Is high-skilled migration harmful to tax systems’ progressivity

Understanding how migration responds to tax changes will aid in setting the progressivity of a tax system

Elevator pitch

Decreased transportation costs have led to the transmission of ideas and values across national borders that has helped reduce the barriers to international labor mobility. In this context, high-skilled individuals are more likely to vote with their feet in response to high income taxes. It is thus important to examine the magnitude of tax-driven migration responses in developed countries as well as the possible consequences of income tax competition between nation states. More specifically, how does the potential threat of migration affect a country’s optimal income tax policies?

Optimal tax liabilities for three possible
                        migration responses, US

Key findings


Some types of taxpayers do move in response to taxation levels, most notably highly paid (and highly skilled) workers.

Increasing tax competition for high-income earners may damage the “social contract” that resulted from the historical development of the welfare state in developed countries.

The response of migration to post-tax earnings must be precisely understood in order to derive the optimal income tax schedule.

If very rich people are very sensitive to tax changes, and in particular are more sensitive than others, then tax progressivity may not be optimal.


The best current estimates of taxpayers’ migration responses are essentially useless, because they do not estimate the correct parameter.

Because those who move in response to taxation are a small share of the overall population, estimating the relevant statistic requires rather exhaustive data sets.

The link between tax competition and increased inequalities has not been clearly established.

Author’s main message

Migration responses of highly skilled workers to tax changes are usually studied through looking at migration elasticities with respect to post-tax earnings (i.e. what percentage of workers migrate due to a change in their post-tax earnings). However, the generally accepted theory relies upon the wrong measure of elasticity. This calls for a new direction in empirical work regarding the estimation of migration responses to tax changes. Policymakers should avoid “tax tagging,” intended to draw highly skilled foreign workers into their labor market, and instead work to strengthen international cooperation on both corporate and income tax levels.


Traditionally, capital has been much more mobile than labor, and this largely remains the case today. However, since the beginning of the 1980s, an “era of human capital” has replaced the previous economic regime in which physical capital played the critical role. Globalization has made the mobility of labor, in particular skilled labor, much easier than it used to be. Nowadays, highly skilled workers represent about 35% of the OECD migration stock, but only 11.3% of the world’s labor force. In other words, a highly skilled worker is six times more likely to emigrate than a low-skilled one. This increased mobility presents a new constraint for the design of redistributive tax policies at the national level. Hence, it is important to investigate to what extent this increased mobility may be harmful to the progressivity of tax systems.

Discussion of pros and cons

Recent trends and challenges

A study from 2011 brings to light two clear tendencies in migration patterns within OECD countries [2]. First, more-educated people are more likely to emigrate; second, more-educated migrants settle in destination countries with high monetary rewards to skill. This article focuses on the mobility of highly skilled individuals, and more precisely on the issue of tax-driven migrations of “productive talents” between developed countries. These individuals are concentrated in the top of the income distribution.

In this context, two trends emerge regarding top income tax rates in developed countries. First, there has been a declining tendency in these tax rates since the end of the 1970s, at least until the financial crisis of 2007–2008 (as illustrated in Figure 1). Moreover, a rather remarkable convergence process has taken place between the US and many EU countries. This convergence deserves explanation given the supposed differences in social preferences between the two sides of the Atlantic.

Top marginal income tax rates, 1900–2013

Second, the last few years have seen the introduction and development of specific tax cuts for highly skilled or rich foreign workers. These tax breaks exist in all Scandinavian countries, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK, Switzerland, and Italy, among others. In addition, they have recently been extended in several countries, including France and the UK, and there are ongoing discussions about their extension in the Netherlands and Denmark.

The first phenomenon may mirror increased tax competition between nation states, with each trying to keep and attract highly skilled workers. The second trend illustrates the fact that increasing tax competition for high-income earners may damage the “social contract” that resulted from the historical development of the welfare state in developed countries. Mobile highly skilled individuals would be offered the possibility of a free ride by settling abroad, while the cost of the welfare state would be borne by the less-mobile and less-skilled “home-attached” residents.

The first question to address is whether high-skilled individuals react to differences in taxation when they choose where to locate. If this is the case, it is important to know what the relevant sufficient statistics are for the design of optimal income tax policies in an open economy. These relevant statistics then allow for an investigation into what the top optimal income tax rates look like.

Tax-driven migrations

Even though the potential impact of income taxation on migration choices has been extensively discussed in the theoretical literature, there are still few empirical studies estimating the actual migration responses to taxation. Tax-driven migrations are decisions along the extensive margin. This means that they result from comparisons of average tax rates (or tax liabilities) and not from comparisons of marginal tax rates (the tax rate on one additional unit of income). What matters is therefore to examine the extent to which a variation in the average tax rate in a given country induces migration flows (i.e. variations in the number of movers) and, thus, variations in the stock of taxpayers. Most of the studies report migration elasticities, which are defined as variations in the stock of taxpayers (or a specific category of taxpayers) resulting from variations in the net-of-tax income (or, equivalently, to the average tax rate).

A first set of studies considers the determinants of migration, in particular across US states (for a recent study see [3]). These studies find that per capita income has a positive effect on net migration rates into a state. This conclusion is entirely compatible with an explanation based on tax differences between US states, but may also be due to other differences, such as variations in productivities, housing rents, amenities, or public goods. A clean identification framework is therefore required to disentangle the pure tax component.

A second set of studies focuses exclusively on migration responses to taxation, typically narrowing the scope down to migration within a given country. Several studies, for example, exploit tax variation across Swiss jurisdictions. A study from 2007 uses tax differences across Swiss cantons and computes migration elasticities for different subpopulations, in particular for different groups in terms of education. The results suggest that young Swiss college graduates are the most sensitive to a rise in taxes. However, the estimated effects are not large enough to offset the revenue-increasing effect of the tax increase. The migratory responses of foreigner workers and other age-education groups are smaller, and reverse causation appears negligible.

