Central American immigrants in the US

2.1 million persons born in Central America reside in the US, Including 1.4 million El Salvadoreans, 1.1 million Guatemalans, 800,000 Hondurans, and 300,000 Nicaraguans.

These four are worse off than Mexicans in the U.S., much worse off than two other Central American immigrants from Costa Ricans and Panamanians. They have collectively been more numerous than Mexicans at the Mexican border, despite these four countries having a combined population one third of Mexico. The Biden administration will open an immigration processing centers in Guatemala within a few weeks. The administration has proposed additional economic aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Here is quick snap shot of these immigrants.

One fifth of El Salvadoreans live in the U.S. About 6% of Guatemalans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans live in the U.S. In 2019 (before the pandemic) remittances to El Salvador were equivalent to 20% of the country’s GDP.

Limited English proficiency

Nearly all Central American immigrants speak a language other than English as their primary language. A greater share of the population had limited English proficiency (66%) than Asian-born immigrants (34%).

Working age

In 2021, 81% of Central American immigrants were of working age (18 to 64), higher than U.S. natives (59%). This means relatively more of them are in the labor force.


About 46% of Central Americans ages 25 and older had less than a high school diploma, versus 30% for persons from Mexico and 7% of U.S.-born adults as of 2021.  These rates are reflected in the poor education achievement in the countries of origin. For instance, the “gross high school enrollment” rate in Honduras is 60% vs. 89% in Costa Rica.


About 34% of Central Americans were naturalized U.S. citizens as of 2021, compared to 51% percent Mexican immigrants; including Hondurans (23%), Guatemalans (28%), and Salvadorans (36%).

Irregular legal status

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that approximately 2.1 million unauthorized immigrants from all of Central America resided in the United States as of 2019, accounting for approximately 19% of the total 11 million unauthorized immigrant population and about 50% of the immigrants from these countries in the U.S.  The top origin countries for unauthorized immigrants from Central America were El Salvador (741,000), Guatemala (724,000), and Honduras (490,000).

Go here for the MPI report.

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