Supporting Refugees to Become Economically Active in Costa Rica


The majority of the current refugee population in Costa Rica comes from Colombia, but in the past year there has been a large increase in refugees from Central America, who are fleeing the threats of violence from the Maras and other gangs. Unlike many host countries, Costa Rica provides refugees with the legal right to work and removes many barriers to the full local integration of refugees. Still, refugees face challenges including access to employment opportunities, information about their rights, educational opportunities, and verification/certification of existing educational qualifications, as well as discrimination. Many refugees have valuable previous work experiences and a significant level of education from their countries of origin; however, it is often not easy for them to find permanent work in Costa Rica.


Trickle Up is assisting the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Costa Rica in integrating the Graduation Approach into their existing projects for refugees. The UNHCR team in Costa Rica selected and trained 250 participants in December 2014 and 200 in March 2015, including local Costa Ricans living in poverty to establish relationships in a supportive community for the refugee participants. Participants were selected by a combination of factors that measure economic status as well as other vulnerabilities. Households that cannot meet their basic needs, victims and those at risk of sexual and gender-based violence, female heads of households, and households with more than 5 members were selected to participate in the Graduation project.


Once enrolled in the project, refugee and host community participants receive training in financial education, legal rights and responsibilities, and confidence-building. All participants choose to receive skills training in either wage employment or self-employment, depending on their skills and interests. Participants all establish bank accounts and are encouraged to save regularly. Each refugee also receives the support of a coach throughout the project. UNHCR helps educate employers about the value of hiring refugees and the necessary legal and procedural processes. We seek to help participants become self-reliant as a result of a stable income, support networks, and higher self-esteem.

Project Objectives

  • Build the capacity of UNHCR to integrate the Graduation Approach into its existing interventions with refugees in Costa Rica
  • Increase participants’ self-reliance as a result of having gained a decent job, having built support networks, and having strengthened their self-esteem.

Project Data

To date, 550 participants have been reached through the Graduation Approach.
More data will be provided as the project continues.

San José, Costa Rica


Start Date: 12/2014
End Date: Ongoing


Number of Participants: 550


Vulnerable Populations

Women, Urban, Refugees, Extreme Poor

Project Components

Stipend for Consumption Support, Asset Transfer, Coaching, Technical Livelihood Skills Training, Financial Literacy and Capability Training, Access to Formal Financial Services (savings and credit), Wage Employment, Links to Job Opportunities, Legal Services, Psychosocial Support, Basic Skills Training

Our Partners

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. Trickle Up and UNHCR have been partners since 2013.

Other Project Partners

ACAI, University of Costa Rica, Casa de Derechos, Parque de Libertad, Fundación Mujer, INA (Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje), Instituto Jimenez