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Do the math: migra and migracíon

30 April 2010

In following the Arizona story, I’ve been struck with how many commentators on MEXICAN based sites have echoed the arguments of their North of the Border brethren in using the “they can come ‘here’ [meaning the U.S.] legally” argument.  I’m assuming (always dangerous) that these immigrants are “legal residents” of Mexico, although — from their political and social thinking — obviously aren’t those who have come here to pursue the Mexican dream and “adopt our system of values”.  And that’s fine, but, I’m wondering what these people know WHY there are illegals in Arizona, and wonder what would be the result if Mexican immigration worked like U.S. immigration does. Just looking at the equivalent costs of a Mexican following the same legal path to reach the same immigration status in the United States that I have in Mexico is pretty much amazing.

The entire procedure for foreign residency is being simplified here in Mexico on the first of May — making the annual renewal process something done mostly on-line, with all U.S. and Canadian residents entering Mexico, whether as tourists or workers, paying the same fee (about US 20.00) for a 180 day visa.  That fee is either included in the price of a plane ticket or paid at the border crossing, or paid into any bank (the bank just deposits the funds into a government account).

The fees for a residency permit run about 200 USD a year.  My old residency permit was basically like a US H1-B visa, showing that I was a foreign employee of a Mexican firm.  I could have added other employers, paying additional fees.  My new immigration card allows me to work anywhere, and puts me into the status of a potential naturalized citizen.  The cost … with an attorney (which I really didn’t need to have, but with the law changing within the same period I had to renew anyway, it was worth it) for the documents is about $275 USD, and the attorney’s fees about $175 USD:  say $450 USD in round figures, about 90 salarios miminos (based on the minimum wage in Mexico City for unskilled labor and used as a base number for setting regulatory fees and fines.  For example, a traffic ticket might be set at 10 “salarios” which keeps the price of the fee or fine relatively even with inflation, and doesn’t require changing the legal code).  A bit pricey, but immigration doesn’t come cheap.

In other words, it costs part-time residents about 20 bucks for to enter Mexico as a tourist for up to six months, and about 200 bucks a year for the right to live and/or work here.

Leaving aside the question of how complicated and bureaucratic the immigration process is in the United States, there’s a simple reason so many Mexicans are “illegal” in the United States.  They’re not working the big bucks jobs, and entry into the United States is damn expensive.

For a Mexican to enter the United States — even as a tourist — they must first obtain a visa from one of a handful of U.S. consulates (or the Embassy in Mexico City) after going through an interview.  For people here in Mazatlán, that means either going to Hermosillo or Guadalajara, both a full eight hours away.  And standing in line, and then returning.  That’s a minimum overnight trip.  Just to apply for an interview is a 150 USD non-refundable fee.  That’s 30 salarios minimos, not counting transportation, hotel stay and lost work time.

And that interview doesn’t guarantee a person will receive a visa, nor that they won’t be called back for a second interview.  Nor, that they’ll be admitted into the United States.  The border agent can refuse entry and doesn’t have to give a reason.

But, assuming all goes well, and the Mexican is allowed to enter the United States.

If they are applying for an H1-B visa (which are limited to specific trades and occupations) which allows them to work for a single employer the cost is $320 for the visa application and $500 for “fraud prevention and detection fee” for the first application or when one adds a second employer — $820 dollars, or 164 salarios minimos. That doesn’t count the 1500 USD the employer must pay into a training fee for U.S. workers.

I don’t think there is an equivalent to our FM3-Rentista classification, which is what most full-time foreign residents hold, which only requires that they show proof of income equal to something like 250 times the salario minimo — in other words a pension or remittances of some kind of about $1250 USD a month.

The closest thing in the United States both to the FM-3 and to my new Mexican immigration status is the so-called “green card”  which, with attorney’s fees, which are probably necessary is a relative bargain at only around 1200 salarios minimos — about $6000 USD.

I wonder what these foreigners who complain about Mexican “illegals” would do if Mexico had an immigration system and fees similar to the United States.

