Since 2009, Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together (MATT), a binational non-profit working to build cultural and economic ties between the U.S. and Mexico, has surveyed more than 14,000 migrants returning to Mexico from the United States in an effort to place them in jobs.
Using information collected in interviews at nine repatriation centers along the U.S.–Mexico border, MATT’s Yo Soy México program has connected over 4,000 people with job prospects—at no cost to the migrant—by matching their skills with available positions stored in an electronic job bank.
The effort has so far involved over 100 companies in industries ranging from agriculture and construction to health care and technology, and return migrants have been placed in jobs in the states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila and Tamaulipas.
Most jobs available through the database are in construction. Many return migrants worked in this industry in the U.S., where they were paid a much higher wage for the same work. According to Carlos López Portillo Maltos, director of MATT’s Mexico office, “the wage differential between the U.S. and Mexico for the same jobs is one of the most prevalent causes of disillusionment among migrants returning home.”
Another issue is that the available jobs are not always in states where a returning migrant wishes to live. As MATT’s research has shown, the most commonly cited reason for returning home is to be reunited with family; so it’s not surprising that many returnees want to go back to the towns and villages where they came from, where their families are located—but where job prospects are slim.
In an effort to broaden the types and locations of employers who participate in the job bank, MATT is working with state-level chambers of commerce and recruiting through the human resources and organizational development departments of companies that
are looking to add to their labor force. Successful partnerships include multimillion-dollar companies like FEMSA, Mexico’s leading bottling company and owner of Latin America’s largest convenience store chain; the Michoacán-based health services company Corporativo GSM; and DISH Mexico, the Mexican operation of the global cable and Internet company.
The program fills an important gap. As return migration expert Miryam Hazán notes, “So far the level of involvement of the business community in supporting the reintegration of return migrants has been very limited.” Part of this, she says, is that “there is not much awareness” among companies that this population is returning to Mexico.
Recognizing the value of this program, in 2014 the Mexican government decided to start its own pilot program in the state of Tamaulipas using MATT’s electronic database. The government intends to scale the program to the national level in its new initiative for return migrants, Somos Mexicanos.
But scaling up the program to serve the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who have returned in recent years is unlikely to happen soon. This program—like the Somos Mexicanos initiative overall—currently works only with migrants entering through repatriation centers, which captures only a minority of all Mexicans returning from the United States. And the gaps in the electronic database of existing jobs underscores the need for more proactive efforts to create a climate for employment growth, especially in the states—such as Michoacán, Jalisco and Guanajuato—where migrants are returning in the highest numbers.