That is just one of the conclusion of the 2012 report International Migration in the Americas: Second Report of the Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas prepared by the Organization of American States, the OECD and the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). Lot of fascinating information in this report and it does a good job of balancing a broad perspective of migration in North, Central and South America and a closer view of migration in each country from the history of immigration/emigration to the legal framework around migration and acquisition of citizenship.
Watching the immigration debates in the Americas from Europe one thing that always strikes me is how limited these debates are. North America is a perfect example of "can't see the forest for the trees." Talk to almost any North American and one gets the impression that they think it's all about them and their laws and their borders and millions pounding at their doors desperate to get in and ruin it for the "natives" (who are in fact the sons and daughter of immigrants themselves for the most part). When some of the U.S. presidential candidates started talking about electric fences I literally howled with laughter. A quick look at a map of North America and those huge borders with Canada and Mexico, not to mention two oceans, and all I can say is "Good luck with that fence, folks."
A few facts might lead saner minds to the conclusion that migration is not at all an issue limited to the U.S., it's a regional one and cooperation with one's neighbors and the sending countries might be a much better strategy if they really are serious about managing it better. This report wouldn't be a bad place to start gathering some of those facts which just might inject a little fresh air and perspective into the debate.
A Regional Perspective: Like almost every other part of the world migration in the Americas is mostly regional. Have a look at Table 3 on page 12, Total immigration in the Americas, by continent of origin, 2010. In almost every case the vast majority of migrants have simply moved from one country in the Americas to another: Mexico 68%, Barbardos 80%, Argentina 95%. Overall about 70% of the migration is regional with the rest of the world far far behind: 14% from Europe, 13% from Asia and 2% from Africa.
Canada and the U.S. are the exceptions. Almost half of the immigration to those two countries comes from Asia. The report says that even if unauthorized immigration were included in these figures, Asia would still come out on top. Kinda makes you wonder how a fence is going to help here unless the U.S. plans to try to fence off the Pacific Ocean. I wouldn't put it past them.
I was very surprised to see that European migration is still pretty strong in some countries in the Americas. They account for a large chunk of immigration (25-30%) in places like Brazil and Peru - less but still noteworthy in places like Canada and the U.S.
And the immigration from Africa? Almost nonexistent.
But the biggest surprise for me was Figure 4 on page 14, Top ten countries of origin of international migrants, permanent and temporary, 2010.
Guess what country is consistently in the top ten (and almost always in the top 5) countries of origin?
The United States.
Here is U.S. emigration (Americans leaving the U.S.) in black and white. The U.S. is the number one sending country in Belize, Brazil, Canada, and Mexico. It is in the top 5 in Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay
There is a lot we don't know about these American emigrants. Are they mostly naturalized U.S. citizens who have returned to their countries of origin? Are they the children of immigrants to the U.S. who went back to the ancestral homeland? Or are they Americains de souche (not children of recent immigration)? How many are duals? How many vote in U.S. elections? Are they "sojourners" or "settlers" (i.e. how long do they stay?) Hard to know but the AARO estimates that there are nearly 2.6 million of them in the Western Hemisphere which means they account for about half of the estimated 6.3 million Americans abroad. These numbers by the way do not include U.S. military and government personnel so the actual number of U.S. citizens in North and South America would be much higher if they were added in.
What about immigration from the Americas to other OECD countries? Again some very interesting findings. "The difficult economic conditions in Spain and the United States appear to have had the effect of redirecting some of the migration flows to other parts of the OECD. Emigration to other OECD countries outside of Europe has risen by 8% and to other countries of Europe by about 14%."
The report also notes in passing that "a significant fraction of it concerns citizens of the United States, for whom difficult conditions in that country may be leading to more expatriation." This supports the suspicion that many of us have that U.S. emigration is increasing however the report does not go into this in any detail. I went to Part III of the report which has a country by country perspective and the U.S. summary is not there even though the Table of Contents says that it can be found on page 218. A mystery.
