Open Journal of Political Science
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 158-166
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojps) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojps.2013.34022
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
Policies for High-Skilled vs. Low-Skilled Migration in
Center for Research on N orth America , National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico
Received July 17th, 2013; revised August 22nd, 2013; accepted September 1 0th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Camelia Tigau. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attri-
bution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
High-skilled migration has always been given priority and even encouraged by international and national
policy. At the same, international agreements for low-skilled migration tend to restrict it. Human capital is
considered valuable according to educational levels and working abilities, which puts undocumented mi-
grants in a difficult economic position. The NAFTA area is no exception: while the migration of profes-
sionals is given priority by mechanisms like the TN and H1 visas, there is still no agreement to relieve the
situation of unskilled immigration across the border from Mexico to the US and Canada in search of a
better life. At the same time, migration between Canada and the US is much freer, even though profes-
sionals are also given priority; after NAFTA, Canada has even experienced brain drain to the US. The
main question is how to reduce unfair differences in policies that prioritize the mobility of certain indi-
viduals based on their qualifications. Method: This paper analyzes and compares NAFTA’s impact on
policies for high- vs. low-skilled migration. It also uses the author’s ethnographic studies to express the
view of migrants on how human capital should be managed internationally.
Keywords: Migration Policy; Brain Drain; NAFTA; International Migration
Introduction: Labor Market Liberalization
How should migration be used to stimulate development
both for countries and individuals? Is it possible to design poli-
cies that do not prioritize different types of human capital
(skilled) over another (medium or unskilled)? How can this
“skills eugenics” be avoided?
NAFTA, which came into effect in 1994, establishes special
visas for businessmen, investors, professionals, and experts in
information technology and communication. While the US has
designed the TN visas to facilitate the entry of Mexican and
Canadian professionals, Canada has continued using the points
system it had before NAFTA. Mexico simply took advantage of
the new conditions for emigration. The Mexican president at
that time, Carlos Salinas, declared that the agreement would
allow the country to export goods, not people. Nevertheless, the
evolution of migration ever since shows a significant increase
in the migration of Mexican professionals to the US and Can-
Solimano (2010) notes that a country may wish to “solve” its
internal employment problems either by expecting foreign in-
vestment to generate jobs or by allowing people to migrate. The
second option relieves the pressure on internal markets caused
by surplus labor. He notices that neither of the two options
occurred with the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA), a treaty that was supposed to increase investment in
Mexico by US and Canadian companies and reduce northward
migration. However, the investment was not enough to stop
emigration; furthermore, developmental gaps and wage differ-
entials between the United States and Canada maintained
Mexican migration, both documented and undocumented. As
Solimano appreciates (2010, Loc., 633-643), the dilemma of
capital going to where cheap labor is available versus labor
going to where the jobs, higher wages, and capital are available
was tilted toward the second option.
This paper is structured in three main parts. The first is a re-
flection on immigration policies in major immigration countries
such as the US, Canada, and Australia, based on an older but
still valid study by Freeman (1995) in which he talks about
“client immigration politics”. The second is a comparison of
selected migration in the three countries, including brief up-
dates on changes due to the 2008 world recession and migration
updates based on OECD data. The third part looks at public
opinion regarding migration in the three NAFTA countries. The
section on Mexico actually includes opinions of Mexican mi-
grants to the US and Canada based on original interviews. The
paper ends with a discussion of a possible social contract on
migration as proposed by previous authors (Fitzgerald & Soli-
mano, inter alli), which could solve inequalities among labor
markets and favor both sending and receiving countries.
Client Immigration Politics
In an older study, Freeman (1995) notes that English-speak-
ing settler societies such as the US, Canada, and Australia have
been characterized by their histories of open immigration, plan-
ning, and regulation, as well as by densely organized webs of
interest groups contesting immigration policies. Even though it
has been 17 years since the publication of Freeman’s article, his
work seems to have a prospective value, since most of his con-
siderations are still valid in 2012, as we shall see below.
Freeman appreciates that the typical mode of immigration
policies in these countries is client politics or liberal democratic
immigration politics, formulated at a general level. Freeman
(1995: 886) thinks this is a form of bilateral influence in which
small, well-organized groups intensely interested in a policy
develop close working relationships with the officials responsi-
ble for it. Their interactions take place largely out of the public
view and with little outside interference. Client politics is
strongly oriented toward expansive immigration politics.
These countries experience cycles of immigration: good
times vs. bad times dynamics in which migration is tolerated
and encouraged during expansionary phases, but becomes the
focus of anxieties when unemployment rises and immigrants
Australia, Canada, the US, and New Zealand are prototypical
countries of immigration with generally positive folklore about
immigration. There is general inter-party consensus about im-
migration with exceptions such as Canada’s Reform Party.
On paper, Canada and Australia have a more sophisticated
and carefully planned migration program than the US and are
able to respond to short-term changes in economic conditions
more rapidly, as we shall see later when analyzing responses to
the 2008 crisis.
The three countries present certain barriers to procuring in-
formation about immigration, such as:
Scarcity and ambiguity of official data (a tendency for mi-
gration flows to start small and build up over time as a re-
sult of chain migration and family reunion, which deter-
mines opposition to immigration growth over time [“expan-
Lack of consultation of the public on immigration policies;
Immigration produces concentrated benefits to employers in
labor-intensive industries, those that depend on unskilled
labor, and businesses that profit from population growth
(real estate and construction). The immediate costs of im-
migration fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the
minority of the population that is competing with immi-
grants for scarce jobs, housing, schools, and governmental
The organized public representing beneficiaries is more
vocal and has greater impact, so that in general public
opinion is more in favor than against immigration.
