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For migrants, new land of opportunity is Mexico

by DAMIEN CAVE New York Times News Service on September 22, 2013 1:20 AM

MEXICO CITY — Mexico, whose economic woes have pushed millions of people north, is increasingly becoming an immigrant destination. The country’s documented foreign-born population nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, and officials now say the pace is accelerating as broad changes in the global economy create new dynamics of migration.

Rising wages in China and higher transportation costs have made Mexican manufacturing highly competitive again, with some projections suggesting that it is already cheaper than China for many industries serving the U.S. market. Europe is sputtering, pushing workers away.

And while Mexico’s economy is far from trouble-free, its economic growth easily outpaced the giants of the hemisphere — the United States, Canada and Brazil — in 2011 and 2012, according to International Monetary Fund data.

Mexican officials said Friday that residency requests, from foreign executives to laborers, had grown by 10 percent since November, when a new law meant to streamline the process took effect. And they are coming from nearly everywhere.

Guillaume Pace saw his native France wilting economically, so with his new degree in finance, he moved to Mexico City.

Lee Hwan-hee made the same move from South Korea for an internship, while Spanish filmmakers, Japanese automotive executives and entrepreneurs from the United States and Latin America arrive practically daily.

“There is this energy here, this feeling that anything can happen,” said Lesley T←llez, a Californian whose three-year-old business running culinary tours served hundreds of clients here last year. “It’s hard to find that in the U.S.”

The shift with Mexico’s northern neighbor is especially stark. Americans now make up more than three-quarters of Mexico’s roughly 1 million documented foreigners, up from around two-thirds in 2000, leading to a historic milestone: More Americans have been added to the population of Mexico over the past few years than Mexicans have been added to the population of the United States, according to government data in both nations.

“Mexico is changing; all the numbers point in that direction,” said Ernesto Rodr■guez Ch£vez, the former director of migration policy at Mexico’s Interior Ministry. He added: “There’s been an opening to the world in every way — culturally, socially and economically.”

There are, however, plenty of obstacles threatening to scuttle Mexico’s moment.

Inequality remains a huge problem, and in many Mexican states education is still a mess and criminals rule. Many local companies that could be benefiting from Mexico’s rise also remain isolated from the export economy and its benefits, with credit hard to come by and little confidence that the country’s window of opportunity will stay open for long.

“The fact that there is a Mexican moment does not mean by itself it’s going to change our future,” said Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico’s economy minister. “We have to take advantage of the Mexican moment to do what is required of us.”

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