High Skilled Immigration From Mexico Increased After NAFTA

That’s the finding from Woodrow Wilson Center COMEXI scholar Miguel Jimenez, who presented his summer-long research on labor market integration within the NAFTA region this morning. Jimenez has been working at the institute on migration patterns within the region before and after the 1994 free trade agreement took effect. Many of the findings were not particularly surprising, such as increased trade between the U.S. and Mexico or Mexicans rising as a share of the U.S. population. But a couple of things did stand out.

First, high skilled immigration in Mexico and Canada has dramatically increased since the signing of NAFTA, at the expense of the United Kingdom, Japan, France and other countries as Jimenez shows:HLB VisaIn addition to Mexico and China, India’s percentage of high skilled immigrants  admitted into the U.S. also rose, but Jimenez explained that this was not a result of NAFTA (which didn’t directly affect India), but due to India’s focus on graduating masters students in STEM subjects. South Korea saw a modest increase as well. Those four countries also saw their share of employee transfers into the U.S. on intra-company visas increase as well.

Second, Jimenez’s research confirms earlier predictions that the Great Recession would reduce not incentives for Mexicans to come from the United States. Worse, the percentage of Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S. on work-related visas has fallen dramatically, from a high of 16% in 2008 to less than half of that last year.

Jimenez saved his most surprising finding for last when he presented the percentage of skilled and unskilled workers admitted into the U.S. in 1996 and 2011:

High Skill vs Low Skill Mexico Immigration

Jimenez looked upon this as a sign that greater openness between the U.S. and Mexico, such as creating a visa exception like the U.S. has with Canada and Bermuda, could be beneficial for both nations.

“It’s worth thinking about how changing this would improve the relationship,” he said.

Nevertheless, Jimenez concluded his presentation with a simple, but positive summary of immigration flows in the NAFTA region: “the system works.”


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