Trump, has spent more than half a billion dollars since 2017 in Nicaragua destabilization efforts in hopes of overthrowing the Sandinistas – the US’s perceived nemesis since 1979 when they overthrew dictator Somoza – a faithful ally of the US who took good care of US investors and oligarchs. US-imposed Sanctions in 2018 and 2021 are one way the US has turned the screws on Nicaragua’s economy. Many of the other mechanisms they utilize require hundreds of millions of dollars, and as more US citizens become aware of the progress for the majority in Nicaragua, like free universal health care and education, the best social infrastructure and roads in the region, greatly improved gender equity, low maternal and child mortality, 90% food sovereignty, 99.2% coverage in electricity mainly with renewable energy, the US may find taxpayers don’t want their money used on attempted coups.

Biden and the corporate media mouthpiece for the government have been trying to convince the US public that the Nicaraguan government is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security and part of what they call “the troika of tyranny” – along with two other maligned countries – Cuba and Venezuela. But this narrative didn’t jive with the fact that people weren’t leaving Nicaragua, especially when citizens of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have migrated in droves for the last thirteen years or more. Thus the uptick in Nicaraguan migration in the last two years allows the US government and media now to say, “ People are fleeing repression!” and constitutionally elected president Daniel Ortega “is a dictator.”

They don’t tell you that the US puts pop-up advertisements on Facebook and Instagram in Nicaragua about good jobs in the north, or that Nicaraguans are treated much better when they cross the border than their Central American brothers and sisters. With more Nicaraguan migrants it is easier now for the US to blame migration on the administration of the Sandinista government. However, from 2007 through 2020, all under the Sandinista government, a negligible number of Nicaraguans went north, a drop in the bucket compared to the high number of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

So it makes no sense that the Sandinista government is now the reason that people have recently migrated in record numbers, especially since every aspect of life has improved yearly from 2007 to April 2018 and again from late 2020 to date. The break in that trend included the US-directed coup attempt in 2018, the pandemic, and two hurricanes.

The New York Times in December wrote that Nicaraguans were leaving because of violence. Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America and one of the safest in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has about one-eighth the percentage of murders as Honduras, and about one-fourth that of El Salvador and Guatemala. Nicaragua is the Number 1 country in the world for percentage of population who say they always feel at peace – some 73%!

In September 2021 US President Joe Biden said that “it is not rational” to deport to Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela migrants arriving from those countries…”I am now mindful of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The possibility of sending them back to those countries is not rational …”

In 2021 and 2022 Border Patrol Encounters were higher than in the past across the board and this has to do with the economic effects that the pandemic had on the majority of economies. Some elements more unique to Nicaragua that spur migration are two sets of US sanctions, two very damaging hurricanes at the end of 2020, and less work in Costa Rica.

The sanctions have been against individuals but also have limited multilateral loans, especially from the World Bank and the International Development Bank. The World Bank did not provide loans between March 2018 and November 2020. The sanctions have spurred migration – supposedly something the US does not want – so according to Tom Ricker in a 2022 analysis of migration from Nicaragua, the sanctions have backfired, leading to more migration north.

For at least forty years many Nicaraguans have worked all or part of the year in Costa Rica, many gaining legal status. But Costa Rica’s economy was hurt by Covid and fewer jobs in that country resulted in more people returning to Nicaragua than going to Costa Rica in 2020 and 2021. In 2021, over 5,000 more Nicaraguans left Costa Rica than entered it. Lack of jobs in Costa Rica, for those who have historically worked there, is one of the reasons for more migration north to the United States.

Other pull factors are the US labor shortage and the fact that Nicaraguans have been largely exempted from Title 42 at the US border. If people can successfully cross the border, the border guards help them get to their destination, they likely find work and, compared to their home countries, good paying work which allows them to send money home. Other pull factors are US companies advertising jobs to Nicaraguans on social media.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce, there are currently more than 10 million job openings in the US and only 5.7 million unemployed. In Minnesota there are only 43 workers for every hundred job openings. I personally know eleven undocumented migrants working in Minnesota. All these migrants had received the message from a friend or family member to simply look for a border official after crossing over; and now they are working in the US under Title 8. From what they tell me, at every hearing they are given more time to stay in the US without a final decision about their status.

About a fourth of migrants living in the US, some 11 million, are undocumented and 55% of those are from Mexico. The number peaked in 2007 and has since dropped slightly. The highest increase was from 1994 to 2000 with the signing of NAFTA which destroyed an entire sector of Mexican agriculture. The US Department of Labor National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) estimated that 70% of the 1.8 million US agricultural workers were born in Mexico and that 70% of foreign-born crop workers are undocumented. So at least half of US crop workers are undocumented. US agriculture employs a higher percentage of undocumented workers than any other industry in part because pay in this sector is lower than in other sectors.