A more recent study exploits the fact that Swiss municipalities, in addition to cantons and other jurisdictional levels, can affect personal income tax rates [4]. More precisely, the study investigates the response of income taxpayers within the 38 municipalities in the Bern metropolitan area from 2002 to 2011. The estimated elasticity of tax-induced migration, with respect to the net average tax rate, amounts to 1.17 for unmarried taxpayers with high incomes. Consequently, a 1% increase in the average tax rate induces 1.17% of this population to move to another jurisdiction, everything else being constant. Most of the other groups, in contrast, do not systematically respond to income tax changes, and some subcategories even react negatively.

Another study focusing on a single country uses a millionaire tax specific to the US state of New Jersey [5]. Because the salience of this millionaire tax is limited, the study’s estimates of the causal effect of taxation on migration are not statistically significant, except for extremely specific subpopulations. Still, the results suggest that the elasticity of migration is increasing in the upper part of the income distribution, implying that wealthier taxpayers do seem to migrate more in response to increases in taxation.

Another study exploits a recent tax reform in Spain granting regions the authority to set income tax rates [6]. This reform resulted in substantial tax differences, and is therefore well-suited to estimate the magnitude of potential tax-induced migration responses. It should be noted however that this study does not specifically focus on mobility by those at the top of the income distribution. Even so, the authors find that, conditional on moving, taxes have a significant effect on the location choice. More precisely, a 1% increase in the net-of-tax wage rate (i.e. what remains in a taxpayer’s pocket after paying taxes) for a region relative to others increases the probability of moving to this region by 1.5 percentage points. The authors estimate that the migration elasticity is at most 0.25 on average. This implies that, everything else being equal, a 10% increase in the average tax rate in a given region reduces the corresponding stock of migrants by 2.5%.

Important categories of people actually move in response to taxation

Some research has been devoted to the estimation of migration elasticities between countries, based on behavior of football (soccer) players ([7] and the studies it cites). The migration elasticity of domestic players with respect to domestic tax rates is rather small, around 0.15. By contrast, the corresponding elasticity for foreign players is much larger, around 1. This implies that a 10% increase in a given country’s average tax rate would induce the departure of 1.5% of the domestic players, and 10% of the foreign players.

The large estimate for foreign football players applies to the broader market of highly skilled foreign workers. More precisely, another study finds an elasticity above 1 in Denmark for the top 1% of the income distribution [8]. In any given country, the number of foreigner workers at the top of the income distribution is relatively small. Again, they are found more elastic to tax changes than nationals. An increase of 10% in the average tax rate faced by foreign and national taxpayers in the top 1% would result in the departure of about 10% of the foreign taxpayers, but of only 2.5% of the nationals [9]. This number is comparable to the one obtained in the study on Spain [6], although, as mentioned, the Spanish study does not specifically focus on taxpayers with incomes in the top 1% of the distribution.

In the context of increasing tax competition to attract talent, it might be tempting to suggest that the observed drop (recall Figure 1) in the top marginal tax rates (and hence in the average tax rates for the rich) is the upshot of this phenomenon. However, a 2014 study notes that there is little evidence that the downward trend in top marginal rates is a direct outcome of international competition for skilled labor or savings [10]. More generally, it would be interesting to establish a causal link between a lower contribution of the rich to the tax burden, a decrease in social spending, and an increase of inequality. However, a recent study notes that “the rise in income inequality since the 1970s owes nothing to any retreat from progressive social spending” [11]. It could thus be concluded that, at this stage, such a causal link between the increase in tax competition and the rise of inequalities has not been established. However, one should remain cautious on such a topic.

A tax game between two countries

The empirical evidence discussed above suggests that migration responses to taxation cannot be fully neglected when thinking about top marginal income tax rates. This empirical evidence is measured in terms of elasticities, as is usually done for other economic phenomena. A 2010 study presents a simple framework whereby the migration elasticity to the tax rate is considered a sufficient statistic to determine the optimal tax rate on the top income bracket [12]. However, this framework rests on implicit assumptions, which, in a general tax competition framework, have been shown to be insufficient for deducing the optimal income tax in a given country using only knowledge of the migration elasticity [1]. In other words, and in contrast to the commonly held belief, this measure of elasticity is not a sufficient statistic for determining a country’s optimal income tax rate.

A 2014 study investigates how the threat of migration for tax reasons affects which nonlinear income tax schedules competing governments will find optimal to implement in a Nash equilibrium (i.e. in which each competing government is “playing” a best response to the other’s strategy) [1]. Therefore, in such a Nash equilibrium, no government has an incentive to modify its tax policy unilaterally.

In the archetypal case of two (not necessarily identical) countries between which individuals are free to move, each worker’s income depends on his or her effort and productivity, as in the canonical Mirrlees model of the optimal income tax. Policymakers would ideally want to levy taxes based on productivity. This, however, is not feasible because of the basic separation between public and private information: each worker’s productivity is private knowledge, and only the overall distribution of productivity within the population is common knowledge. As a result, policymakers are constrained to levy taxes on incomes, which are observable. A crucial assumption is that taxes are levied according to the residence principle (only households who live in a country pay the income tax). This corresponds to what is implemented in almost all countries, though not in the US. This point will be addressed later on in the discussion of the results.

A key element of a new model developed in [1] is the manner in which it accounts for migration responses to taxation. There is a distribution of migration costs at each skill level. Hence, every individual is characterized by three characteristics: their birthplace, their skill level, and the cost they would incur in case of migration, with the last two being private information. As emphasized by a 1999 study, “the migration costs probably vary among persons [but] the sign of the correlation between costs and (skills) is ambiguous” [13]. This is why the 2014 study makes no assumptions about the correlation between skills and migration costs [1]. Individuals make decisions along two margins: the choice of taxable income operates on the intensive margin (choice of hours of work), whereas the location choice operates on the extensive margin (whether one is in a country or abroad). As such, an individual decides to move abroad if their utility abroad minus their migration costs is higher than their utility in their home country.

