New figures show (another) drop in Mexicans coming to the US

The US recession continues to discourage would-be immigrants, with fresh Mexican government numbers showing a 40 percent drop in Mexicans emigrating in the past two years.

The number of Mexicans leaving the country to go abroad in the third quarter of this year dropped nearly 10 percent from the same period last year and fell about 40 percent compared to the number in 2007, as the recession in the US continued to discourage would-be immigrants.

According to numbers released this week by the National Statistics and Geography Institute (INEGI) in Mexico, some 142,052 Mexicans emigrated in the third quarter of this year. That's down from 155,090 last year and 234,146 the year before.

“It’s primarily the economy, because these are people who have been coming to the US for many years in response to labor market demands,” says Doris Meissner, director of the US Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “That went away with the recession.”

In the US, some 7.2 million jobs have been lost since December 2007. The foreign-born population has been the hardest hit. From 1994 to 2007, employment among immigrants was higher than that of natives, reaching 66 percent in 2007 compared to 63 percent for natives. But from the start of the recession through the first half of 2009, unemployment among immigrants rose to 9.2 percent (from a low of 3.4 percent), according to a Migration Policy Institute report, “Tied to the Business Cycle: How Immigrants Fare in Good and Bad Economic Times,” released in November. The native unemployment rate stood at 8.3 percent.

In certain sectors such as construction, which depends heavily on Mexican labor, the unemployment rate grew to as much as 17 percent in the first half of 2009.

Households headed by immigrants faced higher poverty rates. The real median income in 2008 was 5.3 percent lower than the previous year, and poverty rates grew by more than a percentage point to 17.8 percent.

Such deterrents have shrunk the balance of migrants – the numbers of those returning versus those leaving – in Mexico. The new INEGI figures show that while the balance stood at "negative 33,974" in the third quarter of 2009 - meaning that there were 33,974 more Mexicans that left Mexico than returned to the country in that time frame. It was at negative 72,038 in 2008 and negative 151,165 in 2007.

Still, despite analyst predictions that Mexico would face an influx of nationals returning home from the US, stretching government resources, INEGI figures show that the numbers of those returning during the third quarter of this year are only up slightly, at 108,078 in the third quarter of the year, compared to 83,052 in the same period last year and 82,981 in 2007. “There is still nor evidence of a massive return of migrants to the national territory,” INEGI said in its release.

That is in part due to Mexico’s own economic woes. Stricter enforcement along the US border has also caused many unemployed immigrants, even those in dire situations, to rethink returning home temporarily. “Even though it is bad in the US from a jobs standpoint, many feel that when jobs pick up again it will be much harder – if not close to impossible – to return,” says Ms. Meissner.

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