Regional Overview

There are approximately 57.5 million international migrants in the Americas; about 50 million in North America and 7.5 million in the other sub-regions. According to the United Nations Population Division, this corresponds to approximately 27 per cent of international migrants worldwide. Most Latin American States and the Caribbean have become net emigration countries; the migratory balance is negative by 6.8 million in Central America, by 3 million in South America and by 1.2 million in the Caribbean. Despite these strong flows from South to North, the movements from South to South have been increasing in recent years. Many of the countries in the region that were previously countries of only origin, transit or destination, nowadays share the three characteristics.

The Americas are characterized by four general migration trends outlined below: 

  • The economic crisis in developed countries continues to affect the migrant population in the countries of destination. Owing to the crisis, some migrants have started to return to their countries of origin. The returns are not massive, but they are steady. The constant flows of returnees in the affected countries have generated the need to establish effective mechanisms to assist the return of these migrants and their reintegration. The economic crisis has also exacerbated anti-migrant sentiments in countries of destination.

  • The Latin American and Caribbean countries are important recipients of remittances. Despite a decrease in the reception of remittances which took place in 2009, remittances continue to be a very important source of income for many Latin American and Caribbean countries. As a share of GDP, the highest ranked country was Honduras, with remittances equating to 19.3 per cent, followed by El Salvador with 15.7 per cent, and Haiti with 15.4 per cent. Remittances are private transfers of money made by the migrants and contribute to alleviating poverty and to satisfying the basic needs of the recipients; they do not, however, generate development. As a consequence, the governments in Latin American and Caribbean are trying to develop public policies aimed at strengthening the link between migration and development.

  • Trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants remains a major concern in the region. Although trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the more recurrent forms of trafficking, other forms such as trafficking for labour exploitation have been affecting the region. The issue of unaccompanied child migrants has also become an important challenge for the countries of the Americas, particularly in Central America.

  • Despite the economic crisis and return flows, there are still large contingents of Latin American and Caribbean nationals living in the United States of America, Canada and Europe. Many of these communities are very well organized and have been contributing to the development of cultural, economic and social ties with their countries and communities of origin. Consequently, improving relations with nationals abroad and particularly promoting linkages with skilled ones to facilitate their contribution to development are two other increasing priorities for governments. IOM has been involved in supporting governments’ work with diasporas in many countries. The issue of skilled diasporas needs to be further developed.

IOM Regional Geographical Coverage