Comparison of the Migration Policies in
US and Brain A t traction
The United States, the world’s main immigration country, is
currently a net importer of both capital and people, although in
other periods of the 20th century it was a net exporter of capital.
The US has an “alphabet soup of visas” (Lowell, 1999), a sys-
tem criticized by the skeptics who say that US employers invent
a scarcity of skilled citizen workers to justify importing cheaper,
The majority of skilled workers get into the country with
H-1B visas. In the 1990s, about 65,000 workers entered the
country each year with this visa.1. In 2004, the number of H1-B
visas increased by 20,000 to include PhD. candidates (see Box
Based on NAFTA, the US also offers the TN visas, which
US Migration Update (as of 2010).
Permanent immigration to the United States declined by 8 percent.
Most immigrants granted permanent residence based on employment were
family members of principal workers, and 92 percent were already in the
United States on a temporary visa.
Humanitarian migration comes mainly from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan.
21,100 individuals were granted asylum status, of which one-third were
Chinese (32 percent).
Visas issued under the uncapped temporary/seasonal agricultural worke
program (H-2A) fell 8 percent, to 56,000, given that a stricter wage re-
quiremen t and labor m arket test were imposed in March 2010.
The number of student visas (F-1) rose to 385,000, 54 000 more than the
previous year and the highest level in ten y ears.
The official estimate of undocumented immigrants remained unchanged
from the FY2009 level, at 10.8 million, 1 million fewer than pre-crisis 2007.
A record of 400,000 undocumented foreigners were removed from the
United States in 2011.
The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2011, which would re-
move the cap on the share of EB visas available each year that may be
granted to nationals of a given country, was passed by the House of Repre-
sentatives in November 2011 and is being considered by the S enate.
Source: International Migrat ion Outlook, OECD 2012.
are attractive for employers because they are easier to get: they
require less documentation and are cheaper than the H-1B visas.
Annual admission quotas are also bigger than for the H1. In
2005, 50,000 Canadians were admitted on TN visas, compared
to only 2500 Mexicans. This difference is quite surprising tak-
ing into account that the same year, Mexico had a workforce of
43.4 million, compared to only 16.3 million in Canada (Orren-
ius & Streitfeld 2006).
The United States offers special visas for investors: the E-2
visa, for which investors must show a net worth of US$1 mil-
lion and intent to invest around US$750, 000 in the country.
The United States also offers the L-1 visa program, related to
the productive sector and designed to facilitate the intra-com-
pany transfer of personnel. Finally, the US 0 - 1 visa program is
for people with “extraordinary (outstanding) abilities” and
proven achievements (national or international prizes, out-
standing publications, and so forth) in science, education, sports,
the arts, culture, cinematography, and TV production. This
program is oriented toward “cultural talent” and “academic
talent” (Solimano, 2010).
Effects of t he 2008 Economic Rece ss ion on Eli t e
Migration to the US
While many countries have responded to the economic crisis
by lowering the number of work permits issued to low-skilled
foreign workers, the US government focused on high-skilled
temporary work permits, making it more difficult for certain
financial companies to apply for H-1B visas to hire more high-
skilled workers. As part of the financial-sector bailout legisla-
tion signed into law by President Obama in mid-February 2009,
the government prevented banks and other financial institutions
that receive taxpayer-funded bailout money from hiring H-1B
workers unless the firms comply with certain requirements.
One of these is a sworn statement that they had offered posi-
tions to equally or better-qualified US workers first. The law
also prevents banks from hiring H-1B workers in occupations
in which they had laid off US workers (Fix et al., 2009: 131).
Following the passage of the new restrictions, the Bank of
America withdrew job offers made to foreign MBA students
graduating from US business schools for the summer of 2009
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 159
(Fix et al., 2009: 134).
With the crisis, applications for H1B visas decreased from
65,000 in 2008 to 45,000 in 2009. While the demand for skilled
workers in the US was stable, the demand for immigrant workers
decreased. Nevertheless, there were no massive returns. Work-
ers in some professions, such as in the fields of engineering and
health, are still very much in demand.
Compared to the H1, TN visas for Mexicans increased
slowly by 7.1 percent, even during the 2008 world economic
recession (Cruz-Piñeiro & Ruíz-Ochoa, 2010). Nevertheless,
the entry of Canadian professionals slowed down after 2007,
due to the competition between the TN and the other visas.
However, the US fiscal stimulus package makes it more dif-
ficult for benefiting firms to hire highly skilled foreign workers,
although this may make little practical difference given how
over-subscribed quotas for such visas are (Green & Winters,
Irregular and Undocumented Immigration
Some of the current problems of the US immigration system
are its costs, border controls, and the growing influence of La-
tinos, considered by certain sectors of the public a menace to
Apart from skilled migrants, the US has to deal with an esti-
mated 12 million unauthorized immigrants, a number smaller
than those who enjoy permanent legal status but who are treated
as second-class citizens (Moses, 2009). Their situation and pub-
lic opinion against migration sharpened after 9/11 and the 2008
The tightening of border controls began in 1994 with Opera-
tion Gatekeeper, which transformed Mexican migration from
short-term cyclical flows to permanent settlement. This in turn
paved the way for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, designed to
prevent Mexican migrants from entering across the southwest
border (Castles & Miller 2010).
