El Salvador + 2 more

Understanding the adverse drivers and implications of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras - A comprehensive analysis building on the report on “Complex motivations and costs of Central American migration”




WFP and IOM collaborated on a study to enhance the understanding of migration profiles and adverse drivers of migration in NCA, which consists of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. This publication serves as an in-depth research report as a follow-on to the initial policy brief on a survey elaborated by WFP, the MPI and the Civic Data Design Lab at the MIT, Charting a New Regional Course of Action: The Complex Motivations and Costs of Central American Migration, published in November 2021.

This research follows previous studies coordinated by both United Nations Agencies in the region and globally. It is aligned with the first objective of the GCM, which calls for the collection and use of accurate and disaggregated data as a basis for evidence-based policies. Furthermore, the research is aligned with the first priority of IOM’s Regional Strategy for the region of Central America, North America and the Caribbean, which aims to address the adverse drivers of migration, as well as WFP’s Strategic Plan (2017– 2021), which aligns WFP’s programmes and activities with the SDGs to end hunger and contribute to revitalized global partnerships. The main component of this study consists of a multisectoral household survey with a focus on recent migrant outflows and respondent migration intentions conducted in four departments of each country in March and April of 2021.


The countries in NCA have experienced sustained outflows of migrants in recent decades. The United States has by far been the main country of destination of migrants from the three countries during the last 30 years. While the three countries experienced moderate economic growth in the same period, this growth has not been inclusive or led to a significant improvement in living conditions, with a persistent lack of economic opportunities and decent work, low and/or stagnant wages, food insecurity, poverty and inequality, high levels of informality, weak institutions and other adverse economic drivers. All three countries have per capita incomes 15 to 30 times less than the United States. These contextual factors, along with the impact of natural hazards (both rapid- and slow-onset), violence at the community, familial and individual levels, as well as family reunification and pull factors in key destination countries continue to play a role in the decision to migrate.

Access to regular pathways to migrate to the United States and other key destination countries are limited for many migrants from NCA. Those who manage to migrate through regular channels do so primarily through temporary worker programmes or family reunification channels. Many migrants who cannot avail of these mechanisms are instead left to journey thousands of kilometres by land from their origin in Central America through Mexico in search for a better life abroad. Land journeys are expensive, dangerous and usually rely on networks of local intermediaries, or smugglers, which are sometimes linked to other forms of organized (including violent) crime. Dangers for migrants include a wide array of protection concerns including violence, human trafficking and various health and safety risks. Tragically, many migrants never reach their destination, and there are many deaths and disappearances on these routes. Since 2014 and through October 2021, a total of 1,350 migrant deaths and disappearances were recorded by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project in Central America, as well as 2,703 migrant deaths and disappearances in North America (mainly, near the United States –Mexico border).


The questionnaire asked households to provide multisectoral information on living conditions at the time of data collection while also asking respondents to report on their intentions, plans and preparations to migrate in the future. The sample includes households with recent migration outflows (having at least one family member who migrated or attempted to migrate in the five years prior to data collection) and households without recent migration. For households with recent migration, information was collected on the characteristics of each individual who migrated in the specified period.

The survey assessed 4,998 total respondents, one per household sampled. Respondents answered questions about themselves, the household as a whole and members of their household. Enumerators collected data in face-to-face questionnaires between 20 April and 15 May 2021. The sample design had two analytical strata, consisting of households with recent migration outflows (at least one member who migrated or attempted to migrate in the five years prior to data collection) and households without members who migrated in the same period. Households were selected in 12 departments, four per country. In each department, 25 communities were randomly selected using land scan data.

Survey results are indicative at the level of all four departments surveyed in each country and are not nationally representative. Differences reported between countries refer only to respondents located in these 12 administrative units assessed and are not generalizable or representative of departments or at the aggregate country level. Information on recent migrants themselves was collected by proxy from household respondents, which may affect the accuracy of survey results.



  1. Income and expenditures. A quarter of households reported that they were in a critical or difficult situation regarding levels of household income at the time of data collection. Approximately half of surveyed households were estimated to be living on less than USD 2 per capita, per day.

• Just over half (52%) of all individuals ages 15 and older identified in the sample were reported to have worked to earn an income in the 30 days prior to data collection, with considerable variation by sex – 73 per cent for males compared to 29 per cent for females ages 15 and older.

• Twelve per cent (12%) of households reported that they were experiencing a “critical deficiency” of household income (that is, not being able to meet even the most basic needs), while 32 per cent reported that they were facing a “very difficult situation” in terms of levels of household income at the time of data collection. Around 48 per cent of households reported that they were “surviving” on current income, and just 16 per cent reported feeling that they could live comfortably with their levels of income at the time of data collection.

• Median monthly expenditures were considerably low among the surveyed population in all three countries. Estimated median monthly per capita expenditures amounted to just USD 60, while median monthly household expenditures were estimated at USD 230. Median household expenditures were well below basic food baskets in both Guatemala and Honduras.

  1. Food insecurity. It was calculated that approximately one in ten (9%) surveyed households were food insecure at the time of data collection.

• By country, the prevalence of food insecurity was 12 per cent among surveyed households in Guatemala, nine per cent in Honduras and five per cent in El Salvador.

• There were also signs of deficient quality in food consumption, with a notable lack in dietary diversity across many surveyed households.

• More than half of households (52%) reported buying cheap food or less preferred food as a coping strategy, followed by a reduction in meal proportions (32%) and borrowing food/ purchasing food on credit (31%) in the 30 days prior to data collection.

  1. COVID-19 pandemic. A large proportion of surveyed households (67%) reported that their household income decreased as a consequence of COVID-19.

• Approximately one-third (34%) of households reported that at least one household member had lost their employment or business during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the highest percentage seen among surveyed households in Guatemala (39%).

• Approximately one-third (32%) of all surveyed households reported perceiving that the living standards in their place of residence had worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Social assistance. During the pandemic, 48 per cent of the surveyed households reported having received some form of support from the government and/or other institutions.

• In El Salvador, more than nine out of ten surveyed households (92.4%) reported having received support from a governmental programme in the six months prior to data collection. Of those surveyed households reporting that they had received governmental support in this period, 95 per cent reported that they had received in-kind food items.

• In Honduras, 16 per cent of surveyed households reported having received any support from a governmental programme in the six months prior to data collection, while in Guatemala 36 per cent of surveyed households reported having received support from the government in this period, mainly in the form of cash assistance.