Concerning immigration from the Americas to Europe the report says that while Central Americans generally migrate to the U.S., South Americans, in particular those from the Andean region and the Southern Cone, tend to go to Europe with most going to Spain. "In 2010-2011 56% of
emigrants from the Andean region and 65% of emigrants from the Southern Cone lived in Europe." This seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon: "Between 58% to 67% of the emigrants from Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Uruguay arrived in Europe between 2000 and 2010." That is to say, in the last decade.
This migration flow from the Americas to Europe also contains a fair number of entrepreneurs from both North and South America.
Migrants from the United States represented the first community of entrepreneurs from the Americas in European countries, with the exception of Spain where Argentineans are the first community. Not surprisingly, the United States was the country harboring most entrepreneurs from the Americas, generally followed by Spain. The only exceptions were Argentine and Uruguayan entrepreneurs for whom Spain was the first country of residence, Canadian and Jamaican entrepreneurs for whom the second country of importance was the United Kingdom, and Haitian entrepreneurs for whom the second country was France. Entrepreneurs from the United States were mainly based in the United Kingdom and in Italy.The income distribution of migrants from the Americas to Europe is interesting. In general they do fall into the lower income end of the spectrum but there are notable exceptions to this. Canadians and Americans tend to fall into the upper income quintiles with Argentina, Costa Rica, Dominica, Panama and Venezuela among the top earners (top 20%). "Almost one third of Canadian emigrants in the United States and in Europe were in the top income quintile of their country of destination." You'd have to do a comparison between income in the home country and income in Europe to truly know if these Americans and Canadians have done much better for themselves economically because they migrated. However I think I'm safe saying that most Americans or Canadians moving to Europe stand a very good chance of doing at least as well (if not better) than they did in the U.S. or Canada.
Country Perspective: Part III of the report contains short summaries of each country's migration situation. Let's look at two: Belize and Ecuador.
Belize: "Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language." I had no idea that that was case until I started reading. This is a very small country with about 320,000 people of which over 14% are foreigners. The history of that immigration is fascinating. At one point most if it was from other countries in the Americas (and a lot of it was unauthorized) and that is still true. However in the 1990's there was an influx of Asian immigrants (Chinese) in response to a Citizenship Investment Program - for 25,000 USD immigrants could get permanent residency.
That program is now defunct but there are others that are still around. For individuals over 45 years of age there is a Retired persons Incentive Program. To qualify "applicants must receive a monthly
income of not less than U.S. dollars of $2,000 through a pension or annuity that has been generated
outside of Belize. A Qualified Retired Person shall be exempt from the payment of all taxes and duties on all income or receipts, which accrue to him or her from a source outside of Belize whether
that income is generated from work performed or from an investment."
Emigration from Belize was very high but seems to have stabilized. Index Mundi report a zero net migration rate in 2012 which means that migrant inflows and outflows are about equal right now.
2010 Top 5 sending countries to Belize are (in order of importance): U.S., Guatemala, Haiti, El Salvador and Nigeria.
Ecuador: Another former colony and a veritable hotbed of immigration/emigration over the years. One of the more interesting flows in were the "Lebanese." These migrants came in the late 19th/early 20th century and they were Syrian, Palestinian, or Lebanese (Arabic speakers). Emigration started in the 20th century with the rich sending their children off to school abroad. Up until the 1920's the main destination was France. Europe is still a primary destination with strong migration networks between Ecuador and Spain. Up until 2003 Ecuadorians didn't need a visa to enter the country and many took advantage of that. Immigration to Europe is still strong however with many heading for Spain, Italy and other EU countries.
Like Belize a lot of the immigration is from other countries in the region. There was a large influx at one point from Peru and Columbia. Much of this immigration was and is unauthorized. Other groups of note are the Chinese, Americans and Cubans who come for business or retirement.
Index Mundi's 2012 net migration estimate is -0.39 migrant(s)/1,000 population which means that about the same number coming in as are going out.
2010 Top 5 sending countries to Ecuador are (in order of importance): Columbia, Cuba, U.S., Peru and Chile.
This is getting way too long so I'll stop there. There is however so much more in the report - I did my best to give you the highlights but I'm sure I didn't do it justice - and it really merits a closer reading. If you are just delving into the topic of immigration in and from the Americas, this is a great place to begin your research. Enjoy.