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Reflections on net migration

The (almost) mirror image behavior of net migration for the United States and Mexico

Some people move in, and some people move out. The difference, for each country, is its net migration. This FRED graph shows the 5-year estimates of net migration for the U.S. (solid line) and Mexico (dashed line), which include both citizens and noncitizens. Notice anything about the pattern? Net migration for the U.S. increased steadily from the mid-1960s to its peak in 1997: The largest increase was between 1992 and 1997, when it started to decrease. Net migration for Mexico is the mirror image of net migration for the U.S., albeit with some lags.

During the period 1962-2012, there were more immigrants coming into the U.S. than emigrants leaving the U.S. for other countries: i.e., positive net migration for the U.S. Moreover, during this period, U.S. net migration increased (i.e., more people immigrating to the U.S. and/or less people leaving the U.S.): It was around 959,000 people in 1962 and around 4.6 million people in 1992. In those 30 years, net migration experienced an annual increase of 5.3% per year. Between 1992 to 1997, however, the annual growth was more than twice as large, around 13%.

In Mexico, net migration was negative during 1962-2012, with more people leaving Mexico than migrating into Mexico. The evolution of Mexico’s net migration has behaved as the (almost) mirror image as that for the U.S. In Mexico, there was a steady decrease in net migration between the mid-1960s to the 2000s—the biggest drop during the 1990s—and it started recovering after 2000. However, as of 2012, net migration from Mexico was still below the value of 1962.

Most immigrants arriving in the U.S. come from Mexico, so it’s not surprising that the trends in net migration for those two countries behave similarly. A new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center has documented a sharp decrease in net migration flow from Mexico to the U.S. As a result, net migration from Mexico has fallen to almost zero in 2011. This change has been partly driven by weaker job and housing markets in the U.S. in 2010, together with stronger border adjustment.

However, the timing of changes in net migration for Mexico and the U.S. was not exactly identical. U.S. net migration started increasing before Mexican net migration started recovering. During the 1990s, there was a sharp increase of immigrants from Asia into the U.S. Indeed, according to the Pew Research Center Projections, the share of Asians among total immigrants to the U.S. has been rising above the share of Hispanic immigrants and that is expected to increase further.

How this graph was created: Search for “Net migration for the United States,” and click on the series you want to create the first line. To add line 2 to the existing graph, click “Edit Graph” and use the “Add Line” tab to search “Net migration for Mexico.” Finally, use the “Format” tab within “Edit Graph” and select “Dash” under Line 2 line style.

Suggested by Ana Maria Santacreu.

View on FRED, series used in this post: SMPOPNETMMEX, SMPOPNETMUSA

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