The end of “zero” migration? Why are fewer Mexicans now returning to their country from the US?



The phenomenon was called zero migration (The figures were even below zero), as the balance remained more loaded on the side of the return of the Mexicans.

But that could be changing.

The Pew Research Center (PRC) study center showed that fewer and fewer Mexican migrants return to their land, while those who migrate to the northern country continue to do so in constant numbers.

“The most recent thing we saw is that the return fell. It went back to levels we had seen roughly from 1995 to 2000“, Explains to BBC Mundo Ana González Barrera, author of the PRC study published in July.

“And then, although the migration of Mexicans to the United States has not increased, the number that have returned stopped. And this made the flow turn positive again. Nor had been in positive numbers for over a decade“, He points out.

Changes in Mexican migration to / from the US. "Zero" migration was sustained in the period from 2005 to 2014. Some years and periods are not counted, or overlap, due to how migration is recorded in both countries and the information available ..

However, for migration researcher Luciana Gandini, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the numbers still do not show that “zero” migration is ending.

But there are tougher US policies that are stopping Mexican migrants at the border.

“This level of border control is what is preventing the crossing of flows of various kinds to the US”

Why did the “zero” migration occur?

Antonio Villanueva is one of the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who in the past decade contributed to the phenomenon of “zero” migration.

The 46-year-old man, originally from Michoacán, arrived in the state of Colorado in 1998 and returned to Mexico in 2010, when employment in the construction industry was one of the hardest hit due to the economic crisis of 2008.

“There was nothing. All crews [de trabajadores] they were standing. (…) I was alone, I did not bring family, so for me it was easier to decide to return [a México]”, explains BBC Mundo.

In the last two decades, the great influx to the north from Mexico has declined and even had an inverse effect: in the period from 2005 to 2014 more Mexicans returned to their country than those who left.

That was considered a “zero” migration, or “less than zero”.

“The maximum number of returnees to Mexico from the US was especially in the period between 2005 and 2010, the main factor in those years being the loss of jobs derived from the great recession of 2007 and 2008,” explains González Barrera.

The economic crisis of those years affected sectors that employ many Mexicans, including agriculture and construction.

percentage of Mexicans in US industries

Cecilia Tombesi / BBC

But the tightening of immigration laws and strategies also generated more deportations and arrests, which discouraged crossing.

Villanueva, who had returned to Mexico in 2010, says he returned to the United States “in the days of the self-defense groups in Tierra Caliente,” a period of violence in the state of Michoacán in 2012.

“I fought a lot on the border. I was five or six months in Matamoros because it was difficult to cross, ”explains the man who now lives in South Florida.

Border controls and deportations at the time of Barack Obama they inhibited Mexican migration to the US, according to the PRC.

Border patrol agents and a migrant

The US has increased its border security more than ever in the past two decades.

However, there were also in Mexico demographic factors that altered the balance of the historical Mexican migration to the neighboring country.

The Mexican population has aged As a whole, what has moved the workforce: There are no longer as many young people who need the best job opportunities that the US offers, as in the second half of the 20th century.

And family needs are no longer the same: “Before, in a family of nine people, two or three of them would come, for example. And now there are families of 4 people, including parents, so there are not so many people willing to make the trip, ”says González Barrera.

Although the majority of returned migrants interviewed upon their return to Mexico said that they were returning to reunify the family, both Gandini and González Barrera say that response no usually the sole or main reason.

Why do Mexicans return to their country?  Main reasons (%).  .

In a similar way, it happens in the opposite direction: “The people who want to leave Mexico are not only because of an economic issue, it is because of the persecution of drug traffickers, because of institutional violence, because of organized crime. Wanting to leave the communities has to do with a much more complex situation, perhaps, than a decade or two ago ”, says Gandini.

What is happening now?

In the United States live some 47 million immigrants not born in that country (of 329 million inhabitants), of which a quarter are of Mexican origin.

That number has historically been so large a product of what the PRC calls “one of the largest mass migrations in modern history”: some 16 million between 1965 and 2015.

According the change seen by the PRC between 2013 and 2018, In that period, some 870,000 Mexicans migrated to the United States, but only 710,000 chose to return, a difference of 160,000 in favor of migration.

Why do Mexicans emigrate to another country?  Main reasons (%).  .

“This caused the flow to turn positive again, which had not been in positive numbers for more than a decade. But it is still at very low levels historically ”, he adds.

For Gandini, however, 27,000 migrants per year between 2013 and 2018 (which gives the approximate number of 160,000) is a very small figure: “In the golden or boom times of migration, those numbers were around half a million by year”.

“Then still we are very far from what was the traditional migratory pattern from Mexico to the United States ”, he adds.

In addition, in recent years Mexicans have had greater opportunities to migrate legally through temporary work visas that benefit both agricultural workers and professionals, part of free trade agreements.

The Tijuana border

Getty Images
Today more Mexicans can enter the United States legally than in past decades.

“We have realized that in recent years more Mexicans are here with a legal status than before. Now the majority of Mexicans or more than half are here with legal status and before, the last decade, it was the other way around. Most of them had an unauthorized status, ”says González Barrera.

An uncertain future in the balance

For Antonio Villanueva, returning to Mexico as he did in 2010 is to “think twice.”

“With everything that has happened with (President Donald) Trump, it is more expensive and more difficult, especially to return if things do not go well there in Michoacán,” he says.

Studies by the PRC and other US institutions indicate that the improvement of the economy in Mexico is an incentive for the return of Mexicans. Villanueva says that there are better conditions than when he left the first time in 1998, “but not so much”.

Automotive production plant in Mexico

Getty Images
Manufacturing employment in Mexico, like auto plants, has provided opportunities for Mexicans.

Gandini explains that the figures do not show an economic improvement in Mexico. Poverty in 2008 and 2018 was practically the same (49%), as was informal employment (48% -52%).

“The original conditions are the same or worse, it depends on how you look at it,” he says.

In recent years, Mexicans they continue to try to emigrate to the US but have encountered policies such as “express deportation” established in the Trump administration.

“The detention lasted for 96 minutes. Imagine what this implies, that you can’t even ask the name, ”says Gandini.

“And that means that you cannot count that flow because people do not cross, or cross but are immediately deported. So you can’t measure that many people ”.

Graph of arrests at the US-Mexico border


González Barrera agrees that it is not clear what will happen to the migration balance, whether it will continue to be positive towards crossings to the US or whether it will remain in the “zero” trend.

“The latest data from the Mexican side show that the return of Mexicans continues to decline until 2020. And it is likely that we will continue to see the same trend even before the pandemic, which changed many things, “he says.

BBC Mundo

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