Biden’s latest immigration plan: brain drain and deportation

The new US plan for Nicaragua is “brain drain,” and will only benefit the Nicaraguans who are better off and more educated and not currently in the US under Title 8. On Jan. 5, the administration announced new legal pathways to the US which include expanding the “Parole Process” for Venezuelans to Nicaraguans, Haitians, and Cubans.  Up to 30,000 individuals could be accepted per month from these four countries. They must have valid passports, an eligible sponsor and pass vetting and background checks, can come for two years and receive work authorization. Those applying must have someone with legal papers in the US who agrees to provide financial and other support.

When the migrant arrives at the US port of entry, there will be additional screening and vetting. If granted “parole,” it will typically be for two years. Once granted parole, migrants may apply for employment authorization and social security numbers. By January 27, according to CNN some 800 Nicaraguans had been pre-approved for “parole” allowing them to travel by air, at their own cost to the US.

The same White House statement says that for Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans and Haitians, there will be “new consequences for individuals who attempt to enter unlawfully, increasing the use of expedited removal.” Individuals who irregularly cross the Panama, Mexico, or U.S. border after Jan. 5, 2022, will be subject to expulsion to Mexico, which will now accept 30,000 individuals per month from these four countries who fail to use these new pathways.

With the new pathway for more educated middle-class Nicaraguans, there will likely be more deportations back to Managua, or to Mexico and then Managua. Many of these people are from the dryer poorer countryside of Nicaragua where their earnings are low. Many have previously worked in Costa Rica, and will likely try their luck there again.

But what about all those unfilled jobs in the US, especially in the agricultural sector where Nicaraguans and others are picking up the slack? And what about the US administration’s claims that people are leaving Nicaragua due to repression?

It’s quite possible that, despite the new measures, Nicaraguans, like Cubans, will continue to be treated differently than their Central American neighbors and allowed to stay longer until a final legal decision on their cases. However, eventually it is probable that most will be deported.

By Nan McCurdy

Message for People Who Donate to the Nicaragua Solidarity Fund
The Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ) is confronting a serious attack from the far-right in reaction to fiscally sponsoring organizers who are peacefully advocating for the liberation of the Palestinian people. The AfGJ says in a statement, “The charges against us have been rejected for years, including in late 2021 when we were temporarily affected by the same bogus charge that we were ‘funding terrorism.’ For the time being, we are unable to process online donations. Our credit card merchant processor, Card Connect, abruptly ended our contract. We were made aware of these changes on January 26th. We are working on securing an alternate merchant processor, working with our lawyer to fight the accusations and Card Connect’s decision to terminate our contract, and notifying our base of this escalated assault from the ultra-right. What can you do at this moment?”

If you are a donor to the Nicaragua Solidarity Fund please send paper checks. Here are the instructions: All checks should be made out to ‘Alliance for Global Justice’ or ‘AfGJ’. Please indicate the name of the fiscally-sponsored organization in the memo line (in this case Nicaragua Solidarity Fund). Send checks to: Nicaragua Solidarity Fund c/o Alliance for Global Justice, 225 E 26th St., Suite 1, Tucson, AZ 85713

One-hour Webinar with Camilo Mejia from Feb. 5th – Youtube video
You can watch the video recording of our Feb. 5th webinar here:

Delegation Opportunity: March Coffee and Cooperatives Brigade
Where: Managua, Chinandega & Estelí, Nicaragua
When: 11-19 March 2023
Cost: $850 per person for all-inclusive brigade
For detailed information:
Application deadline: 10 February 2023
Where does your coffee come from? Join us to follow your organic coffee’s journey from crop to cup! We’ll visit the beautiful El Porvenir Coffee Co-op, meet the farmers and their families, watch the coffee processing and participate in the selection process. We will learn how cooperatives fit into Nicaragua’s unusual economic model, and hear about the country’s pro-cooperative policies. We will meet all kinds of co-ops – bus & taxi, coffee, cigar-making and ceramics. We will talk with women worker-owners about their co-ops and get a chance to see Nicaragua’s natural beauty.