At present, the US has an “e-Verify” electronic employment
eligibility verification system, a temporary, voluntary program
due to conclude at the end of September 2012. However, the
program became permanent and works as a national electronic
After the 2008 recession, restrictive bills for local control of
illegal immigration were adopted or discussed in several US
states, some of which were challenged in federal court.
The most controversial bill was the Arizona law (passed in
April 2010) that, to quote CNN, “orders immigrants to carry
their alien registration documents at all times and requires po-
lice to question people if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the
United States illegally. It also targets those who hire illegal
immigrant laborers or knowingly transport them”. Supporters
insist that the law targets law breaking, not a particular race,
ethnicity, class, or appearance. As Governor Brewer put it, “We
must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color,
accent or social status”. Opponents see the law as a thinly
veiled—or even overt—attack on Latinos, immigrants, and
perhaps all people of color. President Obama asserted that “the
recent efforts in Arizona... threatened to undermine basic no-
tions of fairness that we cherish as Americans”, and the De-
partment of Justice will file a legal challenge to the law on the
grounds that it illegally supersedes federal authority (Fraga,
2009, in Castles and Miller).
At least initially, US American public opinion sided with
Governor Brewer. A 2010 Gallup poll showed 51 percent sup-
port and 39 percent opposition to the Arizona law. Furthermore,
legislators in about half of US states have promised a bill simi-
lar to Arizona’s, and Southern conservatives are “stampeding to
express solidarity with the Arizona governor and legislature”
(Hochschild, 2010). However, the opinions of Mexican mi-
grants are quite different (see Box 2).
No wonder President Obama was criticized for his “compre-
hensive immigration reform” that includes amnesty for “illegal
aliens”, loose enforcement, and higher levels of future legal
immigration (Krikorian, 2012, Loc. 16-17). Krikorian, the
leader of an anti-immigrant movement, also criticizes Obama
for the e-Verify system. In his opinion, “a system that doesn’t
detain regular illegal aliens along with irregular ones” is a sys-
tem that cannot work (Loc. 81-84).
The good news is that in 2012, the Dream Act was voted in,
that is, regularization for undocumented high school graduates
who came to the United States as children and who have at least
two years of either military service or college attendance.
According to the 2006 census, 19.8 percent of Canada’s
population is foreign-born, a figure second only to that of Aus-
tralia (22.2 percent) and much higher than that of the United
States (12.5 percent) (Statistics Canada, 2007). Canada is a sig-
nificant host society: with 6.1 million immigrants in 2005, it is
among the top seven hosts for international migrants (Good,
2009, Loc. 279-282).
Before the 1960s, immigration to Canada was racially based
(Abu-Laban & Gabriel, 2002: 43), Migration came mainly from
Europe, the source of 90 percent of Canada’s immigrants. Only
3 percent of migrants to Canada came from Asia (Statistics
Canada, 2003: 6). By the 1990s, the leading source of immi-
grants to Canada was China, followed by India, the Philip-
pines, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Taiwan (7). Ac-
cording to 2006 Census figures, 83.9 percent of immigrants to
Canada between 2001 and 2006 were non-European (Statistics
Canada, 2008a: 12). Because of these changes, Canada experi-
Opinions of the Mexican Diaspora on the “Arizona Law”.
“The Arizona Law is discriminatory; it is a law that responds to the fear o
conservative Americans, who have started to lose the control they once had
over their society, laws, and status. It is important not to lose sight of the
growing strength Hispanics represent in the US. Sooner or later, and despite
racist attitudes, they will have to accept that the US is turning into a much
more plural society.” (Manager, Texas, 55 years old, 26 years in the US)
“I personally make my living from US commerce, but I generally conside
them as a two-faced people. On the one hand, they exhibit their cultural
diversity but on the other hand, we have the Arizona Law. This is almost
regression to the time of Nazi Germany, where they could ask for your ID at
any time. This goes against what this country is supposed to represent.”
“Fortunately, New York has a very liberal tradition, and that’s why we ha
a lot of opposi t ion to this law. If they were to detain s omebody for his or he
skin color, the y would have to arrest every one.” (Artist, N ew York)
“You can understand the problems that certain communities have because
they are close to the border. However, I feel that a legitimate cause has been
transformed into an excuse for a racist act.” (Software engineer, Seattle, 29
years old, 5 years in the US)
“The truth is, nobody commented too much on this issue. To the few people
I spoke to, the law seemed extreme, unnecessary, because undocumented
eople are taking jobs that nobody wants. Actually, if they don’t wan
Mexicans to be here illegally, they shouldn’t offer them jobs.” (Projec
manager, New Jersey , 37 years old, 11 years in th e US)
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s.
enced a threefold increase in its visible-minority population
between 1981 and 2001 (Statistics Canada, 2003: 10). In addi-
tion, there has been an upward trend in the proportion of immi-
grants who are visible minorities, with 52 percent, 68 percent,
and 73 percent of immigrants to Canada in the 1970s, 1980s,
and 1990s, respectively, identifying themselves as such (10).
