Latin American and Caribbean Migration from Weak and Failing States – Updated

Laboratorio Enmovimiento / Wikimedia/CC2.0

International human mobility from the Americas has increased dramatically to at least 40 million people in 2018, from 23 million in 2000. These migration flows respond to global demands for low-skilled foreign labor. They also respond to political challenges related to state fragility.

The scope of this phenomenon is considerable. There are more than 80 million transnational households, including some forty million migrants living in the U.S., Spain, Canada and elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean, coupled with roughly forty million families of migrants living at home in the region. These connections impact and benefit both home and host countries’ economies. Among the many impacts of migration, the most well-known are remittances, which in 2018 represented over US$84 billion dollars to the region. Furthermore, year-over-year remittances continue to grow.

Some the highest level of remittance growth occurs among fragile and unstable countries. Analyzing migration flows sheds light on this point. This article takes a look at recent migration patterns, with a special emphasis on migration from Central America, Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba. It concludes by presenting several options for policy reform.

When analyzing current migration flows, two key trends emerge. First, the rise in migration is coming from a handful of countries, many of which face severe political problems related to state fragility and poor economic development. Second, intra-regional migration has grown in absolute numbers since 1990, and has at least doubled from 2000 to 2017.

The Challenge of State Fragility— Migration has grown since 2010 and is directly associated with political fragility and instability taking place in at least eight countries: Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.  These countries exhibit major political challenges which in most cases approach state failure or poor rule of law. There is a negative relationship between the growth in migration in the region and state governance (a measure of fragility). As performance in governance deteriorates, migration growth increases from those countries that are most affected by state fragility.

Migrants from these fragile states amount to nearly 13 million people, or nearly 40% of all Latin American migration of any kind.  Moreover, over seventy percent of migrants from these countries are hosted by the U.S., Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Brazil. 

Despite warnings from international groups regarding the emergence of forced or politically-related migration, human mobility has been a topic that is largely been neglected if not ignored for more than a decade by countries in the Western Hemisphere. 

The current situation presents numerous risks and challenges. Instability is forcing people out and causing hardship for at least 13 million families, affecting their well being as well as the personal safety of 50 million people. Among the consequences of mobility and separation are political, economic, and security problems. 

As more people leave, options for political improvement diminish because many of those migrating had constituted a backbone for political change. Moreover, politically motivated migration is accompanied with economic insecurity and crisis in several countries, including Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

In this article, we take a closer look at migration trends in three examples that showcase current trends: Central America (subdivided between the Northern Triangle and the Southern region, which have different dynamics), the Venezuelan case, and migration in the Caribbean. On the last part, we also take a look at specific recommendations to address migration.


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