Strong Investment in Schools
The Ministry of Education presented a Report on the School Infrastructure Investment Plan implemented by the government. The report states that US$213.3 million has been invested in construction, rehabilitation and equipping of 6,111 schools between 2007 and 2022, restoring the right to free and quality education for the 1.8 million students of the country. Minister of Education Lilliam Herrera stated that “MINED plans to invest US$27.4 million in school infrastructure in 2023, guaranteeing spaces with optimal conditions for learning, safety and comfort.” (Nicaragua News, 3 Feb. 2023)

Thousands of Schools Equipped with Technology
The Ministry of Education presented a report on the Plan to Teach/Learn through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Classrooms which states that 7,322 schools have been equipped with ICT classrooms over the last seven years, guaranteeing comprehensive education through access to technological tools. Education Advisor Tamara López stated that “this allows teachers to formulate academic plans that are more dynamic and interesting, fostering curiosity and a desire to learn in students. It is important that students have full access to technology and that they feel capable of competing in a world that is increasingly dependent on technology.” (Nicaragua News, 7 Feb. 2023)

Greater Use of Renewables in January
The National Center for Electricity Dispatch reported that 79% of electricity generated between January 1 and 22, 2023, came from renewable sources: 19% biomass, 18.7% wind, 14% geothermal, 13 hydroelectric, 0.47% solar, and 13.73% regional renewable energy imports. (Nicaragua News, 3 Feb. 2023)

Guaranteeing the Health of People over 60
The Ministry of Health and the Social Security Institute (INSS) launched the National Elderly Special Care Plan on Jan. 31 which will strengthen and guarantee access to healthcare for all people over 60 years of age. MINSA Secretary General, Carlos Sáenz detailed that “under the plan a nutritional census of the elderly will be carried out during the year; house-to-house visits every 3 months; scheduling of medical check-ups or surgeries; specialized care and clinical management for people with chronic diseases and/or disabilities; detection and early care for cancer, as well as psychological care to guarantee a good state of mental health among the elderly.” This Plan is part of the successful Family and Community Healthcare Model implemented by the government. (Nicaragua News, 2 Feb. 2023)

Strengthening Diagnosis and Treatment
To strengthen its diagnostic and treatment capabilities, the Ministry of Health delivered portable ultrasound machines, EKG’s, ventilators, thermal cribs, x-rays, nebulizers, and medication refrigerators to eight hospitals. The US$1.37 million for the purchase of the equipment was provided by the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 2 Feb. 2023)

Reduction of Housing Deficit
The Nicaragua Institute for Urban and Rural Housing (INVUR) presented a report on the “Casas para el Pueblo” [Houses for the People] Low-Cost Housing Program that the Government is implementing. Some 4,300 homes were built in 2022, for a cumulative total of 130,676 low-cost homes built over the last 15 years, contributing to a reduction of the housing shortage. INVUR Codirector, Gabriela Palacios, stated that “INVUR plans to build 7,400 homes in 2023 to contribute to the goal of 50,000 low-income homes built by 2026.” (Nicaragua News, 1 Feb. 2023)

New Cigar Factory to Create 200 Jobs
The Villiger Nicaragua Cigar Company is investing US$2 million to build and equip a new cigar factory in Estelí creating 200 new jobs. The Manager of the Swiss-German company, Henry Villiger stated that “construction of the factory is part of our expansion plans with the certainty that it will be a lucrative investment and will guarantee decent jobs.” Villiger opened another factory in Nicaragua in 2021. (Nicaragua News, 2 Feb. 2023;

Production of Cocoa Increased in 2022
The Nicaragua System of Production, Consumption and Commerce reported that the 2022-2023 cocoa harvest was 212,562 quintals, 20% growth over the previous agricultural cycle. Export of fine cocoa in 2022 represented US$22 million in sales, a 12% increase over 2021. (Nicaragua News, 2 Feb. 2023)

Unemployment and Underemployment Decreasing
The Nicaragua Institute for Development Information published the Employment Survey Report for December 2022 which states that the unemployment rate was 2.6%, a reduction of 0.9% compared to the same month in 2021. The underemployment rate was 38.3% in December, 4.1% less than Dec. 2021. (Nicaragua News, 1 Feb. 2023)

Priests Sentenced for Conspiracy and Propagation of False News
Priests Ramiro Tijerino, José Luis Díaz, Sadiel Eugarrios Cano and Raúl Antonio Vega and seminarians Darvin Leiva Mendoza and Melkin Centeno were sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crimes of undermining national integrity and propagating false news, breaking the laws of Nicaragua. The Second Criminal District Trial Judge, Nadia Tardencilla, also convicted Sergio Cadena Flores, found guilty of the same crimes. The judge sentenced the accused to five years in prison for the crime of conspiracy to undermine national integrity and five years in prison for propagation of false news. (Radio La Primerisima, 7 Feb. 2023)

Ministry of the Interior Cancels 17 Non-Profit Organizations
In January, the Ministry of the Interior cancelled the registration of 17 non-governmental organizations. The organizations failed to comply with the law, not reporting financial statements, allowing boards of directors to expire and other violations. Among the organizations whose legal status was cancelled is the Association of Private Banks of Nicaragua (ASOBAMP), which failed to comply with the law: The term of its board of directors had expired (in April of 2020) and it had not reported its financial statements since the 2019-2020 period. According to the media outlet Confidencial, some observers think that the bankers “let ASOBANP die” by not updating its Board of Directors since 2020. A source told Confidencial, “I never understood that Asobanp was so functional…. It seems to me that there was a kind of abandonment.”