A new concept of elasticity to evaluate the impact of taxation on migration

In a closed economy (no international mobility of labor and capital), the government faces an equity-efficiency trade-off. For simplicity, assume that each government favors the well-being of the worst-off individual (i.e. someone who cannot work and who always prefers to live in his or her home country). Equity in this case means that the goal of the government is to achieve the highest possible consumption for this individual. This implies that the size of the redistribution budget should be as high as possible. The taxes that can be implemented are distortive, meaning that the marginal tax rates are non-zero. As a result, taxation has an efficiency cost: it reduces the number of hours of work that an individual is willing to offer. The optimal marginal tax rate is obtained when the marginal social benefit of increasing the tax rate by one additional unit of income, associated with an equity gain (higher consumption by the worst-off), is exactly compensated for by an increase in the marginal social cost (decrease in collected taxes). However, this has to be amended because this is an open world. The efficiency cost of increasing the marginal tax rate in an open economy is larger than in a closed economy: collected taxes may decrease further, because some of the taxpayers hit by an increase in the marginal tax rate may decide to move abroad.

This last consideration about taxpayers moving away due to increases in their taxes must be taken into account when attempting to determine a country’s optimal marginal tax structure. This necessitates introducing a new concept of elasticity, the semi-elasticity of migration to post-tax earnings. This new concept is defined as the percentage increase in the number of taxpayers of a given skill level when their after-tax income is increased at the margin. Roughly speaking, the semi-elasticity reveals the percentage of taxpayers who decide to move abroad when their net income decreases slightly in their residence country.

The main finding here is that the shape of the optimal income tax function depends on the slope of the semi-elasticity (which cannot be deduced from the slope of the elasticity of migration) and, in particular, whether the slope is constant, decreasing, or increasing. For example, when there is increasing semi-elasticity as income increases, this implies that a slight decrease in the after-tax income induces a larger share of richer taxpayers to move abroad. On the other hand, when the slope is decreasing as income rises, a slight decrease in the net-of-tax income induces a smaller share of richer taxpayers to move abroad. The analysis therefore calls for a change of focus in the empirical analysis when considering an open economy. If one wants to say something about the shape of the tax function, one must estimate the profile of the semi-elasticity of migration with respect to post-tax earnings.

The slope of the semi-elasticity cannot be deduced from the level of the elasticity

The slope of the semi-elasticity of migration cannot be recovered from the mere information of the value of the migration elasticity with respect to the tax rate. To illustrate this point, three possible scenarios for the migration elasticity in a tax competition can be investigated [1]. Imagine the US economy competing with an economy with the same characteristics, such as a unified Europe. In each of these scenarios, the average elasticity for the population in the top 1% of the income distribution is equal to 0.25, as suggested in [9]Figure 2 shows the corresponding semi-elasticity profiles in response to earnings capacities. In the first scenario, the semi-elasticity is constant up to the top percentile (i.e. everyone but the wealthiest 1%), and then decreasing in such a way that the elasticity of migration is constant within the top percentile (the wealthiest 1%). In the second scenario, the semi-elasticity is constant throughout the whole skill distribution. In the third scenario, the semi-elasticity is zero up to the top percentile and then increasing.

Three plausible scenarios for the
                        semi-elasticity of migration

Implication for the shape of the optimal tax schedule

Using the calibration shown in Figure 2 for migration responses, and reasonable estimates of the elasticity of taxable income, the optimal tax liabilities and optimal marginal tax rates are computed for a case in which the US is in competition for high-skilled migrants with a similar country. The results are illustrated in Figure 3 for the optimal marginal tax rates and in the Illustration for tax liabilities. In the first scenario (decreasing semi-elasticity), the tax function is close to being linear for high-income earners and remains close to the closed-economy benchmark. In the second case (constant semi-elasticity), the tax function is more concave for large incomes, but remains increasing. In the third case (increasing semi-elasticity), the tax function decreases around a pre-tax income of $2.9 million. In particular, the richest people are not those paying the largest taxes. It is clear that the shape of the optimal tax schedule, especially at the top, depends crucially on the shape of the semi-elasticity. Moreover, the entire shape of the optimal income tax schedule is impacted by the threat of migration of high-skilled people. It might have been reasonable to believe that only the top bracket would be affected by tax competition and the mobility of the highly skilled, which is the assumption made in [9]. However, this belief is correct only in the first scenario, where the semi-elasticity is decreasing.

Optimal marginal tax rates

Limitations and gaps

The empirical studies mentioned in this article suggest that migration responses to tax variations differ across the population. Furthermore, a clear distinction must be made between the elasticity of the flow and the elasticity of the stock of migrants. In addition, it may be worth distinguishing several stock elasticities. In a given country, there are three groups of highly skilled workers: (i) high-skilled natives who have never emigrated abroad, (ii) mobile highly skilled natives who previously emigrated and have returned to their home country, and (iii) highly skilled foreign workers. With the first category in mind, it may be possible to define an elasticity of immigration: what is the impact of a tax variation (at home or abroad) on the stock of stayers. For the second category, an elasticity of repatriation could be defined, capturing variations in the stock of movers who came back to their home country due to tax variations at home. Finally, variations in the stock of highly skilled foreign workers may be captured in an elasticity of expatriation.

A key point to consider in this discussion is that averaging elasticities may be misleading. Even ignoring any form of tax differentiation, when there exist several groups of people responding to taxes in rather different ways, computing an average elasticity is equivalent to ignoring complex composition effects and may result in large biases of the marginal tax rates. The various migration elasticities thus have to be computed for rather small groups of people. It is therefore necessary to have access to exhaustive data sets to be able to correctly estimate these statistics, which play a key role in a global economy.

Research has focused on tax competition between nation states, considering that, in a given country, all tax residents face the same income tax schedule. This implies that tax differentiation based on citizenship is ruled out by assumption. However, if productivity cannot be directly observed by a policymaker, an alternative is that it is easy to know if an individual is non-native and when he or she arrived in a given country. Such information is used by an increasing number of governments, which have introduced specific tax breaks for highly skilled foreign workers. These tax reductions can typically be enjoyed for a limited number of years. Moreover, it should be noted that an EU country is even allowed to offer such temporary tax breaks to foreigners from within the EU. In practice, many countries therefore implement (at least) two income tax schedules: one designed for their native residents and potentially “usual” foreign workers (i.e. not high-skilled), and one targeted to the highly skilled foreign workers.

