Until the early 1980s, emigration and immigration were negligible in El Salvador, except for migration of Salvadorans seeking economic advantages in Honduras, a trend that inflamed tensions between the two nations and was an underlying cause of their 1969 war. At that time, 300,000 Salvadorans were estimated to have settled in Honduras; following the war, as many as 130,000 Salvadorans may have returned from Honduras.
While the US granted temporary asylum to thousands of Salvadoran refugees under the Carter administration, the Reagan administration began returning them to El Salvador in 1981. Of the 1 million Salvadorans estimated to be in the US in 1988, an estimated 550,000 had entered the country illegally, about 500,000 of them since 1979. Their remittances to their families in El Salvador were an important component of the stagnant economy, and their absence from the Salvadoran labor force has kept local unemployment lower than it would otherwise have been. Migration from rural to urban areas also is heavy. An estimated 550,000 people were displaced from their homes by warfare between 1979 and 1992.
In 1989, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua adopted a five-year plan called CIREFCA to solve the problems of uprooted people. Between 1989 and 1994, this plan helped repatriate 30,000 Salvadorians to their homeland. Thousands of more Salvadorians who decided not to go home were integrated into asylum countries. The net migration rate for El Salvador in 2000 was -1.3 migrants per 1,000 population. In that year there were 24,000 migrants living in El Salvador, including 100 refugees. Worker remittances for that year accounted for over 13% of GDP, amounting to $1,751,000,000. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.