Three-quarters of the immigrants who arrived in Canada be-
tween 2001 and 2006 were visible minorities (Statistics Canada,
2008b: 2). Furthermore, Statistics Canada forecasts an intensi-
fication of the link between the “racial” diversification of Can-
ada and immigration. In the 2006 census, 16.2 percent of the
Canadian population reported belonging to a visible minority
(Statistics Canada, 2008a: 5). StatsCan predicts that by 2017, if
current immigration trends continue, between 19 and 23 percent
of Canadian residents will belong to a visible-minority group.
The report concludes that immigration is “unquestionably” the
most important factor in the increase in Canada’s visible-
minority population (Statistics Canada, 2005: 6). From a policy
perspective, the viability of the multiculturalism model will be
strongly tied to its ability to “manage” the ethno-cultural diver-
sity arising from immigrant selection practices (Good, 2009,
These changes are mainly due to the point system for skilled
workers introduced in 1967 and further reformed in 1993 and
2002. Points are calculated according to educational level, lan-
guage skills, work experience, age, a job offer in Canada, and
adaptability. Individuals who get more than 67 points on a scale
of 100 are eligible for permanent residency (see Box 3). De-
spite the fact that it responds to the market needs, the Canadian
system attracts fewer skilled workers than the US (Doomernik,
Koslowski, & Threnhardt, 2009).
The points system accompanied a policy of multiculturalism
entrenched in the Canadian Constitution. Canada has a variety
of anti-racism programs, employment equity initiatives, and
immigrant settlement policies. Multiculturalism can be consid-
ered “a response to the pressures that Canada exerts on immi-
grants to integrate into common institutions” (Kymlicka, 1998:
Kymlicka notes that since official multiculturalism was first
adopted in 1971, Canada has seen an increase in rates of immi-
grant naturalization, intermarriage, political participation, and
official-language proficiency. More recent comparative re-
search on immigrant integration and political incorporation in
Canada and the United States has concluded that Canada’s
multicultural model is contributing to integration.
Kymlicka (2008) attributes the success of the Canadian mul-
ticulturalism model to timing and geography. Kymlicka finds it
Canada’s immigration programs.
1) Skilled workers and professionals. For people who want to settle and
work in Canada, except for Quebec
2) Quebec. Selected skilled workers
3) Canadian Experience Class. F or people who h ave recent Canadian wor
experience or have graduated and recently worked in Canada
4) Investors, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed. For people who want to
start a business in Canada
5) Provincial nominees. One of Canada’s provinces or territories can nomi-
nate individuals to settle and work there
6) Sponsoring your family. For family reunion.
significant that the policy was adopted before the racial diversi-
fication of Canada and before people from non-Christian relig-
ions and potentially illiberal cultures dominated the country’s
immigrant pool. When Canada’s national policy of official
multiculturalism was first adopted, just over 50 percent of im-
migrants were visible minorities; this figure is now 75 percent.
In terms of geography, Kymlicka notes that Canadians have
embraced multiculturalism because “we face no threat of large-
scale influx of unwanted migrants from neighbouring poor
countries, whether illegal immigrants or asylum seekers” (2008,
7). In other words, Canada’s geography reduces Canadians’
fear of being “swamped” by a single ethnic group.
Whereas immigrants constituted about 19.8 percent of Can-
ada’s population in 2006, they accounted for 45.7 percent of
Toronto’s population and 39.6 percent of Vancouver’s that year
(Statistics Canada, 2007b). In fact, in 2002 close to 50 percent
of Canada’s approximately 230,000 immigrants settled in the
Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) alone (CIC 2002).
StatsCan (2005) predicts that Canada’s visible minorities (most
of whom are foreign-born) are likely to continue to locate in
urban centers and that in 2017 close to three-quarters of Can-
ada’s visible minorities will be living in Toronto, Vancouver, or
Montreal. According to StatsCan projections, by that year the
Toronto CMA will be home to 45 percent of Canada’s visible
minorities and the Vancouver CMA to 18 percent (2005, 7).
Visible minorities will be the “visible majority” in both CMAs
(Good, 2009, Loc. 418-422).
The Canadian economy was affected less by the crisis than
the US economy. Canada is one of the few countries where no
restriction was put on migration after the 2008 crisis and it even
introduced a Plan for Faster Immigration (see Box 4). Jason
Kenney, Canada’s immigration minister, declared that his
country would continue its migration policy for economic areas
that needed it, despite the crisis. He also said that migrants with
extraordinary abilities would help Canada get out of the crisis.
Therefore, the flows of skilled workers, included Mexicans, did
It comes as no surprise that on June 20, 2012, the same Min-
ister Kenney announced a six-month moratorium on the Federal
Skilled Worker Program and the Immigrant Investor Program.
This interruption is meant to resolve existing backlogs and
improve the visa system for both categories (high-skilled work-
ers and investors) so that the admissions system can be faster in
The Canadian action plan for faster immigration (2008).
Canada launched a system to speed up processing of skilled-worker immi-
grant applications, with four steps:
1) Establishment of eligibility criteria for skilled workers to consider thei
applications using an occupation filter (November 2008)
2) Setting caps (annual cap of 20,000 in total and 1,000 per priority occupa-
tion) on new applications to be considered under a new priority occu
scheme and introducing a language testing requirement for all permanent
economic immigrants (June 2010)
3) Reduction of the annual skilled worker cap to 10,000 in all and 500 pe
riority occupation; introducing an annual intake cap of 700 for immigran
investors; moratorium on immigrant entrepreneur a pplications (J une 2011)
4) Suspension of sponsorship applications for parents and grandparents fo
up to 24 months. Allowance of up to 1,000 foreign nationals per year cur-
rently studying at the doctoral level or recently graduated to apply as skille
workers (November 2011)
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 161
the future (Graveland, 2012).
