The US has received wave after wave of immigrants over its short 400+ year history. From the first English, French, and German waves to the Irish in the mid-1800’s and the Italians and Polish in the early 1900’s. The most recent and largest wave is that of Latinos; those from so called Latin America (Mexico, Central and South America). Like the immigration waves before, they have come to the US seeking a better life and the American Dream. As with the waves before, they have faced discrimination and backlash from some indigenous groups. And like most previous immigrant groups, many of the Latinos melt into the American Melting Pot adding their unique culture to the country. But there is something different about this wave that may have lasting social and/or economic ramifications.
I’ve identified two economic behaviors that mark a distinct difference between the recent Latino immigration wave and that of previous immigration waves. One, of the 18.9 million Latinos in the US, between 50-75% of them send money back home to their families (source: New York Times). This contrasts to the very small amount of money transfers (<5%) back to home countries by previous immigrants. While technology may account for enabling most of these transfers, the fact is there is a significant transfer of wealth from immigrants back to their home countries that has not occurred in the past.
The second behavior is that of short-term versus permanent immigration to the US. The vast majority of immigrants in the past came to the US to stay permanently and become Americans. The current Latino wave shows a shorter-term horizon where at least half of the immigrants, by some estimates, are only here for less than 10 years in order to earn some wealth and move back to their home countries.
The recent Chinese and Indian immigration waves are showing similar tendencies as observed in the Latino immigration wave. This trend shows flaws in our immigration policy and perhaps our culture.
I did not make these observations to incite any anger or discrimination towards immigrants. I believe our country was built by immigrants and the future success of the US will continue to require new waves of immigrants. What I identified is economic differences in immigration waves that requires a better immigration policy from the government; one which encourages immigrants to both remain in the US permanently and to keep their wealth here.