Mexican Migration to U.S. Plunged 50 Percent in 2008

Net migration from Mexico, mainly to the United States, plunged by more than 50 percent in late 2008 compared to a year earlier as fewer Mexicans left their country in search of work, the government said Thursday.

Mexican officials attributed the sharp drop to tough economic conditions abroad amid a global crisis causing Mexicans to stay at home, rather than Mexicans in other countries returning to their homeland.

"There is declining tendency of people going abroad, but we have not detected, up to now, any increase in people returning to the country," said the Eduardo Sojo, president of Mexico's National Statistics, Geography and Information Institute.

Sojo said the net outflow of Mexicans — either legally or illegally — was 455,000 between August 2006 and August 2007, the figure dropped to 204,000 people between August 2007 and the same month of 2008.

While the number of returning Mexicans stayed largely the same — 478,000 in the 2007 period as compared to about 450,000 by late 2008 — the number leaving fell from 933,000 to 654,000.

The figures are estimates based on quarterly surveys of Mexican households carried out by the institute.

Sojo said a recent survey also indicates that the number of Mexicans planning to migrate in the future is also dropping.

"We have a sort of 'leading indicator' regarding any new migration. This indicator has also been declining," Sojo told an immigration forum.

Sojo said a government survey also shows the number of households in Mexico that receive remittances — the money sent home by Mexicans working abroad — has also fallen, from 1.41 million in 2005 to 1.16 million in 2008.

Remittances, Mexico's second-largest source of foreign income after oil, plunged 3.6 percent to $25 billion in 2008 compared to $26 billion for the previous year, according to the country's central bank.

A U.S. crackdown on illegal immigration is believed to have played a role in reducing the number of Mexicans who look for work abroad, almost all in the United States. The U.S. recession and especially the downturn in the construction sector has reduced the amount of work available for Mexican migrants in the United States.