In early 2009, citing economic uncertainty and rising unem-
ployment, the Canadian government briefly considered reduc-
ing its permanent immigration targets for the year. But the pos-
sibility was shelved after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney
met with his provincial and territorial counterparts to study the
demand for immigrants in regional labor markets. Permanent
immigration levels for 2009 were not reduced, maintaining a
target of approximately 250,000 new permanent residents.
Permanent immigration to Canada dipped slightly, however:
50,800 new immigrants came to Canada in the first quarter of
2009, compared to 53,147 during the first quarter of 2008 (Fix
et al., 2009: 136-137).
Canada also did not restrict flows of temporary workers. The
stock of temporary workers increased by nearly 26 percent
between 2007 and 2008, rising from 199,942 to 251,235. Dur-
ing the first quarter of 2009, the net number of non-permanent
residents (foreign workers and international students) increased
by nearly 23,800 (compared to a net increase of 15,600 in the
same quarter of 2008). The fact that more temporary residents
arrived than left Canada in early 2009 is consistent with the
upward trend that began in 2007 (Fix et al., 2009: 63-64).
Temporary Workers Programs
Temporary foreign workers may stay in Canada for only a
limited time, which encourages use of permanent residence
pathways if applicable, and departure if not. Transitions from
temporary to permanent resident status are facilitated through
avenues including the Canadian Experience Class, the Federal
Skilled Worker Program, and the Provincial Nominee Program.
In 2010, Canada changed its integration program funding to a
“Modernized Approach”, uniting separate programs for settle-
ment (see Box 5). Newcomer services are covered by a single
funding agreement, simplifying the administrative process for
Canada migration update.
Canada admitted about 281,000 permanent migrants in 2010, an 11 percent
increase ov er the previ ous year, and the larges t nu mber since 1957.
As in previous years, the top sending countries were the Philippines (13
percent), India (11 percent), and China (11 percent).
In 2010, most permanent migrants (61 percent) entered Canada for family-
related reasons (this includes the spouses and dependents of principal eco-
nomic appli cants).
Labor migrants accounted for roughly one-quarter of long-term inflows, an
one out of eight permanent migrants acquired a residence permit on hu-
manitarian gr ounds.
Canada admitted 384,000 temporary residents in 2010, slightly more than in
The number of temporary foreign workers remained stable, representing 47
percent of all temporary migrants. Within the group, however, growth was
recorded in managerial and professional occupations, while lower-skille
groups all declined. The main sending country for temporary workers re-
mained the United States.
The number of international students rose almost 13 percent from 2009
levels and accounted for 25 percent of tempo rary flows.
Canada received almost 24,700 refugees in 2010, mainly from Iraq an
Asylum seekers came from Colombia, Haiti, and Sri Lanka. In 2010, asy-
lum claims fell by about 30 percent from 2009, mainly due to a reinstate
visa requirement for the Czech Republic and a new visa requirement fo
The number of naturalizations has been declining continuously since 2006.
India, China, and the Philippines were the top three source countries fo
new Canadian citizens in 2010.
Source: International Migrat ion Outlook (OECD 2012).
immigrant-serving organizations, and allowing them to tailor
their offerings to suit newcomers’ needs. Since their introduc-
tion, the use of settlement services by newcomers has increased
by eight percent.
An evaluation of the Federal Skilled Worker Program
(FSWP) 2002-2008 was published by the CIC in 2010. While
identifying several critical issues involved in the current selec-
tion system (principally, fraudulent job offers), the evaluation
showed that skilled workers with prior employment offers per-
formed better, and that the 2002 changes led to selection of
more highly educated workers, with better language proficiency,
and more diversification of both origin countries and occupa-
Nakache and Kinoshita (2010) observe that Canada’s grow-
ing focus on short-term labor immigration is unfair to the vast
majority of temporary foreign workers and will not help the
country meet its long-term employment needs. They also see a
discrepancy between policy and practice with regard to the
exercise of temporary foreign workers’ rights. One significant
factor is the restrictive nature of the work permit: temporary
foreign workers are often tied to one job, one employer, and
one location, which can have the practical effect of limiting
their employment rights and protections. Other problems in-
clude illegal recruitment practices, misinformation about mi-
gration opportunities, and lack of enforcement mechanisms.
Regarding employment, Canada seems indifferent to temporary
foreign workers’ future position in society.
