The terms “human smuggler” or “coyote” are used for people who smuggle people illegally across borders. Coyote fees, which are the fees charged by coyotes for their services, are a measure of the extent of people’s desire to migrate. We can also add to coyote fees the costs paid for document forgery and other costs needed to avoid being caught by immigration enforcement authorities.
How high are human smuggling fees?
For a reasonably up-to-date list of human smuggling fees for different source and target countries, see this Havocscope page. Some specific numbers are included below.
Mexicans who enter the United States illegally by crossing the southern border pay coyote fees of about $3000-4000 (data from the Mexican Migration Project). Illegal Asian immigrants to the United States pay considerably larger sums of money to get inside, probably in the tens of thousands of dollars. Some estimates suggest fees of $75,000 for some illegal Chinese immigrants. In The Conservative Case for Immigration Tariffs, Alex Nowrasteh writes the following (please visit his paper to get access to all the references in the paper):
Costs vary widely based on the mode of transport, distance travelled, the number and characteristics of those being moved, price discrimination, and local conditions like the cost of avoiding detection by immigration authorities. Unauthorized Mexican immigrants usually pay $4,000 to cross the border on foot or $9,000 by boat  and there are an estimated 6.6 million of them living in the U.S. as of 2010.  The smuggling fee for unauthorized Central Americanimmigrants is currently between $7,000 and $10,000.  In 2010, there were an estimated 1.5million unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras residing in the U.S.  The smuggling fee for an unauthorized Chinese immigrant is about $75,000  and thereabout 130,000  unauthorized Chinese immigrants in the U.S. as of 2010. The most recently compiled averages in 2005 show that Asian unauthorized immigrants pay $26,041 to come to America, Europeans pay $6,389, and Africans pay $2,200.  Unauthorized smuggled migrants from Central and South America pay a lower price than Asians because the distance is shorter, but the chance of detection is very high for Hispanic immigrants. Many smuggled Chinese are brought directly to American port cities like San Francisco or New York, but large numbers are also dropped off in Mexico and guided across the southern border.  The smuggled migrants do not have a green card, work permit, or other legal work authorization waiting for them in the U.S. when they arrive, but they still pay enormous sums of money.
Significance of these fees
Coyote fees inform many aspects of the immigration debate:
- They provide evidence that helps estimate the stated and revealed preferences of migrants and potential migrants, which in turn helps make the case that immigration yields benefits to the migrants themselves.
- They provide quantitative information on how large an immigration tariff can be so as to be cost-competitive with illegal immigration.
Blog posts and other reading material
- Snakeheads as high impact entrepreneurs by Vipul Naik, Open Borders: The Case, November 16, 2014, discusses human smuggling operations from China to the United States, with a particular focus on Sister Ping, a recently deceased human smuggler.
- How can migrants afford huge smuggling fees? Three answers by Vipul Naik, Open Borders: The Case, December 10, 2014.
The photo featured at the top of this post is of irregular migrants making their way to Europe. Credit: CNN.