The minimum HOURLY wage in the United States is $7.25.  It isn’t an exact equivalent to the salario minimo (which is the minimum daily wage, even if the daily job is only an hour or two.  And an employee is entitled to vacation pay, a two-week end of year bonus and employer paid social security, plus a pro-rated payment based on the length of service when they leave a job), but it’s a starting point.  And being hourly, we’ll assume a eight hour work day:  58 dollars.  Let’s call it 50 just to make the math simple.  So, if gringos had to pay an equivalent fee to reside in Mexico to what Mexicans pay in the United States, the schedule would look like this:

The fee for standing in line:                                $ 1,500 USD

Working residency permit:                                 $ 8,200 USD

Monthly income requirement for retirees:   $12,500 USD

Fees for normal residency card:                         $60,000 USD

Suggesting whiny gringos shut the fuck up:    PRICELESS!

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Ken Riley permalink
    30 April 2010 3:31 pm

    Excellent piece! The other day, a friend of mine in Arizona made the ludicrous claim that Mexico’s immigration laws are far more restrictive than those in the US. I only had anecdotal evidence (mine in Mexico and friends’ in the US) to back my claim that he was badly misinformed. Now I’ve got hard data. Thank you.

  2. Tex permalink
    30 April 2010 9:15 pm

    Americans who want to earn more than the minimum may get a degee that takes at least four years and $36,000; for which parents may save a lifetime or the student may repay with interest over years. Mexicans who wish to earn dollars legally in the US will have to save a very long time at the minimum $5.00 a day. Altenatively, they may find a way to earn more; study and prepare for essential work ( public college, by comparison is inexpensive, sometimes free, for a lucky few in Mexico) and it helps to learn the language where you’re going. Of course, though many people achieve their goals in the US, the cost will forever remain beyond the means of the masses, most of whom cannot be faulted for striving to make a living by whatever honest means are available to them, even if by means of illegal immigration. If nothing else the high cost of immigrating to the US may deter the many financially stable foreigners who mistakenly believe they will be better off NOB and/or give a clue how much more expensive the US is than their country of origin. US residency and citizenship, for now, are still privileges whether or not those born with the privilege realize this . Pointing out disparities, whilst the fees are the same in US currency for all, rich or poor, will likely do little to inspire sympathy or effect the silence you wish crudely to effect of those who will ever, with little thought, whinge about “damned wetbacks.

  3. 1 May 2010 8:58 am

    Great column. I am constantly amazed at conservative ex-pats in Mexico who seem to think somehow they are bestowing blessings on Mexico and that they are better than Mexicans and that Mexicans are to blame altogether not only for their own problems but for ex-pat problems. There is no awareness of any kind of larger context for the problems that exist, no interest in learning of it. There is no appreciation of the fact that ex-pats are often living off the backs of poor Mexicans here in Mexico as well as in the US. Boy, do I get mad!

  4. 3 May 2010 4:31 pm

    Totally bogus. You cannot compare the two situations. Lots of folks from all over the world want to move to the United States. Thus, the requirements are stiff. Almost nobody wants to move to Mexico. Thus the requirements are relaxed.

    The great majority of folks who want to move to Mexico are retirees, especially from the U.S. and Canada. These people bring money to Mexico. Mexico likes this, naturally.

    Bottom line is that the situations are totally different. They are simply not comparable.

    • 3 May 2010 7:16 pm

      Michael Dickson — since you comment under your own name on other sites, such as the recent long comment defending the new Arizona laws that were printed on Global Post (April 27, 2010), please have the courtesy when commenting here to use your real name and not a pseudonym meant to suggest a Mexicanidad you don’t possess.

      There is nothing wrong with a prejudice: to quote Edward R. Murrow, “Everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences. No one can eliminate prejudices – just recognize them.” And, do not attempt to sell them under a false name meant to convey the impression that your prejudices are those of others. You claim to be a newspaper editor of long experience. This was unethical in anyone, and unconscionable from a journalist.

  5. 3 May 2010 4:44 pm

    Mr. Zapata,
    Consider for a minute that it’s not so different. Mexicans go to the US to earn money; they save their US employers money which is good for the employers and good for the US. Quite a lot of them pay taxes and pay into Social Security, etc. which they themselves often don’t benefit from. Also good for the US.

    Many retirees don’t have prospects for increasing their earnings or savings, one reason a lot move to Mexico. Good for the US, good for Mexico since poor retirees are a burden for the US.

    More people than you think love Mexico and move here when they finally can not for money reasons, but for reasons of loving it.

    Many foreigners have false impressions if they want to move to the US, including a lot of Mexicans.

    Mexican immigration requirements are not really relaxed. It’s just that the bureaucracy is less weird about immigrating. The US has a whole lot of ridiculous hurdles, not just for migrants, but for those who would employ them.

  6. 3 May 2010 4:44 pm

    I would just like to add that it is very difficult indeed to move to Mexico if you don’t have sufficient income and if you want a job here.

  7. 4 May 2010 8:30 am

    Rich, as you pointed out, the long response I did recently on Global Post has my real name. I have absolutely no aversion to using my real name. On wordpress sites, my Felipe moniker comes up automatically.

    My real name is CHARLES MICHAEL DICKSON, but I dropped the Charles long ago. Doesn´t even appear on my passports, neither the U.S. passport nor my Mexican passport.

    As for suggesting a Mexicanidad (?) I do not possess, I am a Mexican citizen, señor. Are you?

    Esther: Certainly, Mexicans go to the United States to earn money. Alas, if they don´t get a visa first, they go as criminals. Not nice.

    I have to disagree. It is completely easy to move to Mexico. Even if you don´t have the relatively low income required, it´s a piece of cake to manipulate bank statements a bit to fool the officials.

    That´s all for now.

    Michael Dickson

    I do not “claim” to be a newspaper editor (former, actually) of long experience. The 30 years I spent in that occupation simply makes it a fact.


  8. 4 May 2010 8:41 am

    Mr. Dickson…
    If they manipulate their documents, then indeed, applicants for Mexican residency are entering Mexico illegally. False papers for Mexican visas might make it two crimes instead of just one when a person enters the US with no papers.

    The difficulty entering the US legally is massive and ridiculous and punitive, especially for agricultural workers. The would-be immigrant has to look for an employer before he even tries to jump through his own hoops for a visa. And an employer who would be honest and fair faces unreasonable obstacles to hiring Mexicans. Just as generally law-abiding USAers violate laws fairly regularly (think speed limits), so Mexicans do when they enter without papers. When the laws are so terribly burdensome and the consequences of violating them so generally beneficial to USAers as well as Mexicans, we are dealing with only minor sins, as in the case of exceeding speed limits in a reasonable way.

    And what kind of cynicism led you to become a Mexican citizen?

  9. 4 May 2010 8:51 am

    Migration is an “on the ground” solution to problems…one that individuals find necessary. It obviously reflects deep problems of economic policy on the macro level, for the US, Mexico, and globally.

    And what newspaper was it that you edited?

  10. MdeG permalink
    3 April 2013 9:20 pm

    Thanks for this. Really good response to “Why don’t they come legally?” line. I have family in Central America. They pay exactly the same fees — as does everyone, from all over the world. What’s perfectly fair to charge a western European or an Emirati, is not at all fair to charge a Haitian or a Somali. Another thing that helps to drive undocumented migration is the inaccessibility of workable credit. People applying for a resident visa face stiff fees, followed by a very long wait. Loans typically carry upward of 10% interest per month, and that one’s chances of succeeding in the application are minimal. Nobody wants to loan money on such long odds, and if you’ve got a brain in your head you won’t borrow under those conditions either — the interest can easily consume your income while you wait in line. A coyote charges more, but your chances of arriving and finding gainful employment are better — therefore loans are available. Typical comment: “That’s only for rich folks.” Working people are priced out of the system

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