Global economic changes could lead to changing immigration patterns
Undocumented immigration is a hot topic in this country, but a Texas A&M demographer says the main source of low-wage workers to the United States may well change in coming years. Dudley Poston, a professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, claims that a number of factors have led to a tapering off of illegal Mexican immigrants and these could result in a surge of undocumented immigrants from China.
Poston, who is also the director of the Asian Studies Program at Texas A&M, cites increased border surveillance and America’s high unemployment rate as two reasons why undocumented Mexican immigration is slowing down. Simultaneously, the quality of life in Mexico is consistently improving.
“In Mexico, there’s a much lower unemployment rate, and much greater opportunities have been available in recent years – educationally and occupationally – to the Mexican people,” said Poston.
Also, the Mexican birthrate is on the decline, which Poston says is influencing the immigration trends as well. The birthrate in Mexico is about the same as the American birthrate, around 2.2 children per woman.
Poston predicts Chinese undocumented immigrants could begin entering the U.S. at a greater rate with the weakening of the Chinese economy. As the influx of undocumented Mexican immigrants dies down, a new group of people will be needed to fill the jobs they leave behind.
A group of people in China called “floaters,” who are rural to urban labor migrants, have contributed to the “largest peace-time migration in human history,” Poston said. Even though it’s not legal to change residences within China without permission, 220 million people have moved illegally from rural inland China to the big cities on the east coast. According to Poston, they will continue to migrate to locations where they can find work.
“You have all these jobs on the east coast of China – big cities with economic development and growth. They need construction people, they need garbage men, they need nannies,” he said. These jobs are considered “the three D’s” – the difficult, the dangerous, and the dirty – which are the same types of low-wage labor traditionally performed by undocumented Mexicans in the U.S.
“As economic development starts to slow down in China, and it’s beginning to slow down, the first people to lose their jobs are going to be these floaters,” Poston added.
As a result of this job loss, Chinese floaters will try to avoid the shame of moving back home by transplanting elsewhere; they don’t want to lose face. While the current number of undocumented Chinese in the U.S. is small in comparison to undocumented Mexicans in the U.S., Poston says there is a tremendous amount of illicit money to be made in the illegal smuggling of immigrants across the ocean. He estimates that as many as 10 million floaters could eventually emigrate from China with a significant percentage of that number ultimately settling in the U.S.
“It’s going to have huge implications for our economy and the world economy,” said Poston. “In the next 20 years, China will no longer be the manufacturer for the world.”