September 23, 2009

Most Mexicans See Better Life in U.S. - One-In-Three Would Migrate

Chapter 1. Immigration and Life in the United States

A sizeable percentage of Mexicans say they would move to the United States if they had the means and the opportunity to do so, and a majority of those who would move say they would be inclined to work and live in the U.S. without authorization. This is, perhaps, not surprising; an overwhelming majority of Mexicans who have friends or relatives in the U.S. with whom they communicate regularly say these friends and relatives have achieved their goals, and most Mexicans say that people from their country who move to the U.S. have a better life than those who stay in Mexico.

At the same time, Mexicans have mixed views about the effect emigration has had on their country. About half think it is bad for Mexico that so many of its citizens live in the U.S., while slightly fewer say it is a good thing. The survey also finds that the percentage of Mexicans who say they receive money from relatives living abroad has declined in recent years.

Nearly half of Mexicans say they know someone who went to the U.S. but returned because they were captured by immigration officials at the border. Fewer say they know someone who went to the U.S. but returned because they could not find work.

Personal Ties to the United States

About four-in-ten Mexicans (39%) have friends or relatives in the United States whom they telephone, write to, or visit regularly. Personal contact with friends or relatives in the U.S. is especially common among those who live in the central region. Fully half in central Mexico say they have close contact with friends or relatives living in the United States, compared with 39% in the north, 35% in Mexico City and 27% in the south.

The percentage of Mexicans who have friends or relatives living in the U.S. with whom they correspond regularly has declined since 2002, consistent with a drop in the flow of immigrants from Mexico to the United States. (For a more detailed analysis of Mexican immigration patterns, see “Mexican Immigrants: How Many Come? How Many Leave?” Pew Hispanic Center, released July 22, 2009) In 2002, nearly half (49%) said they had close friends or relatives living in the U.S. By 2007, about four-in-ten (42%) said that was the case.

One-in-Three Would Move to U.S.

A majority of Mexicans (62%) say that, at this moment, they would not move to the United States if they had the means and opportunity to do so. Yet, a sizeable minority (33%) would move to the U.S. if they could. And among those who would move, 55% – or, 18% of the total population – say they would be inclined to do so without authorization. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 55% of the Mexican immigrants currently in the U.S. are, in fact, unauthorized, and an even larger share of those who have immigrated in the last decade have done so without documentation.

Those who have traveled to the U.S. are more likely than those who have not to say they would move. More than four-in-ten (43%) say they would move if they had the means and opportunity to do so, including 28% who say they would be inclined to work and live in the U.S. without authorization. By contrast, 30% of those who have not traveled to the U.S. say they would move, including 15% who would do so without authorization.

Life in the United States

Nearly six-in-ten (57%) say that, from what they know, people who move from Mexico to the U.S. have a better life, while 14% say life is worse in the U.S. and 22% say it is neither better nor worse. Those who have friends and relatives living in the U.S. whom they telephone, write to, or visit regularly are considerably more likely to say life is better in the U.S.; about two-thirds (68%) say that is the case, compared with 54% of those who do not have close friends or relatives in this country.

The view that Mexicans who move to the U.S. have a better life in the host country is more widespread than in 2007, the last time the question was included in a Pew Global Attitudes survey. Two years ago, about half (51%) said life was better in the U.S., 21% said life was worse in the U.S., and 23% said it was neither better nor worse.

Seven-in-ten of those who have close friends and relatives in the U.S. say those friends and relatives have achieved their goals; about a quarter (23%) say they have been disappointed.

Those with higher incomes are especially likely to say their friends and relatives who live in the U.S. have achieved their goals; 77% among the most affluent and 73% of those with middle incomes say that is the case, compared with 59% of those with low incomes.1

Mixed Views About Effect of Emigration

While most Mexicans think that those who move to the U.S. generally have a positive experience, they are not as sure about the impact emigration has had on their country. About half (48%) say that it is bad for Mexico that so many of its citizens live in the U.S. and 42% say it is good for Mexico. Moreover, 81% say it is a big problem that people leave Mexico for jobs in other countries.

Women are more likely than men to say it is bad that so many Mexicans leave their country to live in the U.S. A majority of women (54%) express that view, while 37% say it is good for Mexico. Views are more balanced among men – 42% say it is bad for Mexico that so many of its citizens live in the U.S. and 47% see it as a positive thing for their country.

Reasons for Returning to Mexico

Nearly half of Mexicans (47%) say they know someone who went to the U.S. but returned to their area because they were captured by immigration officials at the border. Four-in-ten say they know someone who returned because they could not find work in the U.S.

The less educated are much more likely to say they know someone who was captured at the U.S. border or who returned to Mexico because they could not find work in the U.S. More than half (53%) of those with a primary school education or less say they know someone who went to the U.S. but returned to their area because they were captured by the border patrol. By contrast, 45% of those with some secondary education and 37% of those who attended college say the same. Similarly, 47% of those in the lowest education group say they know someone who returned to Mexico because they could not find work in the U.S., compared with 37% of those with some secondary education and 33% of those with some college education.

Residents of northern states are more likely than those in the south to say they know someone who returned to Mexico because they were captured by immigration officials at the border. About half (51%) in the north say they know someone who was apprehended, compared with 42% in the south. Just under half in the central region (48%) and in Mexico City (46%) say they know someone who went to the U.S. but returned because they were captured by the border patrol.

Fewer Receive Remittances

About one-in-five Mexicans (18%) say they receive money from relatives living in another country at least once in a while, down from 23% in 2007. Remittances are especially common among those with low levels of education; 25% of those with a primary education or less receive money from relatives abroad, compared with 10% of those who have attended college.

The decline in the percentage who receives money from relatives living abroad has been most significant among the more educated and those with higher incomes. For example, one-in-ten Mexicans who have attended college now say they receive money from relatives, compared with about one-in-five (19%) in 2007; one-quarter of those with no more than a primary education say they receive money from relatives abroad at least occasionally, down from 30% two years ago.

  1. numoffset=”3″ For income, respondents are grouped into three categories of low, middle and high. Low-income respondents are those with a reported monthly household income of 2,920 pesos or less; middle-income respondents fall within the range of 2,921 to 4,380 pesos per month; and those in the high-income categories earn 4,381 pesos or more per month.