Summary and policy advice

Tax-driven migration appears to be a new constraint on the design of redistributive policies at the national level. Faced with this phenomenon, a defensive policy response may be to reduce workers’ ability to move across national borders (for example by reducing the public supply of higher education or by taxing remittances to family remaining in the country of origin, thus making emigration less attractive). Whilst there are many benefits to taking part in a global society, the introduction and reinforcement of tax breaks for highly skilled foreign workers in many developed countries, especially within the EU, could signal the beginning of a cycle of collectively harmful dynamics. For example, consider a scenario where a given country enacts such non-cooperative tax policies aimed at increasing collected taxes by attracting highly skilled workers from abroad, without modifying the tax schedule for the rest of the resident population. Other countries may respond to these actions by offering similar tax cuts. This could ignite a race to the bottom, in which the most highly skilled (and thereby highly paid) workers end up paying suboptimally low income taxes. When looking at the EU in particular, member countries should not follow this dangerous path any further. Instead, they should strengthen tax cooperation, not only with respect to corporate taxes but also when it comes to income taxes.

Another possibility would be for countries to tax their citizens on a worldwide basis. If this principle was widely applied, each country’s set of taxpayers would largely be independent of the other countries’ tax policies. However, collecting information on incomes earned abroad would require huge cooperation between tax administrations and some countries might lose tax revenues in the transition.


The authors thank an anonymous referee and the IZA World of Labor editors for many helpful suggestions on earlier drafts. Previous work of the author contains a larger number of background references for the material presented here and has been used intensively in all major parts of this article [1].

Competing interests

The IZA World of Labor project is committed to the IZA Guiding Principles of Research Integrity. The author declares to have observed these principles.

© Laurent Simula and Alain Trannoy


El Salvador y la cancelación del TPS

Crear una bolsa de empleo e inversión para salvadoreños en EE.UU. con competencias y habilidades específicas, y facilitar una una línea de financiamiento especial para quienes regresen al país es parte de lo que propone el sector privado.
Ante el impacto económico que se espera tendrá en El Salvador y también en los demás países del Triángulo Norte, la cancelación del estatus temporal de trabajo de aproximadamente 195 mil salvadoreños que hoy residen en EE.UU, el sector empresarial propone algunas alternativas para comenzar a solucionar los problemas que irán surgiendo a partir de septiembre de 2019.

El gobierno apenas se limita a anunciar posibilidades para hacer frente a la situación, como la extraña idea de enviar a los salvadoreños afectados a Qatar, y por otro lado el sector empresarial propone acciones concretas para capitalizar la crisis y convertirla en oportunidad. Ver: “El Salvador buscará que salvadoreños vivan en Qatar tras cancelación de TPS

Del comunicado de la ANEP:


El inadecuado manejo de la política exterior del gobierno del FMLN, ha sido un claro factor que ha influido de manera determinante en la cancelación del TPS, que beneficiaba a cerca de 200 mil salvadoreños en Estados Unidos y a sus familias acá en El Salvador.

La terca insistencia del gobierno del FMLN de alabar constantemente a los gobiernos fracasados y dictatoriales de Cuba y Venezuela, en adición a su histórica postura “anti-imperalismo yanqui”, es decir anti-Estados Unidos, ha incido entre otros factores, la decisión del gobierno de Estados Unidos. Prueba de ello es que a Honduras sí se le ha dado una prórroga para estudiar la situación.

Las consignas antiestadounidenses y la persistente quema de banderas en actos oficiales del FMLN, fue el la gota que rebalsó el vaso. “No permitiremos que se irrespete nuestra bandera” ha expresado tajantemente el Presidente Trump, sin embargo, los salvadoreños podemos convertir lo que podría ser una grave crisis humanitaria, en una oportunidad si hacemos las cosas bien y de manera proactiva.

La Asociación Nacional de la Empresa Privada propone las siguientes 3 medidas estratégicas:

1. La creación de una bolsa de trabajo e inversión en un sitio web orientando a salvadoreños en Estados Unidos con competencias y habilidades específicas a fin de que puedan conectar con empresarios en el país, ya sea para ser contratados o para inversiones conjuntas. Estamos conscientes que miles de salvadoreños han triunfado en Estados Unidos como emprendedores en un medio difícil tanto por las diferencias culturales como por el idioma, el talento de nuestros compatriotas podría perfectamente ser aprovechado para generar mayor inversión y empleo.

2. La creación por parte del sistema financiero de una línea de crédito con condiciones especiales para los emprendedores salvadoreños que regresen al país, tal apalancamiento financiero servirá para apoyar la creación de nuevos emprendimientos que podrían redundar no solo en la absorción productiva de los salvadoreños que regresan sino también en la generación de nuevas empresas y empleos en el país.

3. La realización de un foro nacional multidisciplinario del cual salgan propuestas concretas tendientes a mejorar el clima de negocios y la elaboración de propuestas sectoriales con el propósito de estimular la inversión privada nacional y atraer inversión extranjera a fin de aumentar el empleo.

Estamos claros que las anteriores propuestas solo pueden ser exitosas con un gobierno que comprenda a cabalidad la importancia de tener buenas relaciones con nuestros principales socios comerciales y el papel fundamental de la empresa privada para generar empleo, prosperidad y desarrollo constante.

Rise in U.S. Immigrants From El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras Outpaces Growth From Elsewhere

Lawful and unauthorized immigrants increase since recession

The number of immigrants in the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras rose by 25% from 2007 to 2015, in contrast to more modest growth of the country’s overall foreign-born population and a decline from neighboring Mexico.

During these same years, the total U.S. immigrant population increased by 10%, while the number of U.S. Mexican immigrants decreased by 6%, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

One metric – the number of new immigrants arriving in the U.S. each year – illustrates dramatically how immigration trends from Mexico and the three Central American nations, known collectively as the “Northern Triangle,” have diverged in recent years. According to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by Pew Research Center, about 115,000 new immigrants arrived from the Northern Triangle in 2014, double the 60,000 who entered the U.S. three years earlier. Meanwhile, the number of new arrivals from Mexico declined slightly from 175,000 in 2011 to 165,000 in 2014.

