Jul 092012

A recent post noted that net migration from Mexico to the USA has dropped to essentially zero. Does this mean that Mexicans no longer have any interest in moving to the USA? The answer to this question is complicated. Obviously, many Mexicans living in Mexico would like to join their family members in the USA if it were legally possible. Others might feel that their career ambitions or the aspirations of their children might be better served by living in the USA. On the other hand, many Mexicans in the USA might feel that their lives would be better if they lived in Mexico.

A face-to-face survey in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center of 1,200 Mexicans in Mexico sheds light on this issue. According to the survey, 56% had a favorable view of the USA, compared to 52% in 2011. Only 34% had an unfavorable view of the USA, down from 41% in 2011. The views varied significantly by age and education. Sixty percent of 18 to 29-year-olds had a positive view compared to only half of those over age 50. Fully 66% of those with a post-secondary education had a favorable view compared to less than half (48%) of those with less education.

Over half (53%) think that Mexicans who move to the USA have a better life, up sharply from 44% in 2011. This suggests that there is still considerable interest in migration. Only 14% indicated they had a worse life, down from 22% a year earlier. However, 61% said they would not move to the USA if they had the means and opportunity. On the other hand, 37% said they would move to the USA and of these 19% indicated they would move even without legal documentation. Not surprisingly, younger Mexicans and those with more education were more interested in moving to the USA.

The survey data indicate that when/if US unemployment declines and there are again ample job opportunities in the USA, many Mexicans may migrate legally or illegally to fill those jobs. Of course, employment opportunities in Mexico will be a very important factor affecting decisions about migration. While the Mexican economy has recovered from the severe recession far better than the USA, still 62% of surveyed Mexicans described the economy as “bad”, down from 75% in 2010 and 68% in 2011. But Mexicans remain optimistic, 51% say the economy will improve in the next year compared to 32% who think it will remain the same, and only 16% who believe it will be worse. The Mexicans more willing to migrate, those with higher educations and incomes, are more optimistic about Mexico’s economic future. If the gap between US and Mexican economic opportunities continues to shrink in the decades ahead, we can expect Mexicans to become less interested in moving to the USA.

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