There are significant differences in the treatment of family
reunion and access to permanent residency, depending on skill
levels. Skilled workers are offered opportunities to access per-
manent residency that low-skilled workers do not have. The
spouses of highly skilled workers are able to acquire open work
permits, and highly skilled workers have the opportunity to get
permanent residency from within. In contrast, the spouses of
less skilled workers must apply for a restricted work permit,
and less skilled workers, with few exceptions, have very limited
opportunity to immigrate pe rma n e ntly . Yet they can rene w their
temporary status so long as they have employment. Nakache
and Kinoshita argue that Canada encourages the integration of
highly skilled workers and is indifferent to that of less skilled
The authors conclude that the short-term focus of Canada’s
temporary labor migration policy will not help the country meet
its long-term labor market needs and is unfair to the vast major-
ity of temporary foreign workers. They offer a number of rec-
ommendations, such as allowing these migrants greater mobil-
ity; using enforcement mechanisms to protect them from abu-
sive practices; improving communication between different
governmental players; adopting a policy to support the integra-
tion of temporary foreign workers; and encouraging public
debate about the recent changes in Canada’s labor migration
Mexico is by far the leading sending country to the United
States. In 2007, there were 11.7 million Mexican-born persons
in the United States. More than half of these (55 percent) are
unauthorized (Fix el al., 2009: 39).
Annual flows from Mexico to the United States declined
from 1 million to 600,000 from 2006 to 2009 largely as a result
of a drop in illegal immigration. Legal immigration levels have
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s.
remained largely unchanged. As a result, the overall number of
Mexicans in the United States (constituting the country’s larg-
est immigrant group) has remained essentially unchanged in a
period when it would have been expected to grow by 1 million
(see Box 6).
However, virtually no change has occurred in return flows to
Mexico despite the fact that unemployment rates for Mexican
and Central American immigrants in the United States have
more than doubled. These trends lend support to the proposition
that people’s decisions whether to return home or not are
predicated on what is happening in the sending-country econo-
mies to an even greater degree than changes in the receiving-
country’s economy. (Fix et al., 2009: p. 7)
At the same time, evidence from US and Mexican population
surveys showed a recent steep decline in the number of Mexi-
cans going to the United States. US population survey data
show that while the annual number of new arrivals from Mex-
ico to the United States was 653,000 between March 2004 and
March 2005, and 424,000 between March 2007 and 2008, the
estimated annual inflow dropped to just 175,000 between
March 2008 and March 2009, the lowest total in the 2000-2010
decade. This finding is reinforced by analyses of US Border
Patrol detentions data showing that fluctuations in migrant ap-
prehensions closely track changes in labor demand (Fix et al.,
Apart from the big “US” problem, Mexico was subject to the
reintroduction of a visa regime for Canada in 2009 due to the
abuse of the Canadian refugee system by Mexican visitors (see
Box 7). Another issue that deserves special attention is Mexico
as a transit country for irregular migrants from Central Ameri-
can countries traveling to the United States; that flow has also
decreased steadily since 2005. In 2010, it was estimated at
140,000, 30 percent of the 2005 estimate. The same factors
explain the decline of transit migration as Mexican emigration:
lower labor demand in the United States; increased cost of
Mexico migration update.
The number of foreign-
orn residents in Mexico rose 13 percent from 2009
to 2010, from 860,000 to 961,000. The top countries of origin are the
United States, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, and China, (about 2000 immi-
grants each). The number of seasonal workers entering Mexico in 2010
decreas ed by 10 percent annually , to 27,400, almost a ll f ro m Guatem ala.
These movements are small compared to the population of Mexico and to
emigration of Mexican nationals, mostly to the United States. The recession
and stricter border controls have led, however, to a decline in the migration
of Mexicans. According to estimates based on the Mexican labor force
survey, annual outflows from Mexico have been declining since 2006. In
2010, they fell 44 percent; in 2009, 16 percent; and in 2008, 22 percent. The
decline c on ti nued in 2011 .
Attempts to cross the border with the United States continued to decline in
2010, as evidenced by the drop in detentions of Mexicans by the US au-
thorities, which fell from 503,000 in 2009 to 404,000 in 2010. Removals o
deportations of Mexicans, on the other hand, remained at the 2009 level, a
282,000. Forty-five percent of all Mexicans expelled from the United States
in 2010 had a criminal record.
The rate of irregular migrants sent back to Mexico has been declining since
September 2011, fol l owing a US poli cy change.
Remittance flows to Mexico picked up in 2010-2011 after a sharp decline in
2008 and 2009. From US$22.1 billion in 2009 and US$22.6 billion in 2010,
the World Bank estimates US$24 billion for 2011, below the peak level o
2007. While partly a consequence of the economic recovery in the Unite
States, the increase is also probably related to the depreciation of the peso
against the dollar in late 2011 and consequent greater purchasing power o
Source: International Migrat ion Outlook (OECD 2012).
Opinions of the Mexican Diaspora on the introduction of visas for
Mexicans who visit Canada.
