September 22, 2015

Homecoming immigrants, the approaching crisis

It is estimated that, during the next ten years, 6 million old, sick and not pensioned Mexican immigrants will come back to Mexico. The experts urge the government to create policies that support their reintegration.

Text by Mely Arellano Ayala

It took Juan Carlos Chable three years to win his wife’s heart. When she finally accepted to marry him, he took her to his parents’ house to live but she wanted her own house. He went to the United States, worked for two years and a half, earning $1,800USD monthly, sending between $10,000 and $13,000 pesos every month, which allowed them to build a house and buy a mototaxi. After that he came back to Mexico.

Today he earns $6,000 monthly, has a $7,000 debt, two children and a house but no savings.

He is part of over a million Mexican immigrants who have returned –voluntarily or deported- since 2007 and one of the 5% that, according to “Impacts of reverse immigration from U.S. in six states”, were able to start their own small business after coming back. Now he faces the same problem that forced him to leave before: he doesn’t earn enough money and wants to go back to the United States.

Nevertheless, there is another problem he is not aware of: should he succeed leaving, he will come back among 6 million immigrants who, during the next 7 to 10 years will be old, sick and unable to get a job or enjoy the benefits of a pension.

It is the approaching immigrantion crisis.

Immigration caused by poverty

Juan Carlos lives in Oxkutzcab, a county in Yucatan that hold the 2nd place for immigration to the U.S. mainly to San Francisco, California. Once he graduated from high school he decided to stop studying to make money. He started working as a porter at the central market for $1,600 Mexican pesos every month.

Even back then, his eyes were set on U.S. and he had a plan to go there: he bought a scooter in small payments to work, then he sold it for half of its price, asked his father for a loan and started his journey. It was 2006 and the “Pollero” charged him $28,000 pesos.

Youth immigration is directly related to low salaries. The gap between the salary of a high school and a college graduated is, more or less, $3,000 pesos according to Salary Observatory form Iberoamericana University of Puebla’s coordinator Miguel Reyes Hernandez and, “facing a depressed labor market with precarious conditions and hiring possibilities” they choose to leave and stop being a burden to their families.

An immigrant’s usual conduct is, first “satisfying the basic necessities of his/her family back in Mexico and, whatever is left, goes to building a family patrimony”, according to Miguel Angel Coronal Jimenez from Xabier Gorostiaga SJ`s Interdisciplinary Environment Research Institute.

Once Juan Carlos arrived in San Francisco, California, he was disappointed. It was hard finding a job, even when a third of Oxkutzcab’s population was living there. For the first two weeks he thought he had made a mistake.

He finally got a job at a Chinese restaurant and began sending money to his wife and living modestly in order to save as much money as possible, leaving no room to relax or have fun.

“Once immigrants arrive in the U.S. they start earning dollars and sending money back to their countries –according to Reyes- however, there is a paradox since many of them don’t have a good life, they don’t get to live the American dream… They sometimes rent a room for 4,5 or 6 people because, in NY, the cheapest rent is around $1,500USD… if they earn the minimum wage, they would be making $1,400USD on a monthly basis”.

Mexican dream.

Going back North

Juan Carlos’ house is green, with a black and golden fence and a big porch with some plants in it. In the living room, there are pictures of his wedding, his children and one where, thanks to the magic of Photoshop, he and his wife are standing with the Golden Gate in the background.

Even though he doesn’t have an exact number, he claims that when he came back, after two years and a half, he had sent around $400,000 Mexican pesos.

According to Corona “Immigrants focus their savings on real state because it provides the security that banks fail to provide… so, if they are not looking for a piece of land to buy, they are looking for a house or building on the one they already have. This mentality is created by the lack of trust in the country’s situation”.

Juan Carlos’ case is an exception, according to Zacatecas University Researcher, Rodolfo Garcia Zamora; Juan Carlos is part of the less than 5% that comes back, because he came back with enough money to buy furniture for his house and to buy a $45,000 mototaxi plus $3,000 for the registration of the vehicle.

His business did not last long; soon there was too much competition.

“It is common for immigrants to prefer working as a laborer in the U.S. than having their own business in Mexico because, besides the competition, in here salaries are so low, the market is so depressed that… The regular rate of existence of a small/medium-sized business in Mexico is 2 years due to the lack of accounting and financial skills and, most importantly, there are no sustainable economic conditions”, explains Reyes.

The pressure is growing for Juan Carlos, along with his 5 and 3 year old kids. Besides, the maintenance of his mototaxi’s engine and tires represents an annual expense of $8,000 pesos. That is the reason he wants to repeat the story: go away for a few years and save some money, this time he wants to open a car wash.

Futuro incierto.
Uncertain future.

Lack of support

“Immigrants are not entrepreneurs, however there has not been an actual strategy by the government to enforce and support the small business culture… There have been attempts to do so, some experiences, but there hasn’t been a systematic policy for the last 20 years”, says Rodolfo Garcia Zamora.

Mexico receives an average of three hundred thousand million pesos annually in remittances, however, only 1.33% of that income is destined to immigrant assistance programs; which is less than 0.0001% of the federal budget, according with the 4th Public Budget Report on Immigration (2014) published by the Immigrants Public Policies Citizen’s Observatory in Puebla.

The Immigrants’ Support Fund (FAM), created in 2009, is the only existent program to “promote occupational activities and develop technical and productive capacities for the immigrants coming back home”.

FAM operates in only 447 counties from 24 states defined by their high rate of immigration, level of poverty and dependence on remittances. This program’s budget –strongly criticized due to its mildness- varies each year: it started with three hundred million pesos, then a hundred million and nowadays its budget is two hundred million pesos. The only funding it provides to productive projects, which Juan Carlos could have requested, is $15,000 pesos.


From 2005 to 2010, around 1,290,000 Mexicans came back to Mexico –between 65 and 95 percent did so freely and, 5 to 35 percent of them were deported- while a decade before, between 1995 and 2000 only 667,000 came back, according to Miryam Hazan and Carlos Manuel Lopez Portillo from MATT (Mexican and Americans All Working).

Rodolfo Cordova, from FUNDAR, considers that, during Barack Obama’s administration, there have been an unprecedented number of deportations: over 2 million, mostly Mexicans.

There is more. “In 7 to 10 years there will be an increment on the homecoming flow of over 6 million old, sick immigrants with no pension plan. Which is the reason it is important for the Mexican government to start designing policies to support their reintegration… since they don’t have a pension plan, savings nor income once their working life is over”, urges the scholar from Zacatecas University, Garcia Zamora.

The question remains: Are the governments getting ready? What are an immigrant’s expectations to thrive back in his/her country?

Juan Carlos, a stranger to politics, is worried about supporting and providing his family and about starting “that” business, which his son will inherit so he never has to leave.

“A “Coyote” charges $120,000 pesos to take you to the “other side”. “I consider that this will be my ticket once again”, he says wishfully as he knocks on his mototaxi. “I will sell it and go back north”.

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Mely Arellano


Trabajo en el portal de noticias Lado B, en Puebla. Estudié Lingüística y Literatura Hispánica. Me gusta contar historias. Creo en el periodismo como un instrumento de la sociedad para la democracia.