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The Legal Side of Migration

A Mexican labor force regulated in the US, research indicates, would bring beneficial results such as increased productivity through formality
Photo: Luis Fierro/EL UNIVERSAL
29/07/2017
16:41
Erika Flores
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Caregivers, construction workers, analysts, nursing assistants, cooks, domestic servants, accountants and software developers are some of the 20 trades that in the next seven years will have greater demand in the United States, according to projections from the country's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and most of them require a minimum degree of studies.

If the next renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) includes a labor chapter that legally and ordinarily regulates the migration of Mexicans, they could compete for the selection of thousands of these positions. So it says one of the main conclusions of the document "Shared border, shared future" developed by the Center for Global Development that created a Mexican-American multidisciplinary working group. The objective was to analyze and propose how to regulate labor mobility between the two countries today.

Michael Clemens, the lead author of this research, said to EL UNIVERSAL that "the black labor market that has prevailed for generations has not served the interests of the US, but neither has Mexico's [because] it has affected its image and security. If [the countries] worked together for cooperation and labor regulation, it would be mutually beneficial.

"But the issue has lacked bilateralism. What we are telling Donald Trump is that he does not need to expel Mexicans, but to regulate their situation; that is not a gift from the US to Mexico, but from the United States to the United States," he declared.

Co-chairs of the investigation were former President Ernesto Zedillo and former US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez.

"Mexicans constitute 49% of all US residents who entered or stayed in the country illegally. He should recognize it," said Gustavo Mohar, a former officer on security and migration issues who was also involved in the investigation.

"The number of visas that Mexicans get to legally work in the US in the agricultural sector is increasing and also the number of visas related to other services. That is, there is a demand for services that the US does not cover and that requires foreign workers, who could be Mexican.

The numbers against Trump

EL UNIVERSAL consulted the annual immigration reports issued by the US Department of Homeland Security from 2000 to 2015. It confirmed that H2A visas (for the agricultural sector) grew significantly; in 2000 the US Embassy granted 28.442 of these visas to Mexicans, but in 2015 they were 102.174.

The average duration of this visa is three years and can be extended to six, but it is only granted at the request of employers or employment agencies that meet certain requirements. One of them is "not to affect the wages and working conditions of US employees in similar tasks."

H2B visas are also temporary and are for non-agricultural jobs such as construction, hotel, gardening, and others. In 2000 the embassy issued 27.648 of these visas for Mexicans, while in 2015 the number almost doubled and reached 51.301.

On July 19, the US announced that from that date until next September 15, it will receive petitions to grant 15.000 H2B additional visas to the maximum amount that is allowed annually by the American Congress (66 thousand). "They are for US companies to declare that they could probably suffer irreparable damage if they can not have the capacity to hire all requested H2B workers," the embassy in Mexico reported.

"Shared Frontier, Shared Future" went further and found in its analysis that "seasonal employment visas for less skilled workers in the US replaced a small percentage of the black market ... Actually, the demand for Mexican labor in the US is greater in non-seasonal jobs."

Yes, they need Mexican labor

The BLS reports that among the jobs that do need high school studies are: customer service agents, office supervisors, administrative support and medical secretaries. With minimum high school studies, there would be work available as a nursing assistant, medical assistant, and nurse.

While undergraduate studies will be required for: graduate nurses, general and operations managers, accountants, auditors, software developers and computer systems analysts.

Faced with this scenario, the US Mexico Foundation talked about how an orderly migration from Mexico to the US, with an unskilled population, could be done for the jobs listed. "The idea is not to block Americans from their jobs, but to provide the labor that their market needs by hiring them in a regulated way from Mexico."

"Those qualified to work in the US must recognize taxes there and here; at the end of their working period they will be able to return to their country without having to separate from their families," said the head of the foundation, Rebeca Vargas.

"Our numbers indicate that by 2029 there will be an average of 100.000 Mexicans who will seek each year to go to the US as unskilled workers and something must be done," she continued. "If not, the problem of illegal migration and its consequences in North America will be unstoppable." The investigation lists three of them. One, the hiring of illegal immigrants will continue to affect the economy and wages in that country. Two, the cost of health will increase more because migrants do not have this service legally. And three, the country will be affected by the reduction of tax revenues.

Work: NAFTA's Achilles heel

"Shared frontier, shared future" documented that both nations have regulated temporary labor mobility through two bilateral labor agreements. The first was between 1909 and 1917; the second between 1942 and 1964. Which means that for almost half a century the subject has not been addressed again.

"The toxic time in politics we are living now is a result of the informal flow of migrants," said Michael Clemens. "In my opinion, the message of bilateralism must come from the Mexican government.”

In 1994, NAFTA did not seriously consider migratory flows, so 80% of the migrants who arrived did not have legal permits. It seems to me that this renegotiation requires leadership from Mexico because, at the moment, it will not come from the North."

A Mexican labor force regulated in the US, research indicates, would bring beneficial results such as increased productivity through formality (specific wages, incentives, and insurance) instead of irregular wages, human rights violations, and deaths at the border.

Rebeca Vargas said that "adding things in NAFTA that were not addressed 20 years ago will be very complex. We do not think this is going to happen, but as a working group we are optimistic because there are American industries that are looking for Mexican labor."

"When the US define who will be in charge on the subject, Mexico will be clear on what to talk about and with whom,” concluded Gustavo Mohar.

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