Growing numbers of lawful as well as unauthorized immigrants from the Northern Triangle have made their way to the U.S. during the American economy’s slow recovery from the Great Recession (the recession began in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009). Of the 3 million Northern Triangle immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2015, 55% were unauthorized, according to Pew Research Center estimates. By comparison, 24% of all U.S. immigrants were unauthorized immigrants.

Among the possible explanations for the recent rise in Northern Triangle immigration are high homicide rates, gang activity and other violence at home, according to a survey of migrants from the region. Other survey data indicate that Northern Triangle migrants are attracted to the U.S. for the same reasons as other migrants: economic opportunity and a chance to join relatives already in the country. The flow of money from the U.S. to the Northern Triangle is substantial: In 2015, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were among the top 10 estimated remittance-receiving nations from the U.S., according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

More than a quarter million unauthorized immigrants from the Northern Triangle (roughly a fifth of unauthorized immigrants from the three countries) have temporary protection from deportation under two federal programs that the White House may phase out – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The three Central American nations are also the starting points for many of the thousands of unaccompanied children apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border since 2013.

The Northern Triangle’s recent rise in U.S. immigration diverges from the pattern for Mexico, the largest source of U.S. immigrants. The immigrant populations from both Mexico and the Northern Triangle had been increasing since the 1970s. But overall growth in the Mexican-born population in the United States declined or stalled since 2007, fed by a decline in unauthorized immigrants and a rise in the lawful immigrant population.

Heavily influenced by the decline from Mexico, the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population peaked in 2007 and fell over the next two years. It leveled off after 2009, because increases from the Northern Triangle and other regions balanced the continuing decline from Mexico. The U.S. lawful immigrant population overall grew over the decade, but not as sharply as it did from the Northern Triangle.

The 12 million Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015 far outnumbered those from the Northern Triangle, but the three Central American nations have grown in significance as a source of U.S. immigrants. In both 2007 and 2015, El Salvador ranked fifth among source countries, with 1.4 million immigrants in the U.S. in 2015. In those same years, Guatemala moved from 11th to 10th, with 980,000 U.S. immigrants in 2015. Honduras moved from 17th to 15th, with 630,000 immigrants in the U.S. in 2015.

Immigrants account for most of the 4.6 million U.S. residents with origins in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and are the main driver of the group’s growth. By contrast, two-thirds of Mexican Americans were born in the U.S., and births to U.S. residents are the main contributor to the group’s population growth.

The recent surge in arrivals notwithstanding, most Northern Triangle immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade. Their households are more likely than those of immigrants overall to include minor children. And, as a group, their education levels and English proficiency are lower than those of U.S. immigrants overall.

Migrant motivations include economic opportunity

As for their reasons for moving, some limited survey data indicate that Northern Triangle migrants are attracted to the U.S. for the same reasons as other migrants: economic opportunity and reunification with family members. Other evidence, discussed below, suggests that some are being pushed out of their countries by widespread violence, which also was an important driver of Central American migration to the U.S. in the 1980s.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Hispanic adults, Central American migrants – 83% of whom were born in the Northern Triangle – were less likely than other Latino migrants (46% vs. 58%) to cite economic opportunities as the main reason for relocating to the U.S. In addition, a smaller share of Central American immigrants cited family reasons for migrating (18% vs. 24% among other Hispanic immigrants).

Surveys of recently deported Northern Triangle migrants in their home countries 1 also found that work was a top motivator for their journey, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of 2016 data. Among Guatemalans deported from the U.S., 91% cited work as a main reason for coming, as did 96% of Hondurans deported from the U.S. and 97% of deported Salvadorans. Surveys of Northern Triangle migrants who were apprehended in Mexico while on the way to the U.S., then deported, also found that nearly all said they were moving to find work.

Violence may also play a role in immigrants’ motivations to migrate north

However, the same 2011 Pew Research Center survey that found economic opportunity was the top reason for Central American immigrants to come to the U.S. indicated that violence in Central America is a factor as well. Central Americans were more likely than other Latino migrants to cite conflict or persecution as a reason they left – 13% said that was the main reason they came to the U.S., compared with 4% of other Hispanic migrants, according to the National Survey of Latinos.

A 2014 U.S. Department of Homeland Security document cited poverty and violence in Northern Triangle nations as forces that motivated unaccompanied children who were being apprehended at the border in large numbers. The document, which was obtained by Pew Research Center, cited rural poverty in Guatemala and “extremely violent” conditions in El Salvador and Honduras. At a conference on Northern Triangle issues this year, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke of “vicious gangs and vast criminal organizations that drive illegal immigration and carry illegal drugs northward on their journey to the United States.”

At the time of the 2014 DHS report, Honduras had the world’s highest murder rate – 74.6 homicides per 100,000 residents that year. El Salvador ranked second, with 64.2. Guatemala was ninth, at 31.2. In 2016, El Salvador had an even higher homicide rate than Honduras, 91.2 per 100,000 people. The Honduras rate was 59.1 and Guatemala’s was 23.7.

Northern Triangle nations also are among the poorest in Latin America. In 2014, some had relatively high shares of people living on less than $2 a day – 17% of Hondurans, 10% of Guatemalans and 3% of Salvadorans, according to World Bank data.

2013 Pew Research Center survey in El Salvador found that high shares of people living there – 90% or more – said crime, illegal drugs and gang violence were very big problems in their country. Half (51%) said they were afraid to walk alone at night within a kil0meter of their home.

The same survey also found that most Salvadorans not only knew someone already living in the U.S., but also wanted to move to the U.S. themselves. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) said they would move there if they could, including 28% who would move without authorization. Two-thirds of Salvadorans (67%) said they had friends or relatives who lived in the U.S. Most said people who move to the U.S. have a better life (64%) than those in their country.

