By Axel Cabrera & Pedro Casas Alatriste *
In both politics and business, perception is just as important as data and evidence. The awareness of a particular situation tends to oscillate between the “good” and the “bad” –black and white– yet the reality is always a shade of gray. In Mexico, the vox populi around foreigners arriving in the country has progressively become more negative.
In the recent years and months, immigration numbers to Mexico have increased substantially, and with them, an anti-immigrant discourse. Whether in-person or online, there are greater concerns about newcomers to Mexico with some people recurring to xenophobic adjectives. We believe that behind the flashy headlines, lies an unknown potential for Mexico and its people. We need to take the conversation around immigration to Mexico towards the bright, positive side.
Mexico is at a pivotal stage for reshaping its approach toward immigrants. Politicians, businesspeople and citizens ought to seize the myriad of opportunities of fostering openness, both in policies and beliefs. To achieve this, we believe there are three stepping stones.
First, we must understand who these immigrants are. In 2021, Mexico hit record-high immigration figures in at least three different realms: 1) Asylum seekers and refugees: the Mexican government recorded 131,448 asylum requests, a 100x increase of the 2008 figures; 2) Businesspeople and entrepreneurs: since 2017, visas for permanent residents have steadily increased reaching around 70,000 per year and 3) Remote workers and digital nomads: this is a category not yet clearly recorded in public records. However, address changes in the U.S. and Europe along with data provided by AirBnB and hotel chains -and even just by taking a stroll around Mexico City and the Mayan Riviera–, we know this new group of people is large, and is here to stay. The idea of Mexico as an immigrant destination country is very real. Holistic and new-generation policies are needed to see tangible benefits of this fact.
So, secondly, Mexicans need to grasp the benefits of immigration, or at least demystify some negative perceptions. In an era where misleading information aims to suppress diversity, here are four facts in favor of immigration: 1) immigration contributes to an average increase of 7 percent in GDP of developing countries,according to the OECD; 2) the gains of a minimal relaxation of immigration barriers outweigh those obtained by relaxing trade and capital barriers, according to Dr. Michael Clemens; 3) part of Latin America’s slow growth rates is explained by its restrictive migrations policies that limit innovation and knowledge-transfer, as explained by economist Ricardo Hausmann, and 4) the influx of immigrants into a country does not have negative effects on less-skilled local workers, nor has there been evidence of increases in unemployment, according to Nobel Laureate in Economics, Dr. David Card.
Mexico is currently home to groups of immigrants that have arrived into the country during the past two centuries and draws on its talents to enrich its culture and create institutions and businesses. Two decades into the 21st century, it is time to rethink and resignify the relevance of immigrants in Mexico. It is time to take a step forward and improve the country’s immigration policy for the the equal benefit of those who are Mexican by birth and those who are it by choice.
Current and future immigrants have different motives to resettle in Mexico, but they all contribute to the social and economic progress of the country. Therefore, in this process of reshaping the Mexican approach toward immigrants, the third and last step is to update some policies and create new ones. In the case of asylum seekers and refugees, authorities should facilitate access and in-country mobility; accelerate the issuance of official documents that allow access to health and banking services; and socialize the hiring mechanisms currently available in the private sector. For businesspeople and entrepreneurs, policymakers could update Article 7 of the Federal Labor Law that caps at 10 percent the share of foreigners hired by a firm with respect to its total labor force; create a visa for entrepreneurs to attract investment and knowledge communities; as well as streamline the issuance of work permits. Regarding remote workers and digital nomads, Mexico must generate signals as a remote-work destination open to innovation; provide greater infrastructure (physical and digital); and create a legal figure for an ad-hoc regulation that bolsters the benefits for migrants and the Mexican public finances.
A not-so-old saying argues that one should not expect different results when doing the same process repeatedly. Yet, Mexico has addressed immigration from a national security perspective –very much like the U.S.– instead of choosing on approach where people are at the center of the decisions. Mexicans by birth and by choice deserve advanced policies that enable innovation, synergies, and diversity. A good step forward would be to remember that what unites us is greater than what divides us, and what we truly need is more openness and fewer barriers.
* Axel Cabrera and Pedro Casas Alatriste are fellows at the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and co-authors of the report series “More Openess Fewer Barriers” published in partnership with Mexico, ¿Cómo vamos?, a Mexico City-based think tank. The US-Mexico Foundation is a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexicofound