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And all they will call you will be retiree…

10 May 2013

While Mexico has never particularly solicited immigrants, immigration has played an important role in Mexican history and culture (I wrote a book about this ya’ know!)  and, as in other nations, it has become a political football in the last few years.

Mexico had a  hodge-podge of different immigrant categories, which have been simplified under reforms implemented this year.  Basically what had been about a dozen different categories were reduced to three:  tourists, temporary residents and permanent residents.  People like myself (an “assimilated immigrant” under the old classification) who work here, and those that are already living here aren’t particularly affected by all this (other than some higher fees, offset by renewals being multi-year, rather than annual) but this has caused a major freak-out on MexConnect, a website mostly for U.S. and Canadian “rentistas” (non-working foreign residents) and part-time residents… the endless vacation crowd.

Mexico … like a few other (most Latin American) countries, allowed foreign to receive a yearly residency permit if they have sufficient income to support themselves and not be a burden on society.  Until reforms went into effect this year, for a non-working temporary resident that was based on proof that one received 250 times the salario minimo (daily minimum wage) based on a recent bank statement:  about 1350 US$.  Under the new regulations, a rentista must show either an income of 400 times the salario minimo (about 2000 US$) OR not DEPOSITS, but an “Average Monthly Balance amounts equivalent to twenty thousand days of the general minimum wage in the District Federal for the previous twelve months”, or about $108,000 US$.  For permanent residents of the non-working variety, the income requirements are about 2500 US$ monthly income, or about 125,000 US$ in bank balances.

Although in reality most immigrants to Mexico are NOT well-heeled gringos (or even gringos) retirees and U.S./Canadian winter residents are a fairly large percentage of the foreign population in this country:   about a quarter of all foreign residents hold  U.S. or Canadian nationality, and almost half of them (slightly under, and slightly over 44 percent respectively) claim to be pensioners.  Whether it’s discriminatory to some percentage of that 12.5 percent of foreign residents to up the figures, I can’t say.  Like the other 87.5 percent of immigrants the “rentistas” are in one sense or another looking for a  better life for themselves.  But whether they make life better for their new country is a question that isn’t much asked.

Which led me to consider posting on MexConnect the following response to one astute rentista’s post (the “mcm” — quoted in italic — I mention in the body of my response) that I thought it better to publish here.

Honestly, I’m not sure why the Mexican government would WANT to encourage retirees who can’t meet the current income requirements to move to Mexico. Mexican social services are already stretched very thin, and low income retirees without family or social support would be a potential further drain on the system.

Naturalization is not a way to avoid the income requirements — you must be a Resident Permanente in order to apply for citizenship, and thus must have met some sort of income requirement already. And, once you ARE a Residente Permanente, you don’t have to verify your income annually, so there’s no incentive to become a citizen for that reason.

HURRAH… saves me from opening up this can of worms. Rentistas may be the majority on this site of foreign residents of Mexico, but are NOT by any means the majority of foreign residents in Mexico… not even of U.S. residents in Mexico.

While “mcm” is mistaken in assuming one must meet income requirement before becoming a Residente Permanente (most foreigners aren’t rentistas, and are workers, or business owners or dependents of citizens who qualify for other reasons), but I think it goes further than just a consideration of social services costs.

Not to say that the “one-percenters” don’t want to screw the rest of us (or rather, don’t care about the rest of us enough to even worry about screwing us), but there are excellent reasons for raising the income requirements for “rentistas”.

Retirees bring in capital, but it’s mostly just “trickle down” when it comes to creating wealth. Sure, they create some economic benefits in certain sectors of the economy in some regions (housing, leisure activities, etc.), but it’s more just a short-term stimulus than anything. What retirees do not create in any meaningful way is WEALTH.  Most countries prefer younger immigrants… those of working age… for a good reason:  they’ll be creating wealth (or at least increasing productivity) for a number of years, whereas retirees?  Not much.   While some retirees are “job creators”… if they’re creating sustainable businesses that pay enough to benefit to the nation, one assumes they’ve got substantial resources to invest in the first place.

Otherwise, and one hesitates to say it… in our search for paradise, we’re parasites.  Besides the social services, there is the water, roads, electricity, etc. that we all use, but some of us have been paying for for years and will be paying for for several more years to come.  These are things the retirees paid for at home perhaps (and are usually still paying), but not putting in their fair share here.

Countries look at immigrants in terms of their own interests, and national interest is going to favor those who will be a value-added resident, the value coming in either labor, capital or some economic intangible like intellectual or artistic talent.    Although no longer nearly as likely to use Marxist terminology, “rentista” is just the Spanish equivalent of “rentier“, the French term used by economic and political theorists to describe those who “live by ‘clipping coupons”, who take no part in any enterprise whatever, whose profession is idleness”*.

And, while the rich will always be with us, rising expectations among Mexicans themselves means both more middle-class Mexicans can afford to live the lifestyle to which the retirees hope to become accustomed… and more importantly… fewer and fewer Mexicans willing to see their children’s futures dependent on the whimsy of privileged outsiders.

I don’t sense that Mexican resent foreign residents any more than any other nationality.  Other countries have seen a backlash against poor foreigners.  Not that I expect mobs to attack old gringos, but that the rentista barely getting by and only here because it’s cheaper than elsewhere is in the same economic and social class as a lot of the native-born population, and — if that foreigner expects to be treated as someone special simply because of their foreign nationality, they’re going to breed resentment (and do).     Rich people can get away with exotic customs, and weird obnoxious habits, but like everything else, the price of eccentricity has gone up.

* Some astute reader may recognize the quote as coming from Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” (which I’ll cheerfully fess up to having cribbed from a Wikipedia article).  Though I have no objection to people earning a return on their investments, that money represents investments in foreign countries, or based on pensions earned elsewhere that do not particularly represent any investment (in money or labor) here, and can’t be said to create wealth, or enterprise, but are spent on “idleness”.

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