Remittances and the Northern Triangle

The Pew Research Center survey of Salvadorans in 2013 found that 84% said it is good for El Salvador that many of its citizens live in the U.S.

One reason for that might be the money they send home: According to a Pew Research Center analysis of World Bank data, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras were among the top 10 estimated remittance-receiving nations from immigrants in the U.S. in 2015.

The money that immigrants send home to Northern Triangle nations has grown substantially in recent years, except for a one-year dip in 2009, the final year of the U.S. recession. In 2016, according to World Bank estimates, remittances to the three nations totaled $15.9 billion, of which most came from the U.S. Those remittances were the equivalent of about 17% of the total economic output (as measured by gross domestic product) in El Salvador, 11% in Guatemala and 18% in Honduras in 2016.

Guatemalan immigrants around the world sent home $7.5 billion in remittances in 2016, while Salvadorans sent $4.6 billion and Hondurans $3.9 billion, according to World Bank data. The vast majority of the money came from immigrants in the U.S.

The rise in remittances to Northern Triangle nations diverged from a decline in overall remittances to developing nations in 2016. A World Bank brief about global remittance trends, published in October, noted that money sent home by Northern Triangle and Mexican migrants went up despite an increase in deportations from the U.S. The increase in remittances “is in part due to possible changes in migration policies. Migrants are sending their savings back home in case they must return.”

The World Bank brief also stated that remittances may continue to rise because the tighter U.S. labor market could be driving employment, especially in the construction industry. Immigrants are overrepresented in the U.S. construction industry: They were 17% of the total workforce in 2014, but 24% of the construction workforce.

As these immigrant populations have gone up, Northern Triangle governments have expanded their outreach to their nationals in the U.S. The Guatemalan government, for example, opened two new consulates this year, in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in Oklahoma City. El Salvador opened a consulate in McAllen, Texas, in 2014 and another one in Aurora, Colorado, earlier this year.

This report is based largely on Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Figures have been adjusted for undercount, so findings differ from official published numbers, but the trends and patterns are similar for both.

Trabajar en los campos de Canadá

El trabajo agrícola temporal es una opción para salir adelante en un país con pocas oportunidades de empleo.

Los vientos de noviembre me llevaron a conocer un municipio de Chimaltenango conocido por sus coloridas tradiciones, un pueblo pequeño con una hermosa vista del volcán de Fuego, donde las estrechas calles esconden una economía pujante que ofrece diversidad de servicios, entre ellos un par de cafetines que ofrecen variedad de café, crepas y pastelillos. En realidad, las casas grises de dos pisos sin ninguna ostentación ocultan al visitante que una porción de los vecinos viajan anualmente a Canadá para laborar en campos agrícolas.

El Programa de Trabajadores Agrícolas Temporales a Canadá (PTAT) empezó en el año 2003 impulsado por la Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM) y la Fondation des Entreprises en Recrutement de la Main-d’œuvre Agricole Étrangère (Ferme, por sus siglas en francés), con sede en la provincia de Quebec. El primer año, el programa comenzó con 250 trabajadores y, según datos de la OIM, en 2010 ya había involucrado a 12 000 personas con el objetivo de «regularizar y formalizar el desplazamiento continuo de trabajadores y trabajadoras migrantes con experiencia agrícola».

Este programa ofrece empleo a hombres y mujeres por una extensión de hasta 24 meses renovables. Ir a trabajar a Canadá no es tan caro ni peligroso como viajar indocumentado a Estados Unidos, pero tampoco es gratis. Los trabajadores costean un examen médico, un seguro médico y otros servicios, incluida la obtención de visa de trabajo del Gobierno canadiense, lo cual totaliza una suma equivalente al salario mínimo agrícola de dos meses, es decir, más de Q4 000.

La buena disposición de los trabajadores chapines para el trabajo duro y pesado es apreciada, como también su vulnerabilidad producto de su bajo nivel de escolaridad, el desconocimiento de sus derechos, la falta de respaldo del Gobierno y su enorme necesidad de empleo y de generación de ingresos.

La jornada laboral de ocho horas incluye dos descansos pagados de 15 minutos, uno por la mañana y otro por la tarde, además de media hora de almuerzo sin paga. Sin embargo, para muchos trabajadores, la jornada se extiende hasta 14 horas diarias, que no siempre se reflejan de igual manera en el salario obtenido. «Si hay trabajo, hay que darle», dice un entrevistado. «No hay más que agachar la cabeza porque, si me pongo al brinco, no tengo respaldo del Gobierno».

El pago de 11 dólares canadienses (CAD) por jornada laboral es muy atractivo gracias al tipo de cambio. «La gente cree que uno trae manojos de dinero, pero depende del tipo de cambio y del tiempo de estar allá», explica un trabajador. Además, los trabajadores deben pagar diversos impuestos, que se descuentan de su salario y que este año sumaron alrededor de CAD 125 semanales para aquellos que ganaron CAD 500 en la misma cantidad de tiempo. Al monto restante deben descontársele los gastos personales de vivienda y alimentación. Por otra parte, el empleador tiene la obligación de pagar un solo boleto de ida y vuelta, y el empleado tiene la opción de extender su contrato si lo desea, por lo que la matemática es simple: a más tiempo de estadía, mayor volumen de ingresos.

Muchos trabajadores agrícolas temporales han logrado mejorar su nivel de vida y, generalmente, han dedicado buena parte de sus ingresos a la compra de tierras para vivienda o siembra y de vehículos todoterreno, así como a la educación de sus hijos. Sin embargo, el aumento de bienes también ha representado el aumento de la separación conyugal y familiar.

El trabajo agrícola temporal está ofreciendo la oportunidad de generar ingresos a ciudadanos cuyos Gobiernos se han negado a proporcionar las condiciones mínimas para una vida digna. El costo de que el Gobierno vuelva la vista a otro lado lo están pagando individuos que se esfuerzan por salir adelante a pesar de las circunstancias adversas que los rodean.

