El Salvador Slaps $1,130 Fee on Travelers From 57 Countries

'Airport improvement fee' is believed to be effort to help US control migration
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 13, 2023 2:16 PM CST
El Salvador Slaps $1,130 Fee on African, Indian Travelers
Retired schoolteacher Tom Wingo of Samaritans Without Borders, right, gives snacks and bottles of waters to a group of migrants Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2023, in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near Lukeville, Arizona.   (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

El Salvador's government has begun slapping a $1,130 fee on travelers from dozens of countries connecting through the nation's main airport, amid US pressure to help control migration flows to its southern border. Since the end of October, citizens of 57 largely African countries and India have had to pay the fee, according to El Salvador's aviation authority. Aviation officials did not say whether the measure was aimed at reducing migration and have described the tariff as an "airport improvement fee," but El Salvador's government acknowledged an uptick in travelers from those countries this year, the AP reports.

The US has been pressuring Central American countries to curb migration flows to its border with Mexico. El Salvador's aviation authority said most passengers who have to pay the fee are headed to Nicaragua on the commercial airline Avianca. Because of its lax visa requirements, Nicaragua is a transit point for migrants from Haiti and Cuba, as well as from Africa, who are trying to reach the US. Earlier this year, for example, US officials were surprised by an increase in Mauritanian migrants arriving at the southern border. No natural disaster, coup, or sudden economic collapse could explain it. Rather, travel agencies and social media influencers were promoting a multileg trip that took migrants from the west African nation to Nicaragua.

A US embassy spokesperson declined to say whether the US had requested the fee. But the ability to help the US control migration could be a political boon for El Salvador President Nayib Bukele as he seeks reelection despite a constitutional prohibition and faces scrutiny for his human rights record. During the Trump administration, US policy toward El Salvador prioritized reining in migration above all else and Bukele heard no public criticism from the US as he began to consolidate power. Under President Biden, the US has been openly critical of Bukele's record on democracy and human rights. But migration now appears to be back at the top of the bilateral agenda for the two countries as Biden also seeks reelection.

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Most governments have recognized that what is of clear interest to the United States is migration and so therefore it becomes a bargaining chip," says Pamela Ruiz, Central America analyst for International Crisis Group. "They will either become partners or adversaries on this issue." Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Ecuador have worked with the US to open centers for migrants looking to request asylum, apply for family reunification, or seek temporary work permits. On the other hand, Nicaragua has opened its doors to hundreds of charter flights carrying tens of thousands of US-bound Cuban and Haitian migrants in recent months.

(More El Salvador stories.)

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