Thursday, September 09, 2010

What do Mexico and Morocco have in common?

Some time ago I came across an interesting article at Morocco Board, Hein de Haas and Simona Vezzoli's "Migration & Development Experiences of Morocco and Mexico". Their thesis is simple.

Over the second half of the 20th century, Mexico and Morocco have evolved into main sources of predominantly low-skilled migrant labor in the United States and the European Union, respectively.

Despite large historical, cultural, and economic differences, these two countries share the geopolitical feature of being located on the globe's main South-North divides and "migration frontiers." This explains the striking similarities between Mexican and Moroccan migration trends.

About 10 percent of Moroccan and Mexican citizens live abroad, and in both countries, remittances have become a vital source of income and poverty alleviation, particularly in rural areas.

In view of the strategic importance of migration, it is not surprising that both the Moroccan and Mexican governments have openly or tacitly encouraged emigration and have recently intensified efforts to foster ties with their emigrant populations to maximize remittance flows and to boost the positive development impact of migration.

de Haas and Vezzoli go on to identify a wide range of similarities between the Moroccan and Mexican migration experiences: in the 1950s and 1960s the two countries evolved into major sources of unskilled labour for booming American and western European economies, from an initial concentration of migrants in areas and countries they were closely connected with (California and the southwest in the case of Mexico, France in the case of Morocco) the communities have expanded geographically to new destinations, emigration is driven by the relative attractiveness of labour markets in the receiving countries, and the remittances of these migrants play a huge role in domestic economies. Of note is the fact that human development indices (life expectancies, literacy rates, fertility rates) between sending and receiving countries have narrowed considerably over the past half-century while the GDP per capita gaps have remained stable. Morocco's relatively more dependent on remittances than Mexico, being a low-income country instead of a middle-income one, but the two countries still share challenges. How can emigration from sending to receiving countries be used for the maximum benefit of the sending countries?

While generally beneficial for individuals, families, and the communities involved, migration's impact on regional development and growth is much more contested. A central observation of the study tours was that depending on the general development context, migration impacts differ across and even within regions. Even more importantly, the study tours observed that migration tends to reinforce preexisting development trends and may therefore set in motion positive (virtuous) as well as negative (vicious) migration-and-development circles.

For example, in relatively isolated and disadvantaged areas, migration may further accelerate population decline and undermine economic productivity. However, in these cases, migration is a symptom, not a cause, of such decline.

The relative isolation of villages in mountainous areas of Zacatecas and some of the smaller, difficult-to-reach oases in southern Morocco marginalize them from economic interaction with more central parts of Mexico and Morocco, respectively. In turn, this lack of economic interaction hinders their development. Young adults then leave these traditional settlements in search of opportunities elsewhere. The resulting depopulation can create "ghost towns" where only a few households are left, among them a handful of young families with children.

By contrast, centrally located and economically thriving areas and regions are more likely to lure migrants and remittances back in; migrants from other parts of the country may relocate their remaining family members to these places, and migrants know that investments in such areas are more likely to produce returns than investments in rural hometowns. These decisions can further accelerate growth, particularly in urban centers. Within rural regions, migrants often prefer to invest in and return to "migrant boomtowns," accelerating existing urbanization trends.

[. . .]

A key observation and hypothesis to explore is that migration can perhaps make the largest difference in "semi-peripheral" regions, where economies are neither booming nor declining, but where they have potential for growth. In these places, remittances might trigger a virtuous cycle by pushing regional economies over a certain tipping point, leading to accelerated growth. A comparative study of regions and towns whose growth is related to migrants' circulation and investments would provide significant insights into the conditions under which migration can boost development processes.

The whole essay goes into much more detail than my quotes and summary suggests, and is certainly worth your reading. Go there.

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