Immigration in Costa Rica: an open letter
June 28, 2023
Heidi Venegas
(San José, Costa Rica)



My country is a beautiful, good land, and above all noble. This is not romanticism, and it’s not about superficialities. It is not a factory in which to obtain profits at all costs. It cannot be that any type of labor offered at a bargain price is accepted here. Especially when it mistreats the most vulnerable of the country, citizens who have full legal rights.


This reflection has arisen because a number of foreign diplomats recently visited the Presidential House in Costa Rica, expressing concern about the situation of migrants in the country. Because of the tremendous influx of migrants, our government had been forced to take action to put order to what had been a chaos of permits and required papers, and to verify who is entitled to be in the country and who is not.


I am Costa Rican. I also have the great happiness of having lived in Europe for more than 7 years, and I know firsthand the migration laws in those countries. They are based on an order established to protect a sovereign homeland. It is evident in Norway, a leader in human development, where not even the one who is born there acquires nationality easily.


So, let me explain something about which little has been said to the general public.


Poor Ticos (i.e., Costaricans of the labor class), we are the ones who have been suffering more and more with an avalanche of immigration, without any controls, for a long time. In addition to being indoctrinated with cheap slogans like "we are brothers of the northern neighbors,” we have seen our needs postponed, even the most urgent ones.


For a very long period, politicians have spoken to us about "brothers in extreme poverty” from Nicaragua. I consider it something of a manipulation, and for mainly three reasons:

1. Today it is clear that migrants from Nicaragua live in two countries. Even though they claim refugee status, they come and go, back and forth to their country, freely and happily. While the population was in quarantine and masked during the pandemic, migrants were required to verify and begin ordering visas, permits, immigration documents, etc. You cannot say that you are refugee, but at the same time keep going back to your home country. There are contradictions in that narrative.

2. Ever since I have memory, Nicaraguans have had troubles with their governments. That is not sufficient reason to be considered a refugee.

3. The migrants coming to Costa Rica are international workers or economic migrants. My country is still developing, and it cannot receive economic migrants because it hurts its own citizens. 

My homeland is not a factory. Costa Rica is also a poor, developing country. It cannot support a massive arrival of people from another land. It is not prepared to receive an influx of cheap labor that is offered in unfair competition, almost in conditions of semi-slavery. My small country is now sending large remittances to Nicaragua, which is three times bigger than Costa Rica and which today is the first gold exporter in the region. Since then, we Ticos have seen our labor laws degraded day by day, and our standard of living decline proportionately.


Here, we have also seen how gender violence and crime have increased in proportion to immigration almost without control. We are a peaceful people. Costa Rica does not even have an army, and few people here have weapons. As street violence increases, it is hard for people to defend themselves.


We have been enduring such iniquity with a stoicism that I personally admire. But I am also aware of how urgent it is to fix this abnormal situation as soon as possible. We don't have another country to go to. This is our country, for the poor as well as the rich. But the situation is falling on the shoulders of the poor Ticos, and the humblest are obviously more vulnerable to manipulation by politicians.


Our ancestors did not strive as heroically as they did to later leave our country to foreigners. Pythagoras said it well: "Help your fellow men to lift their load, but do not consider yourself obliged to carry it.” So we ask our politicians to help us establish a mechanism for returning immigrants to their homes, peacefully and in harmony. They must understand that this is not their country, and that citizens have the right to decide.


It is time for Costa Ricans to retake the reins of our beloved land. In civility, in peace, and with respect. We cannot be afraid to express our discontent, and to demand that our policymakers apply sensible immigration laws. It is no longer acceptable to live with this sword of Damocles hanging over us.

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