The International Center of the Organization for the Corporation and Economic Development (OECD), within the framework of the integration of our country to this organization, conducted a study to determine how immigrants living in Costa Rica impact the social development of the country.

In the study, which was conducted in conjunction with the International Labor Organization (ILO), the OECD collected data and characteristics on the contribution of legal immigrants, the implications they have on public policies, trends and integration of this population, as to determine whether or not they contribute to the development of the country. According to the OECD, Costa Rica is the country with one of the highest proportions of immigrants in Latin America. These are the most important data about immigrants in Costa Rica.

Almost one in ten people living in Costa Rica was born abroad. The enrollment rate in compulsory primary education is almost 100% in Costa Rican children, but 91% in immigrant children. The index is even lower in the particular case of children born in Nicaragua.

Immigrants contribute 11.9% of the “productive added value” in Costa Rica, which is above the total percentage they represent in the population (9.1%). They are represented mostly in sectors of low income, such as construction, hotels, and agriculture and in sectors that register high informal unemployment, such as domestic service and have less access to certain occupations. The most qualified immigrants work in areas such as real estate,
administrative, support services and related activities. A percentage lower than 6% works in activities such as education, health, finance or public administration.

Workers processing bananas at a Dole banana plantation in Costa Rica

There are more women than men among immigrants in Costa Rica. The proportion is higher than that registered in Central America and Mexico, which is 50%. In San José, 55.5% of Nicaraguan immigrants are women. Most of them enter with some type of identity documents, such as a passport or work permit. According to the OECD, they are likely to be of working age and have a higher labor participation rate compared to the local population. In 2011, 84% of the immigrant population was between 15 and 64 years of age, while only 66% of the native population belonged to this age group.

Immigrants benefit less from labor market programs such as vocational education and government employment agencies, receive less social protection and health care coverage and are less likely to benefit from subsidies for agriculture and educational programs. The unemployment rate is slightly lower in the case of immigrants, and tends to work longer hours than native Costa Ricans.

The wages of immigrant workers from Nicaragua are equivalent to 60% of the wages earned by workers born in Costa Rica and the difference is more marked in the case of women. Given the considerable portion of immigrants in the labor market, immigrants are likely to replace native workers in certain jobs. The employment rate of local workers decreases as the proportion of immigrant workers in a given area increases.

The public expenditure destined to immigrants is almost equal to that dedicated to the native population, but they contribute less to tax revenues, especially due to differences in taxes on goods and services and contributions to social security. Despite this, the effect on the spending of the local population is also negative. Costa Ricans perceive immigrants less productive related to the native labor force, a fact that varies slightly according to the country of origin.

Hundreds of illegal Nicaraguan immigrants wait in line in the front of the Nicaraguan embassy in San Jose to get papers, such as birth certificates, so that they can apply to be legal residents of Costa Rica.

Immigrants could improve their contribution to the economy of Costa Rica with the promotion of policies that encourage greater integration of workers, revealed a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Labor Organization. In a report titled: “How immigrants contribute to the economy of Costa Rica”, it is indicated that this population participates more in the labor market, have a higher rate of employment and are more likely to be salaried workers than those born in the country, since the search for a better status and income make them persistent when it comes to increased working hours, despite having the challenge of lower wages, and are more likely to be overqualified for their jobs being their income 15% below the native individual.

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