“This is a terrible measure, especially as they pretend to give the same
opportunity to everyone. T here is no way to differentiate between those who
really need refugee status and those who abuse it in Canada. This wasn’
really a big problem; not many people were involved.” (Economist, To-
ronto, 30 years old, 8 years in Canada)
“There were tourists who came and asked for refugee status in Canada. The
formalities for the Canadian visa are 5 or 10 times more complicated than
the US ones.”(Housewife, former psychologist, Quebec, 29 years old, 3
years in Canada)
“As a Mexican, I feel offended. I’m not judging anyone, but there were
eople who came and cynically asked for refugee status. They had promises
of jobs, social security, economic aid, and studying English or French fo
free. Some came to finish their BA, but when the authorities found out
about it, some of them were deported. There are some really sad cases, bu
in general there was a lot of abuseof the refugee status. As a Canadian, I
think it was a neces sary measu re becau se the s ituation would even tually g e
worse. As a Mexican, I didn’t like it.” (Software engineer, Toronto, 39
years old, 13 years in Canada)
“There was no other solution. The bad part was the way they implemented
the visas for Mexicans overnight. There were people who had to sleep in
front of the Canadian Em bassy in Mexico City to get visas and not l ose thei
plane ticke t s.” (Engineer, Toronto, 33 years old, 6 years in Canada)
“Ihave conflicting feelings. Mexico was the only Latin American country
that Canada didn’t require a visa from to travel there. So, we had many
eople making up stories and abusing the refugee status. The measure was
consequence of lies, cheating, and abuse. But, it’s true that now there’s no
difference between sincere people and the ones who aren’t; everybody pays
for it.” (Actress, Toro nto, 32 years old, 8 years in Canada)
cross-border smuggling; increasing risks and rising violence
affecting migrants; and a relative increase in employment op-
portunities in Mexico. Kidnapping and violence against mi-
grants has increased in recent years as drug cartels have moved
into human trafficking. Legal and enforcement measures have
been strengthened to deal with the issue. Mexico signed a re-
gional plan with Central American countries to coordinate co-
operation, exchange information, educate migrants, and dis-
mantle carte ls i nvolved in human trafficking.
Mexico Migration Law
Given the aforementioned problems, 2011 can be considered
an important year for migration legislation in Mexico, a country
known for its “policy of no policy” on migration issues as well
as for its difficulty in recognizing its Diasporas abroad. In
January 2011, Mexico enacted the Law on Refugees and Com-
plementary Protection. In May 2011, Mexico adopted its first
Migration Law, replacing the 1994 General Law on Population.
The new law establishes the conditions for the entry and resi-
dence of persons in the country and addresses the social, eco-
nomic, and cultural integration of immigrants in Mexico. The
number of categories of migrants is reduced, to limit the mar-
gins for discretion by immigration authorities.
The Migration Law defines regularization procedures for
undocumented migrants and also doubles prison sentences for
human trafficking and violence against migrants. Among the
main changes introduced are the acceptance of asylum applica-
tions after entry, the creation of the status of complementary
protection, and the recognition of gender violence and dis-
crimination as valid grounds for asylum. The Mexican govern-
ment is still preparing the regulations that will make it possible
to fully implement the new law.
A constitutional reform implemented in July of the same year
improves the legal regime for immigrants, so that Mexico now
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 163
recognizes the right to asylum and refugee status and grants
foreign citizens subject to expulsion the right to a prior hearing,
limiting the maximum detention period, and eliminating discre-
tionary deportation without legal basis or a judicial sentence.
Public Opinion on Migration
At present, Freeman’s study has been confirmed. With the
2008 recession, immigration to the US and Canada started to be
seen more as a problem than an opportunity (Gustin & Zie-
barth, 2010). While in 2008, Canadians generally favored im-
migration, in 2009, 25 percent were against it. In the US, public
opinion against immigration also rose from 49 percent (2008)
to 52 percent in 2009.
Transatlantic Trends on Immigration (TTI in Gustin & Zie-
barth, 2010: 976), a study conducted in 2008-2009, asked re-
spondents to assess the steps that their national governments
had taken to manage immigration. Whereas Germans (71 per-
cent), Canadians (63 percent), the Dutch (53 percent), and the
French (50 percent) thought that their governments were doing
either a good or a fair job at immigration management, the
British (71 percent), the Spanish (64 percent), US Americans
(63 percent), and Italians (53 percent) thought that their gov-
ernments were doing either a poor or a very poor job.
According to the TTI study, in the US, the public thinks a
reform should be undertaken to increase border security and
enforcement efforts involving employers, to expand temporary
labor programs at the expense of family reunification quotas,
and to create some form of legalization for many of the esti-
mated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in
the United States.
In Canada, a certain amount of optimism about immigration
was reported. Several of the largest cities can claim that half of
the population was born abroad, and public opinion about im-
migration is largely positive. Unlike the United States, where
the problem of illegal immigration has made the debate in-
creasingly contentious, Canada’s geographic isolation has pre-
vented illegal immigration from becoming a substantial issue.
Instead, Canada is able to select its immigrants based on labor
markets and national priorities, such as family reunification and
acceptance of refugees. Since the highly skilled generate eco-
nomic growth and are also traditionally considered easier to
integrate into the host society, some of Canadians’ positive
attitude may be explained by the perceived benefits of high-
The Mexican Diaspora in the US and Canada: Lov e
In-depth interviews with 50 Mexican professionals based in
the US and Canada, aged between 29 and 47, revealed charac-
teristics of their situation in their adopted countries. The sample
group shows two opposing tendencies: 1) demystifying their
circumstances, complaining of difficult living conditions and
discrimination, or 2) praising excellent living conditions and
mentioning the bad image Mexicans have in the US/Canada.
Bad image seems to hurt the possibilities of development of all
Mexicans, included highly skilled ones.
