The Relationship Between Employment in Maquiladora Industries in Mexico and Labor Migration to the United States (Working Paper #120)

Kathryn Kopinak, King’s University College

Introduction: While an extensive literature has developed in the forty years since export processing began in northern Mexico, very little research has addressed the relationship between maquiladora employment and labor migration to the United States. Those doing research on export led industrialization in Mexico do not usually ask whether people working in this sector migrate to the United States to work. Likewise, those who focus on Mexican migration north pay little attention to the role maquiladora employment might play in a person’s decision to cross the border to work. Exceptions to this pattern usually occur in research sponsored outside of Mexico. For example, the first major study with this focus was carried out by Seligson and William’s in the late seventies, and found that 15% of maquiladora workers surveyed had previously migrated to the United States. Having made one trip north of the border increased their desire and readiness to return.2 One of the main problems with this and the other studies which exist is that they do not collect data in the United States, where permanent settlers would be located.

In this paper we look at if, how and why those with maquiladora working experience cross the border to work in the United States with survey data gathered all along the border in northern Mexico and also with twenty in-depth interviews in the San Diego-Tijuana area. The paper begins with an analysis of survey data collected in Mexico between 1993 and 1997, and then moves to an analysis of more qualitative interviews on both sides of the border, administered in 2005. The secondary analysis of data introduces findings which can be explored in more depth with the interviews. The secondary analysis permits the comparison of international migratory patterns of those with different occupational experience, especially agricultural migrants, historically among the most plentiful, with those having worked in maquiladoras. The earliest year in which any of those interviewed in depth crossed to work was 1991, and the latest was six months ago in 2005, so that these data are more current.

Working Paper #120»