TREND: In recent years, flows of migrants from Africa, Asia, Haiti, and Cuba have been growing in Mexico. These flows have increased at a faster rate than those of Central Americans, which have been the focus of much of the media and policy debates in Mexico, and still make up the largest share of recent immigrants and refugees, other than U.S. citizens. To some extent, this so-called extra-continental migration from countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean has existed for decades. Yet, since 2016, the number of people making this journey has increased. In most cases, the United States or Canada are migrants’ ultimate destinations. However, the implementation of more restrictive U.S. immigration policies at its border has led many of them to face lengthier stays in Mexico. Others have even chosen to settle in the country for the long-term:
- While Central Americans migrants represented 86 percent of all Mexican apprehensions from 2017 to 2019, the flow of extra-continental migrants grew at a faster pace. In this two-year period, Central American migrant apprehensions grew by 93 percent. In contrast, those from Africa and the Caribbean grew by 224 percent and 430 percent respectively. On the other hand, apprehensions of Asian migrants grew by 14 percent, after a sharper increase in years prior.
- The combination of Mexico’s heightened enforcement, more restrictive U.S. immigration policies and the implementation of measures restricting mobility across the region to prevent the spread of COVID-19 led to a 64 percent decline in total apprehensions in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Although the number of apprehensions of Central Americans declined by 63 percent, apprehensions of migrants from the Caribbean declined by 75 percent, and by 87 percent for migrants from Africa and Asia.
- Of the 831,000 apprehensions recorded from 2017 through June 2020, the top five nationalities of extra-continental migrants were Haitians with 24,000 apprehensions, Cubans with 23,000, Indians with 14,000, and Bangladeshis and Cameroonians with 5,000 apprehensions each.
- From 2017 to mid-2020, Mexican authorities apprehended 106,800 minors. While 95 percent of all minor apprehensions were from Central America, among extra-continental migrants, it was most common for minors from Africa to show up in Mexico. In this period, 15 percent of African migrants apprehended were minors, whereas 1 percent of Asian migrants and 8 percent of Caribbean migrants were under 18.
- As the number of extra-continental migrants has risen, different nationality groups have used different pathways to exit or stay in the country with a regular status. In the past two years, the share of asylum seekers from Haiti and Cuba increased dramatically. In 2018, Haitians and Cubans combined made up only 1 percent of all total asylum applications in Mexico. As of July 2020, they represented 18 and 17 percent, respectively. The number of humanitarian visas issued witnessed a similar increase. While Haitians and Cubans barely made up 1 percent of all humanitarian visas issued in 2018, by June 2020, they represented 42 percent of all humanitarian visas issued so far this year. Haitians in Mexico have established a community in Tijuana, while Cubans are beginning to develop a larger network in Ciudad Juárez.
- It is less clear which specific legal pathways African and Asian migrants are using. From 2017 through June 2020, of the 30,300 migrants from Asia and Africa who were apprehended but were not returned to their country of origin, 45 percent received a regularization document from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, while 27 percent received an exit permit. Only 5 percent applied for asylum.
TAKEAWAY: The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent tightening of mobility restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border is likely to lead to a longer, if not more permanent presence of extra-continental migrants in Mexico. As the regions of origin of immigrants continue to evolve, it is imperative for policymakers and all actors involved to consider the implications for Mexico’s migration management strategy and integration efforts, especially regarding access to legal pathways, public services, and employment, as well as assistance with communication and developing social networks.
* Spotlight by Jessica Bolter and Andrea Tanco , Associate Policy Analysts at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI). MPI seeks to improve immigration and integration policies through authoritative research and analysis, opportunities for learning and dialogue, and the development of new ideas to address complex policy questions. Twitter: @migrationpolicy