El veredicto es claro: la inmigración favorece a la economía

En el año 2015 había cerca de 250 millones de personas viviendo por fuera de su país de nacimiento. Si todos estos migrantes se agruparan, formarían la quinta nación más grande del mundo con una población dos veces superior a la que actualmente tiene México. En países que tradicionalmente han abierto sus puertas, como Estados Unidos, un 13% de la población está conformada por inmigrantes (la mayor parte de ellos procedente de América Latina y el Caribe), y en Suiza o Nueva Zelanda esta proporción se incrementa a un tercio. Dadas estas cifras, no sorprende que un cuerpo grande de investigación haya analizado de qué forma la inmigración impacta a la economía de destino. Su veredicto es claro y choca con numerosos prejuicios: la inmigración tiene impactos económicos positivos.

Esta conclusión se sustenta en abundante evidencia rigurosa que, por años, ha mostrado que la inmigración contribuye a un mayor crecimiento económico y a incrementos en productividad (ver, por ejemplo, los resúmenes de esta investigación de la Universidad de Pensilvania o de esta de la Universidad de California, Berkeley). La inmigración tiene también efectos probados en los niveles de innovación: en Estados Unidos, por ejemplo, la producción de patentes y la fundación de compañías de capital de riesgo (venture capital) están lideradas por inmigrantes (ver ejemplos en el American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics o este informe de la National Venture Capital Association).

Diferencias entre académicos y la opinión pública

Hay entonces un contraste entre el mundo académico y la opinión pública, donde desde diversos sectores se argumenta que la inmigración puede ser perjudicial. Y estos argumentos enfatizan sobre todo los posibles efectos en el mercado de trabajo: existe el temor de que la inmigración perjudique a los nativos al reducir sus opciones de empleo o nivel salarial. Sin embargo, un cuerpo abundante de evidencia rigurosa muestra consistentemente que la inmigración no reduce significativamente los niveles de salario o empleo de los nativos. George Borjas, de la Universidad de Harvard, es quizá el académico que más notablemente se aleja de este consenso pues, a diferencia de la mayoría de autores, encuentra en sus estudios que la inmigración afecta significativamente a los nativos en el mercado laboral. Pero incluso él reconoce que el efecto económico neto de la inmigración sobre la economía es positivo.

Hay entonces un contraste entre el mundo académico y la opinión pública, donde desde diversos sectores se argumenta que la inmigración puede ser perjudicial.

Una de las razones para el desacuerdo entre lo que dicen los académicos y la opinión pública seguramente se debe a un problema lógico que los economistas laborales llamamos “la falacia de los empleos fijos”. Se trata de un argumento erróneo según el cual el número de empleos disponibles en una economía no cambia, siempre es constante. Si esto fuese cierto, los nativos necesariamente se verían afectados por la inmigración de trabajadores, bien sea porque les bajan el salario (dado que aumenta el número de trabajadores y no cambia el número de empleos) o bien porque les quitan los empleos para dárselos a los inmigrantes.

Los inmigrantes no son como las naranjas

El problema de la falacia de los empleos fijos es que no reconoce la diferencia que hay entre el mercado del trabajo y el mercado de cualquier bien de consumo, como las naranjas. Es cierto que si aumenta el número de naranjas disponibles en un mercado, el precio tiene que bajar. Pero los inmigrantes no son naranjas. A diferencia de ellas, los inmigrantes consumen, producen e invierten. Compran carros, comida y casas. También crean empresas, compran acciones, pagan impuestos y ahorran para la pensión. Se ha probado que su entrada al mercado laboral incentiva a los empresarios a adoptar cambios tecnológicos o a invertir en nuevos productos más intensivos en mano de obra. Y que, en muchos casos, no compiten con los nativos en el mercado de trabajo pues se especializan en otro tipo de empleos, lo que a su vez mejora la productividad. Todo ello implica que la inmigración puede aumentar la cantidad de empleos que hay en una economía. Y este es, justamente, el consenso al que han llegado la mayoría de economistas tras décadas de investigación rigurosa.

Pero los inmigrantes no son naranjas. A diferencia de ellas, los inmigrantes consumen, producen e invierten. Compran carros, comida y casas. También crean empresas, compran acciones, pagan impuestos y ahorran para la pensión.

Rara vez encontramos en la disciplina económica este nivel de unanimidad. Los beneficios económicos de la inmigración son incuestionables y es importante traer este conocimiento a la opinión pública. Pero puede ser que la discusión deba llevarse a otra esfera, en la que los argumentos económicos son secundarios. Quizá lo que debemos consensuar es la manera en la que la inmigración enriquece a las sociedades, al hacerlas más abiertas, diversas y ricas culturalmente. Quizá lo que debemos admitir es lo mucho que gana un país cuando abre sus puertas a la música cubana, la cocina mexicana y la literatura del Perú. Quizá lo que debemos reconocer es lo mucho que ganamos al priorizar la humanidad que nos une a los extranjeros sobre la nacionalidad que nos divide.

Reciben remesas 6.2 millones de guatemaltecos

La Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM) informó que 1.8 millones de guatemaltecos envían remesas familiares a Guatemala.

De Estados Unidos son enviadas a Guatemala el 97 por ciento de las remesas.

La OIM presentó este jueves la Encuesta sobre Migración Internacional y Remesas Guatemala 2016, un estudio especializado que activó luego de seis años y tiene como objetivo medir el comportamiento de los flujos de dinero que se transfieren hacia Guatemala.

El estudio revela que hubo un incremento sustancial en la migración y así como en el monto de remesas en el período 2010-2016.

“La población guatemalteca beneficiaria de remesas es de aproximadamente 6.2 millones”, señala el documento.

La muestra indica que el 97.1% de los guatemaltecos que envió remesas en 2016, cuando ascendió a US$7 mil 273 millones. En su mayoría viven en Estados Unidos, seguido por Canadá (0.8%) y México (0.7%) respectivamente.


  • 49.8% de lo que se recibe se  usa para inversión y ahorro.
  • 1.6 millones de personas reciben remesas.
  • 73.6% fueron transferencias a través de bancos.