Other organizations cancelled are Asociación Casa Xalteva, Fundación A.MAR.TE, Asociación de Jubilados del Departamento de León (Asojudel), Asociación Centroamericana de Criadores de Caballos de Raza Iberoamericano (Iberonic), Asociación de Comerciantes del Mercado Central (Acomercen), the Nicaraguan Association of Lawyers and Notaries (Anayn), the Association for the Development of Santo Tomás del Norte (Asodesn), the Association of Chronic Renal Insufficiency Patients Nueva Esperanza (Asociación Adedircne), the Abundant Love Foundation (FAA) and the Association of Women Mayors of Nicaragua,  Asociación Fondo Histórico Documental de la Música Nicaragüense (Fonmunic), Asociación Dimensiones del Desarrollo (Dides), Asociación de Desmovilizados del S.M.P. de Nicaragua Esperanza y Reconciliación, Asociación Civil Cihualcoalt para el Desarrollo Integral Socio Económico (Asocideis), Club Veinte-Treinta de Managua and Fundación Isla (FIS). (Confidencial, 3 Feb. 2023)

No More Imperialist Domination in the World:
Excerpts from a speech by President Ortega and an announcement from the Iranian Foreign Minister

On Feb. 1, speaking at a gathering to honor a delegation from Iran led by Foreign Minister Dr. Hossein Amir-Abdollahián, President Daniel Ortega said that these are times of struggle for the sovereignty of the world’s peoples and for peace, and that there is certainty and conviction that imperialist domination cannot continue in the world. “We are facing the same enemy that you faced and defeated with the Iranian Revolution in 1979,” said the president. “It is the same [enemy] we faced here in Nicaragua and defeated in 1979,” he added. “And the enemies of peace as we well know want to continue maintaining imperialist … colonialist, neocolonialist policies, not only in what they call the backyard of the United States, which is Latin America and the Caribbean, but in the world; for them, the world is their backyard,” he said. “How many wars, how many aggressions, how many crimes have been committed against the people by the imperialists of the earth?” he asked. The president said that the empires installed slavery in the name of democracy and occupied entire nations. And the peoples rebelled; they were becoming independent, he said, but the empire has continued to insist on its hegemonic policy.

Ortega went on to say, “We saw the latest acts of [US] terrorism there in Iran, launching drone attacks on security points and defying the will for peace of Iran and the peoples of the world. We welcome you on this day that marks the 80th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism at Stalingrad. That heroic people, the Soviet people, resisted all the machinery of the Nazi forces.” He added that also on a day like today a very dear brother of the Latin American peoples and of the people of Iran took office as President of the Republic of Venezuela, Commander Hugo Chavez.

“The meeting that recently took place in the Republic of Argentina with CELAC was a meeting for life and there we were talking about the people of nations and states that are committed to defend Latin American and Caribbean region as a region for peace. Meanwhile, the so-called Western democracies, the United States and Europe, continue their terrorist campaigns against the people. We are well aware of the threats, aggressions and sanctions against the people of Iran,” he said. President Ortega said that the Secretary General of the United Nations is an instrument of imperialist policy and he referred to the UN Human Rights organisms in the same terms.

“We continue in the battle that calls for the unity of our peoples and our regions, and we have the certainty that the future is already defined, that imperialist domination can no longer exist in the world,” he said.

Ortega explained that Nicaragua is a nation with a very small territory, but installed in a strategic point, in the center of the Americas. He criticized the aggressiveness of the Yankee empire for attacking and attempting to take over Nicaragua. In this regard, he explained that “their intention was to take over our territory to install a canal. That explains the invasions,” he said.

The leader expressed his solidarity with the Bolivian people, where they are suffering attacks, and also with the Peruvian people, where the oligarchy, managed by the empire, has fueled a coup d’état against President Pedro Castillo. “In the midst of all these dramatic situations there are new winds that bring us more strength to continue fighting for sovereignty, for the unity of our peoples and for peace,” he said.

During the visit of the delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Memorandum of Understanding on the Mechanism of Cooperation and Political Consultations between the two countries was signed. The Iranian Foreign Minister stated that they are planning a future visit of the President of that Islamic nation, Ebrahim Raisi, to the Latin American region, including the friendly country of Nicaragua. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 2 Feb. 2023)