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October 2012, Volume 19, Number 4

Canada, Mexico

Canada. Canada is an exception among the major immigration destinations. It has high levels of immigration, generous social welfare programs, and significant public satisfaction with immigration policies. Many analysts trace this satisfaction to Canada's point system, under which foreigners seeking to immigrate are assessed on the basis of their education, youth, work experience and knowledge of English or French.

Canada had almost 35 million residents in July 2012. Natural increase was about 130,000 and net migration was 267,000, so that the population rose by more than one percent. Canada's median age is 40.

Canada in 1967 developed a point system to select most of its immigrants. Under this system, foreigners seeking to enter Canada as skilled workers must earn at least 67 points on a 100-point scale. Education is worth up to 25 points (for an MS or PhD), knowing English and/or French is worth up to 24 points, and up to 21 points are awarded for work experience. Those aged 21 to 49 get 10 points, those employed legally in Canada with a temporary work visa get 10 points, and up to 10 points are awarded for "adaptability," such as having studied or worked in Canada.

This point system, combined with negligible illegal migration, allows the Canadian government to "micro-manage" immigration to spur economic growth.

Selecting immigrants on the basis of their education ensures that half of the adult immigrants arriving in Canada have college degrees, twice the share of Canadian-born adults who have college degrees. However, immigrants are concentrated in three cities, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, where there are many settled immigrants and college-educated Canadians. Some educated newcomers cannot find jobs that use their education and training, resulting "brain waste," as when an immigrant educated as a doctor in India or Pakistan drives a taxi in Toronto.

Canada in August 2012 revised its point system to make language the most important selection factor (maximum points raised from 24 to 28), to favor youth (12 points for being 18 to 35, none for those over 46) and having Canadian work experience. Points are added if the foreigner's spouse speaks English or French. The new system also requires that credentials earned outside Canada be assessed by an independent agency. The revised point system goes into effect in January 2013.

Canada admitted 156,000 immigrants under its point system in 2011 (immigrants and their families) and 191,000 temporary foreign workers. Many of the foreign workers remain more than a year, and there were 300,000 on December 1, 2011, double the number in 2006. A third of Canada's guest workers are in Ontario, including 20 percent in Toronto; about 58,000 were in Alberta.

The fastest growth in guest workers is among low-skilled foreigners employed in hotels and restaurants, meatpacking plants and nursing homes. In April 2012, the federal government allowed employers of foreign guest workers to pay them up to 15 percent less than the prevailing wage in the area. Most foreign workers are limited to a maximum of four years in Canada.

Mexico. Net Mexico-US migration fell to zero between 2005 and 2010, as the number of Mexicans returning to Mexico matched new Mexican entries to the US, according to the Mexican census. Many of those returning to Mexico were deported, and some may attempt to return to the US when the US economy improves.

There are about 12 million Mexican-born US residents, including eight million Mexican-born workers in the US labor force. The education level of Mexican-born US workers is rising, but most have not graduated from high school and half do not speak English well, helping to explain why their median US earnings are about half of the average $32,000 of US-born workers. Most Mexican-born workers in the US are in a handful of occupations, including transportation, construction, food service and farming.

Between 2000 and 2010, Louisiana had the largest percentage increase in the number of Mexican-born US workers, as workers converged on New Orleans to clean up after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Washington Post on July 23, 2012 profiled a Mexican with a US immigrant visa who returned to Santa Maria del Refugio in Guanajuato state and opened a hardware store. The article emphasized that migrants returning after seven or more years in the US often have sufficient dollar savings to open small businesses and join the middle class. There is no official definition of middle class in Mexico, but most analysts consider those who own property, have a stable income, and have smaller families to be middle class.

In 1995, remittances to Mexico were less than $4 billion. By 2007, remittances reached $25 billion. Half of the 112 million Mexicans in Mexico have relatives in the United States, and 20 percent have a US relative who regularly sends them money, an average $329 in May 2012. Most remittances go to the lower middle class, not the poorest Mexicans.

Employment in Mexican agriculture fell from 16 percent of 33.7 million workers in 2000 to 13 percent of 42.7 million in 2010. However, a quarter of Mexicans returning to live in Mexico are employed in agriculture, reflecting their rural origins.

A June 2012 Pew Hispanic Center survey found that half of the Mexican respondents polled agreed that Mexicans who move to the US have better lives. Over 35 percent of those polled said they wanted to move to the US, and 20 percent said they would illegally migrate to the US.

Some Mexican parents are having trouble registering their US-born children for schools and health care in Mexico. There are an estimated 500,000 US-citizen children living in Mexico, and some parents complain that Mexican rules that US birth certificates and other documents be certified in the US and then translated into Spanish. Mexican state government officials, and sometimes school administrators, can waive document requirements at least temporarily to provide services.

The Mexican government in September 2012 announced that it would seek consultation with the US government under the supplemental labor agreement of the North American Free Trade Agreement in response to US union and Mexican lawyer claims that Alabama's HB 56 violates NAFTA's labor side-agreement. The union-lawyers complaint alleges that HB 56 interferes with the right of workers to form and join unions and bargain collectively by making it a misdemeanor for an undocumented alien to seek employment and preventing employers from claiming as business tax deductions any wages paid to unauthorized aliens. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down many of HB 56's employment-related provisions, but Alabama is appealing.

Mexico's 500-member lower house voted 351-130 to reform the 1970 labor law to create new types of temporary employment contracts that require no compensation when they expire and allow contracts that pay workers by the hour. About 30 percent of Mexico's 45 million workers are employed in home-based and unregistered businesses. The hope is that a more flexible labor market will speed up economic growth, which has averaged 2.4 percent over the past three decades.

The labor law reform did not force major changes to union practices. President Felipe Calderon wanted to force unions to disclose income linked to worker dues, to have their accounts audited externally, and to have secret ballot elections to determine if they wanted to be represented by unions.

Calderon, reviewing accomplishments over his 2006-2012 term, noted that Mexico graduates 113,000 engineers a year, twice the rate per 100,000 residents as the US. Mexico created about 700,000 formal sector jobs in 2011, and should add a similar number in 2012.

The Mexican Navy in Fall 2012 killed several wanted drug lords and announced the capture of Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo in Nuevo Laredo. Martinez is believed to have ordered the killing of 72 Central American migrants in August 2010 near San Fernando in Tamaulipas because they refused to work for the Zetas drug gang. For a time, the Zetas stopped long-distance buses to look for recruits they believed were heading to the US in order to recruit them as hit men for the Gulf drug cartel.

Countries in which residents distrust governments often rank high for bottled water purchases. Mexico leads the list, with residents buying an average 127 gallons per person per year; bottled water consumption is also rising in China and Indonesia. Development experts note that governments in fast-growing countries have invested significantly in improving tap water, but residents who have been accustomed to buying bottled water are slow to trust even clean tap water.