La muestra identificó que Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango y Guatemala son las regiones donde hay más familias que reciben remesas. El 50% es población urbana y el otro 50% es rural que recibe dinero. En promedio, una familia recibe US$379 cada mes.

La Encuesta resaltó que la inmigración de personas guatemaltecas se generó más en los grupos etarios de 15 a 24 años en el 2016.

Además, por cada cien mujeres hay 82 hombres, lo que significa que en los últimos cinco años han migrado más mujeres y unidades familiares con respecto al estudio del 2010.

El principal destino del uso de las remesas es para el consumo en los hogares, como la canasta básica de alimentos, servicios de salud, educación y transporte. Otro porcentaje se destina al gasto en reparación del hogar, compra de inmuebles y otros enseres.

Víctor Flores, técnico del Banco de Guatemala, señaló que las remesas representan el 12% del Producto Interno Bruto (PIB), y que en los últimos siete años existe una estabilidad en el mercado laboral de los Estados Unidos, que ha contribuido al incremento de las remesas en el país.

“Gracias a las remesas mantenemos una balanza de cuenta corriente positiva en la economía”, afirmó.

El desafío

Jorge Peraza Breedy, jefe de misión de la OIM para Guatemala, El Salvador y Honduras, dijo durante la presentación que el desafío para los gobiernos del área es crear condiciones económicas y sociales para reducir la migración irregular a los Estados Unidos.

Destacó que se deben impulsar empleos y mejores condiciones de vida para sustituir los volúmenes de remesas familiares.

Aseveró que si bien las remesas ayudan a combatir la pobreza también se vuelven en un “círculo vicioso”, que ha generado una generación ni-ni (que ni trabajan, ni estudian).

Peraza Breedy, subrayó que muchas veces las familias no se superan en términos labores y se limitan a esperar la llegada mensual de recursos.

Recepción por departamento (en millones de dólares)

Guatemala 952.9
San Marcos 611
Huehuetenango 606
Quetzaltenango 496
Petén 457.1
Alta Verapaz 412
Quiché 355
Escuintla 347
Chiquimula 304
Jutiapa 293
Baja Verapaz 286
Izabal 281
Suchitepéquez 271
Jalapa 219
Santa Rosa 207
Zacapa 187
Retalhuleu 175
El Progreso 166
Chimaltenango 149.9
Totonicapán 141
Sololá 132
Sacatepéquez 116

Envíos por lugar de origen

California 1,826.8
Nueva York 1,255.2
Florida 689.5
Texas 564.6
Massachussetts 356.4
Illinois 241.8
Distrito de Columbia 217.5
Georgia 175.4
Nueva Jersey 174
Pennsylvania 173

Beneficiados por sexo (en millones de personas)

Mujeres: 3.4

Hombres: 2.7

Población total beneficiaria de remesas (en millones de personas)

2002 2.9
2003 3.1
2004 3.3
2005 3.6
2006 3.7
2007 3.7
2008 4.1
2009 4.3
2010 4.5
2016 6.2

*De 2011 a 2015 no se hizo encuesta

Ingreso de divisas por remesas

2006 3,609
2007 4,128
2008 4,314
2009 3,912
2010 4,126
2011 4,378
2012 4,782
2013 5,105
2014 5,544
2015 6,284
2016 7,159
Proyección 2017 7,768

Remesas hasta mayo aumentan 15 por ciento

Este año se espera un total de US$7.7 millardos en divisas que llegan a los hogares guatemaltecos.

Transcurridos cinco meses, las remesas recibidas este año casi igual el monto total que enviaron los trabajadores migrantes hace 12 años. El Banco de Guatemala (Banguat) publicó que se acumulan US$3.3 millardos en el periodo de enero a mayo, cifra cercana al cierre del 2005 cuando las remesas recibidas sumaron US$3.6 millardos.

El monto acumulado tiene un crecimiento de 15 por ciento con respecto a los US$2.8 millardos que se reportaron en el mismo periodo de 2016.

Durante mayo los hogares guatemaltecos que se benefician con remesas recibieron US$747.4 millones, es decir US$122.1 millones más que la cifra recibida en el mismo mes del año pasado. Este es el monto más alto reportado este año, le siguen los envíos de marzo que sumaron US$738.9 millones, según cifras de la banca central.

Desde 2010 el país ha recibido un monto global de US$40.7 millardos en remesas familiares, y para este año se espera que los envíos sumen US$7.7 millardos y en 2018 la proyección es que alcancen los US$8.3 millardos.

Sergio Recinos, presidente en funciones del Banguat, comentó que desde el proceso electoral en EE. UU. se observó un crecimiento extraordinario en el flujo de remesas familiares. En enero el crecimiento que se registró fue de 21.9 por ciento, dijo, al estimar que la tendencia es de una desaceleración hasta alcanzar un cierre de crecimiento interanual del diez por ciento.

El funcionario agregó que además del monto mensual de remesas, los guatemaltecos que trabajan en EE. UU. están enviando parte de sus ahorros ante los posibles cambios en las políticas migratorias en ese país.

De acuerdo con la encuesta de la Organización Internacional para las Migraciones (OIM), el 97 por ciento de las personas que envían remesas a Guatemala viven en Estados Unidos y los hogares que se benefician con estos recursos son principalmente de los departamentos de Guatemala, Huehuetenango, San Marcos y Quetzaltenango.

Jornada académica

El Banguat realiza el XXVI ciclo de las jornadas económicas en las que expertos nacionales e internacionales debaten temas de tipo de cambio, política monetaria y crecimiento económico. Sergio Recinos, presidente en funciones del Banguat, explicó que argumentos como las medidas proteccionistas, políticas migratorias más rígidas, tensiones geopolíticas y el cambio climático son algunos aspectos que generan incertidumbre y afectan las economías.

En el caso de Guatemala los posibles canales de contagio serían una disminución en la demanda comercial y en el ámbito financiero, los efectos por el incremento en las tasas de interés que marque la Reserva Federal, explicó Recinos, al descartar hasta ahora impactos negativos en la economía guatemalteca.