Immigration flows this year continued to respond sharply to the economic climate in major immigrant-receiving nations, as many struggled to gain a labor market foothold in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown.
New data from the Mexican and US governments indicate that illegal immigration from Mexico continued to be at a standstill in 2011, continuing a trend first observed in 2007.
Few Mexicans are making their way to the United States and larger numbers than US analysts had expected are returning to Mexico. This is due to the continuing poor condition of the US economy and increasing economic opportunities in Mexico, coupled with more aggressive removals of unauthorized immigrants throughout the United States, increasingly successful enforcement at the borders and the associated risks of crossing illegally, strict enforcement policies in several states, and the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment.
According to Mexico’s statistical agency, INEGI, total emigration from Mexico to the United States over the half decade preceding the census year fell from about 1.6 million in 2000 to less than 1 million in 2010 — a 37 percent decrease.
Evidence from the 2010 Mexican census also indicates a marked increase in the return of Mexicans since 2005 — more than US data have previously suggested. As of June 2010 (the census date), about 994,000 Mexicans who had reported living in the United States in 2005 had returned to Mexico. By contrast, the comparable figure from Mexico’s 2000 Census was about 267,000.
After decades where migration from Mexico to the United States significantly outweighed Mexican return migration, the number of Mexicans emigrating northward is roughly the same as the number returning home. In other words, net migration from Mexico to the United States is near zero.
While the above data technically refer to both the legal and illegal migration of Mexicans to the United States, it is safe to assume that unauthorized flows have reduced to a trickle. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, overall apprehensions both at the border and within the United States — the overwhelming majority of which are usually Mexican citizens — sank in 2010 to their lowest level since 1972, with 516,992 immigrants apprehended.
The migration of authorized permanent and temporary immigrants to the United States postrecession tells a more nuanced story, however. The number of people arriving with visas for lawful permanent residence has remained relatively stable throughout the recession and recovery, largely because visa backlogs had left large numbers waiting in line to receive green cards. Admissions of temporary workers remain well below their 2007 peak, but the number of students, trainees, and exchange visitors rebounded to over 700,000 in 2010, after a brief slowdown in 2009.
However, the United States issued fewer visas for seasonal workers under the H-2A and H-2B programs in FY 2010 than it did in the two and three years prior, respectively. And while the H-1B “specialty occupation” visa quota of 65,000 was once filled in a matter of days, it took nine months to reach the cap for the FY 2011 program and a bit under eight months for FY 2012.
Like the United States, the European Union has had a mixed experienced with migration flows since the official end of the Great Recession, not only in terms of EU-wide in-migration and out-migration of both EU and third-country nationals, but also on the individual country level.
Member States and Schengen-associated countries reported to Frontex (the EU border management agency) a third fewer detections of illegal border crossings in 2009 than in 2008, but this downward trend was apparently short-lived. In 2010, a total of 104,049 detections were reported — still one-third less than in 2008 but almost identical to the 2009 total. Illegal immigration increased by 345 percent at the Turkey-Greece land border crossing in 2010, but decreased along all other routes including from western Africa, Eastern Europe, and central and western Mediterranean.
In addition to reductions in the number of illegal entries along most routes, detections of illegal stay in EU Member States declined 15 percent from 412,125 in 2009 to 348,666 in 2010, perhaps indicating that fewer unauthorized migrants are trying to make their lives in Europe.
Reports from Spain, which has been particularly hard hit by the recession and is lumbering along with 21 percent unemployment and a still-sinking housing market, indicate that approximately 17,000 of the country’s more than 5.5 million immigrants have taken part in a Spanish program that began in 2008 and pays migrants to go home. Other reports suggest that as many as 180,000 immigrants left the country on their own in 2010 alone.
Between April 2009 and April 2010, Ireland — with its struggling economy and high unemployment — saw immigration (both EU and non-EU nationals) sink to its lowest level since 1989, with just 30,800 new entrants. The country is predicting an increase in newcomers for the year to April 2011, though total emigration is still expected to outpace immigration by about 33 percent. An estimated 36,300 immigrants left Ireland in 2011, and in 2010 a total of 37,600 immigrants departed — more than the total number of new immigrants for that year.
Evidence from Spain and Ireland also points to an increasing trend of emigration among the native born in both countries. Highly educated and skilled Spanish youth are reportedly moving within the European Union and beyond in search of better opportunities, though no recent data are available. In Ireland, emigration among the Irish increased from 27,700 to 40,200 from April 2010 to April 2011. Indeed, 53 percent of all emigrants leaving Ireland in fiscal year 2011 were Irish. (See Issue #4: Highly Skilled Migrants Seek New Destinations as Global Growth Shifts to Emerging Economies).
In the United Kingdom, however, the story is quite different: Net migration was positive at 239,000 in 2010, a 21 percent increase over 2009. After experiencing a slight dip in 2009, immigration to the United Kingdom has rebounded — mostly due to increased issuance of student visas — and is at a level comparable with that seen in 2004. Additionally, overall long-term emigration from the United Kingdom in 2010 was 336,000, the lowest level since 2005. Interestingly, 37 percent more people from Eastern and Central Europe immigrated to the United Kingdom in 2010 than in 2009, and 34 percent fewer emigrated from the United Kingdom.
Shifting migration trends postrecession were not limited to the United States and Europe. In Australia — a country that did not feel much of an impact from the recession — the total number of permanent departures (both native born and immigrant) in 2010-11 reached an all-time high of 88,461, continuing an upward trend apparent since the mid-1990s. The proportion of foreign born among emigrants held steady at about 50 percent. Conversely, immigrant arrivals to Australia in 2010-11 (127,458) decreased 19 percent from 2008-09 levels and reached their lowest point since 2004-05.
Canada had nearly 281,000 permanent residents in 2010 — an 11 percent increase over 2009 and the highest number of immigrants in a quarter century. Canada’s total number of temporary residents, which includes some workers, all students, and certain refugees, also reached a 25-year high in 2010, at 981,000, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.