When the going gets tough, do they return home?

borrowed from creative commons 


photo by gagilas : borrowed from creative commons


Here’s a recent article published in the NYT on migrants’ decision to return home amidst the current economic recession. 

The study cited in the article can be found here.


January 15, 2009

No Hard Sign of Reverse Migration

Despite the worst United States economy in decades and a slowdown in the growth of the nation’s foreign-born population, there is no hard evidence of a return migration tied to the recession, researchers at the Migration Policy Institute said in a report released Wednesday.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the last two years more immigrants than usual, legal and illegal, have left the United States for their countries of origin, the report said. But no data exists to verify such a trend, according to the institute, a nonpartisan research organization.

“Substantial return migration of unauthorized immigrants is unlikely unless there’s a protracted and severe worsening of the U.S. economy,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, president of the institute and a co-author of the report, which draws on historical patterns, demographic studies and “educated speculation.”

Instead of leaving the country, unauthorized immigrants seem to be more likely than natives or legal immigrants to move from state to state in search of work, Mr. Papademetriou said. He said, for example, that complaints about a shortage of agricultural hands had died down, in part because some immigrants previously absorbed by the construction boom had headed back to farm work.

Numbers on annual emigration are skimpy at best; the government abandoned the effort to track departing immigrants in 1957. But even for unauthorized immigrants, whose flows to the United States are far more responsive to the economy than those of legal immigrants or asylum-seekers, the report said, a decision to return home is likely to be a last resort.

The downturn in the United States is also hurting the economies of home countries, and recent currency fluctuations have made remittances in dollars more valuable, especially in Mexico and Central America. And unlike Eastern European workers in Britain and Ireland, who have been returning home in the knowledge that they can easily go back if things change, Latin American immigrants in the United States face growing barriers to re-entry.

Some effects of the economic crisis can be hard to disentangle from those of stricter enforcement, the researchers added, citing stepped up raids and record levels of deportation, about 361,000 in the year ending last Sept. 30, roughly double the number from 2005.

But though anecdotal evidence suggests that some noncitizens are leaving states that have enacted particularly tough laws intended to curb illegal immigration, the report said, initially, at least, their destinations are probably within the United States.

Still, Mr. Papademetriou added in an interview: “Everything hinges on how deep and how long the recession will be. People can try to adjust their expectations, take a job for less pay. But there comes a decision point where you say, If this is going to be as nasty as it appears to be, can I survive? Or can I survive better back home?”

The report cited a growing body of evidence that the historic growth of the foreign-born in the United States had slowed, largely because there has been no growth in the unauthorized immigrant population since 2006 — as was reported last fall by Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer with the Pew Hispanic Center.

In an interview, Mr. Passel agreed that though departures were probably up somewhat, “the cessation of growth in the unauthorized population is due to the decline in arrivals.”

Over time, 20 percent to 40 percent of immigrants to the United States have eventually returned to their country of origin, he said. But even in the Great Depression, he added, when more people left than arrived, that historic shift was driven by the steep drop in immigration, not by any increase in departures.



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