Those critical of the situation of Mexicans in the destination
country mention labor discrimination and poor access to educa-
tion. These are frequent problems for migrants with little time
abroad and with a more precarious situation in the destination
country. To the contrary, immigrants with a better labor and
economic situation think that discrimination is relative: “Dis-
crimination influences you if you let yourself be discriminated
against”, says one migrant1. Some believe that discrimination is
even stronger in Mexico, where racial prejudices are quite
Another frequent topic is the comparison between the US
and Canada, above all for Mexican residents in Canada. Some
appear to have chosen Canada as a society more open to mi-
grants than the US. In Canada, they say, it is less probable that
they will be discriminated against for being foreigners. This
turns out to be a prejudice at times, when some of the individu-
als have never been to the US, but complain of that country
As a matter of fact, the profile of migrants to the US and
Canada is different. There are almost no undocumented immi-
grants in Canada, besides fake refugees. Most interviewees are
proud to say that Canada needs migrants, and that therefore
their social and moral status is higher than that of immigrants in
the US. To the contrary, some professionals in the US, above
all in New York, would sacrifice anything to live in this cos-
mopolitan city. It is they who need the city, not the city that
The Crisis for Mexican Elite Workers
When asked about the effects of the 2008 crisis on their pro-
fessional lives, migrants in the US and Canada mention budget
cuts; higher cost of services due to fluctuations in the US dol-
lar/Candian dollar exchange rate; increasing competition with
countries like France and Japan; longer working hours to raise
output; irregular and uncertain payment for independent con-
sultants; and staff lay-offs.
Only those in Canada talked about governmental aid with
risk capital to diminish the impact of the crisis; the late impact
of the crisis (in 2009); or the idea that the crisis was exagger-
ated by the media, sparking fear, but the results were not that
Migrants in the US but not in Canada complained about the
return of skilled workers to Mexico due to lack of jobs; their
preference for more stable jobs as opposed to better paid jobs;
companies going bankrupt; and higher living expenses.
In most cases, the crisis did not affect Mexican migrants in
Canada. Canadian companies had signed long-term contracts
that allowed them to avoid the crisis; and the government
helped with risk capital. One person even noted, “There was a
lot of capital investment in Canada and low taxes allowed many
people to buy their own homes”3. Many Mexican families mi-
grated to Canada, mainly Quebec, in 2008-2009 due to the in-
security Mexico is experiencing at present.
They Had a Dream
New destinations in the US and Canada help Mexican mi-
grants fulfill their professional and private dreams. As one mi-
grant put it, “We have dreams and this country helps us make
them come true”. At the same time, incentives for return are not
enough in the current context of insecurity and scant profes-
sional opportunities in Mexico. This creates resentment and
1Corporate c hief of global strategy, 36 years old, 12 years in the US.
2Network engineer, 54 years old, 26 years in Canada.
3Engineer, 33 years old, 5 years in Montreal.
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s.
makes it difficult for migrants to cooperate with their native
Mexico has to compete with strong attraction factors in the
US and Canadian labor markets, due to their stronger econo-
mies and to NAFTA migration conditions. Taking into account
previous analyses that stated that Mexico has not taken suffi-
ciently advantage of the TN visas, migration of professionals
could even increase.
Inequalities and disparities among the three economic sys-
tems and migration flows in the NAFTA countries have led
certain authors to think about a social contract on migration.
Solimano (2010, Loc. 2165-2171) thinks of a social contract
on migration as an international task, not only a national one.
“This would be the only way to represent all stakeholders: the
migrants, the governments, employers’ associations, labor un-
ions, and civil society organizations in both countries of origin
and destination nations”4.
According to Solimano, the followings are some of the chal-
lenges for establishing a more humane, rational international
migration regime for both sending and receiving nations:
For receiving countries:
Rich countries face obvious limits in using immigration to
permanently solve their labor scarcity, skill shortages, and
the demographic challenges of aging societies.
Advanced countries must unshackle their cumbersome im-
migration regimes and rely less on irregular migration and
labor market differentiation.
For sending countries:
Sending countries must adopt policies to promote home-
based development and employment as a way to moderate
current emigration pressures.
Sending countries should assume basic responsibilities to-
ward the emigrant community, giving them a voice and le-
Source countries must create good governance, improve
democracy, and support their Diasporas.
A global social contract for international migration is re-
quired. A durable global social contract must be cemented
around a consensus on migration and supported by rules
and institutions that regulate and set standards for the inter-
national mobility of people and elites. Part of the responsi-
bility for the absence of a multilateral framework on migra-
tion rests not only in rich countries that benefit from un-
regulated flows of foreign cheap labor and skilled profes-
sionals, but also on developing/source countries. Sending
countries that engage in a global social contract need to
have coherent and articulated views of what they expect
from international migration. Is migration a weapon for
negotiation in trade talks and foreign investment regimes
with rich countries, which are always afraid of the risk of
massive immigration? How effectively do developing
countries genuinely care about and support rights, social
protection, and the welfare of their citizens who reside and
work abroad? Should immigrants be considered assets who
send remittances? What about return migration and the
transfer of ideas, technology, and knowledge of foreign
markets valued by countries of origin? What is the scope
for collective action in the field of international migration
that has also a South-South dimension?
Advancing toward a social contract on international migra-
tion would require destination countries to be willing to obey
the rules of international migration established in negotiations
and by consensus among source and receiving countries and to
refrain from consistently benefiting from a shadow labor mar-
ket of instantly available foreign labor (Solimano, 2010, Loc.
2244-2248 to 2314-2318).
Is this idea pure Utopia? Perhaps it could be used as a basis
for negotiating such difficult and apparently irresoluble prob-
lems as Mexican migration to the US. I leave this topic open for
I thank all the individuals interviewed for this article.
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