Volume 45 Number 177,
April-June 2014

Migration and Development: Debates and Proposals, Ana María Aragonés (coord.), iiec-unam, 2013.

The idea that there is a link between migration and development has recently begun to gain ground. To this effect, the book Migration and Development: Debates and Proposals, coordinated by Ana María Aragonés, is a mandatory reference. It provides a satisfying debate on the relationship between these extremely important topics.

The majority of those who migrate do so as so-called forced migrants, who must migrate as the result of social or labor exclusion that makes it nearly impossible to obtain basic means of subsistence, not only for the individual migrant, but also for his or her economic dependents. This text analyzes this type of migration. In this sense, the first question that this book clarifies is why these trans-national movements of workers exist at all. By analyzing the conditions of the labor market and economic stagnation in Mexico, it becomes clear that workers have very low chances to find a position that satisfies basic needs. This is also because the Mexican economy has tended to specialize in producing goods for the maquiladora export industry, characterized by a low level of added value and productive chains. In this context, migration becomes a means of survival, a search for better living conditions for the migrant and his or her family.

With this understanding, the text enters into an analysis of the relationship between migration and development, beginning with a critique of the positivist and reductionist view of this relationship, set forth by international bodies that view remittances as a tool to generate economic development for the country. However, this vision is really just an argument to justify the failure of structural adjustment policies driven by these very bodies. It also forgets that migrants are a source of development, but for the country receiving them. The migrant population helps to ease both structural and demographic issues and maintains low labor costs in wage industries that produce goods, leading to enormous earnings for the companies that hire these extremely vulnerable workers.

Another element forgotten by those who would describe migration as the motor of development is the issue of human rights. This labor group is viewed as merchandise, a disposable population that contributes to the dynamics of capitalist accumulation. To this effect, this work introduces a study of three of the industries that most employ migrant workers in the United States: construction, the meat processing industry and cleaning services. The construction industry has one of the highest levels of occupational risk due to inexperience, language problems and performing activities with no protection or demands from the workers, out of fear of being fired. The same is true of meat processing factories and cleaning services, industries characterized by extremely low labor flexibility, the dismantling of unions and low wages (meat processing plants pay wages 30 to 40 percent lower than what was paid in 1961). In response to these labor conditions, there were massive protests in 2006 to defend migrant rights, because, in addition to the already described problems, state laws were added that criminalized these workers and their employers.

The most important effect of migration, when seen as a leverage for development, are the remittances, which, over the past decade, have surpassed other macroeconomic variables in importance as an inflow of currency. The book introduces a detailed statistical analysis of this key variable, its percentage contribution to the national product, its role in reducing poverty, the multiplicative effect it has on growth of the national product, etc. Some of the most important conclusions of this analysis point out that the greatest benefits were on the individual and family level. In other words, the migrants themselves and their close family circles are those that are most helped by remittances. On the other hand, the benefits in aggregate terms (macroeconomic) are rather marginal, because these resources are mainly used for basic consumption (food, housing, education and health) and the economies migrants leave do not have the structural conditions in place to overcome under-development. Another important element in the discussion on remittances is to determine what type of migration or migrants send the most money to their communities of origin: unskilled or those with greater training (skilled migration). This question is made in a context in which skilled migration is clearly gaining importance, particularly over the past decade. From the perspective of the former, migrants with higher skill levels are able to move their entire family circle closer to the destination country, breaking the social relations maintained by sending remittances. As a consequence, the greater the proportion of skilled migrants, the lower the remittances received by countries that generate this type of migration. Microeconomic studies believe that migrants with higher academic studies are able to find better remunerated jobs with more optimal labor conditions, which allows them to send greater remittances than lower skilled workers. There are therefore various scenarios for countries highly dependent upon remittances, and the conclusion is that skilled labor is a greater loss because it is a social loss, of which the countries that receive these migrants take full advantage. Remittances are not enough to cover this loss of human capital, as they are only part of a salary, and they do not impact or incentivize key variables, like productive investment, quality education, social security, etc. that could help improve the living conditions of a vulnerable population so that they are not forced to migrate.

Three case studies, Veracruz, Guerrero and Querétaro, confirm the fact that these remittances, even in the context of programs such as 2 por 1 and 3 por 1, do not promote the economic development needed to turn migration into a choice and re-establish the right to not migrate. Even so, studies in Veracruz and Guerrero provide interesting conclusions by showing that migrants, despite living for years outside of their communities of origin, maintain a strong cultural connection and solid commitment to promoting improvements in these communities by sending economic resources. However, these desires and actions face greater obstacles, because these programs are operated without transparency in resource management from Mexican municipal and state officials, meaning that remittances are stained by corruption and used as a political platform. The main conclusion of the Querétaro study is that remittances only modify the consumption patterns of families that receive them, as compared to families that do not, acting as a palliative measure for poverty but not as a definitive solution. They also generate high economic dependence among families that receive them.

Josué Zavaleta
Institute of Economic Research — unam

Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 48, Number 191, October-December 2017 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
CP 04510, México, D.F. Tel (52 55) 56 23 01 05 and (52 55) 56 24 23 39, fax (52 55) 56 23 00 97, www.probdes.iiec.unam.mx, revprode@unam.mx. Journal Editor: Alicia Girón González. Reservation of rights to exclusive use of the title: 04-2012-070613560300-203, ISSN: pending. Person responsible for the latest update of this issue: Minerva García, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México D.F., latest update: Nov 13th, 2017.
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