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Returning to a New Mexican Labor Market? Regional Variation in the Economic Incorporation of Return Migrants from the U.S. to Mexico

Abstract

In recent years, a historically unprecedented number of Mexican migrants to the U.S. returned to Mexico. Compared to previous cohorts, recent return migrants are distinct in their motivations for return, who they return with, and where they settle. Family reunification remains a pull, but more stringent enforcement of immigration law forced return as a result of deportation, and recent recessions eroded economic opportunities in the U.S. labor market, perhaps spurring others to leave. A growing number of U.S.-born migrants, many with limited experiences in Mexico, are also accompanying family members on return. Increasingly this exceptional flow of migrants is settling outside of traditional sites of emigration/return, dispersing throughout Mexico. This paper addresses how the economic incorporation of this diverse group of migrants varies across regions in Mexico over a transformational period. Using the 2000 and 2010 Mexican Censuses and a 2015 Intercensal Survey, we compare the labor market outcomes of migrants across regions of return. We find that relative earnings of recent cohorts of returnees and U.S.-born migrants are lower than those garnered by previous cohorts. The declining fortunes of individuals with U.S.-Mexico migration experience are largest in the non-traditional northern, southern/southeastern, and central regions.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Throughout the paper, we use the term return to indicate the migration of Mexican-born individuals who were living in the U.S. 5 years ago and are in Mexico at the time of the Census. Since we do not have self-reported reasons for return, we do not refer to all migrants as involuntary or forced migrants. Given the scale of DHS-reported removals, it is likely that a large portion of the sample was forced to return against their will, among migrants returning for other reasons, including family reunification, poor health, and completion of target savings (van Hook and Zhang 2011).

  2. 2.

    These states also differ considerably in extreme poverty prevalence. Whereas over a quarter of the population in Chiapas (28%) and Oaxaca (27%) lived in extreme poverty in 2016, extreme poverty rates in Nuevo León and Baja California were only 0.6% and 1.1%, respectively.

  3. 3.

    Results remain unchanged when those with zero earnings are included in the analytic sample, by assigning these cases a trivial amount of earnings ($1) before taking the log transformation.

  4. 4.

    Internal migration at the municipality level was not available for all three time periods.

  5. 5.

    The recent U.S.-born migrant population has close ties with Mexico, especially younger migrants. We do not have information on ethnic origin, but the 2015 Intercensal Survey asks about citizenship. In 2015, 34% of U.S.-born migrants aged 15–24 are Mexican citizens. One-quarter of those aged 25–39 have Mexican citizenship, and one-sixth of the 40–59 population does. Those without citizenship may become Mexican citizens later if they have at least one Mexican-born parent. Almost half of the recent U.S.-born migrants aged 15–24 are living in a household with a Mexican parent. How dual citizenship facilitates migrant labor incorporation is an open question, but it is associated with access to different social capital. The recent U.S.-born migrant group also differs in terms of human capital. Among those in our estimation samples with positive earnings aged 25–59, 7% of the recent U.S.-born have at least 1 year of postgraduate education (Masters or PhDs), whereas less than 3% of Mexican non-migrants do, and this is only 1% among Mexican returnees from the U.S.

  6. 6.

    We also excluded extreme outliers, defined as those with earnings greater than four times the standard deviation of year and gender-specific earnings distributions.

  7. 7.

    Due to small sample sizes for women, we recoded the variable for industry. We grouped together (a) mining and agriculture, (b) manufacturing, electricity, and construction, and (c) financial and real estate services.

  8. 8.

    Regional boundaries are displayed in the upper-right map of Fig. 1 and defined in the figure’s note. These regions correspond to the ones used by the Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO) based on those defined by Durand and Massey (2003). However, we locate Oaxaca in the southern/southeastern region rather than in the central region, given its similarity in rural and indigenous composition, as well as economic, industrial, and labor market conditions.

  9. 9.

    The level of marginalization and its categorical version, the degree of marginalization, are widely used in Mexico to characterize conditions of economic and social well-being at the state and municipality level, and are produced by Consejo Nacional de Población (CONAPO).

  10. 10.

    Results from models stratified by region lead to similar conclusions.

  11. 11.

    2010 was omitted for the sake of space, but largely mirrors trends established for 2015.

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Acknowledgements

This research is funded by Fondo Sectorial SEDESOL-CONACYT through the project “Variaciones geográficas de los procesos de integración de jóvenes migrantes: la importancia del contexto local de retorno y acogida” (#292077). We thank Marlen Guerrero, Francisco Flores Peña, Abigail Tun Mendicuti, and Natalia Oropeza Calderón for their excellent research assistance. We benefited from discussions of the preliminary results of this paper at the Population Association of America and the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population meetings, and from feedback from three anonymous reviewers. All mistakes remain our own.

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Denier, N., Masferrer, C. Returning to a New Mexican Labor Market? Regional Variation in the Economic Incorporation of Return Migrants from the U.S. to Mexico. Popul Res Policy Rev 39, 617–641 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-019-09547-w

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Keywords

  • Return migration
  • Mexican migration
  • Labor market
  • U.S.–Mexico
  • Immigration