Interviewees explained emigration most often in terms of the general theme of their and their households’ “getting ahead”. For all, this meant the rewards earned for work, specifically, remuneration. A subtheme of work rewards was job quality, e.g. whether work was interesting, repetitive, etc.
Insufficient nominal and decreasing real wages
I and many of my co-workers emigrated because of the wages. (…) I was working in one maquiladora when there was a change and the (…) owner wanted to pay us workers a little more and the government there wouldn’t let them. The money was barely enough for necessities. I would cash my check and then go pay all the stores that had given me credit (…). Next week I would owe them again. (BeatriceFootnote 7)
When (the call center) opened, the news was that they decided to pay €500. Really quite a lot, a good wage in Morocco. But now, no (…) The government pressured that company to not pay more (…) I came to Europe because they gave me a 9 month contract, and papers for a visa. (Youssef)
The 2013–2015 Mexican interviewees were paid on average the equivalent of US $62/week using concurrent exchange rates. Without overtime, this is US$ 1.29/h. Workers may not earn this long term due to temporary contracts. Twenty per cent of all maquila jobs were held on contracts of 3 to 6 months (Sánchez 2012).
Beatrice’s words indicate that she subsisted on maquila wages but did not break even or have a surplus. We interpret this phenomenon of everyday needs being serviced by debt as life in a poverty trap, or negative income mobility (Carr et al. 2016, p. 5). When trapped in poverty, people move downward into insufficiency; with living wages, they move forward. Beatrice’s escape from the trap was emigration. She said unprompted that Mexicans talk about crossing the border in order to escape poverty. In the US, she worked fewer hours for more money in less stressful jobs and was able to exercise daily, whereas her maquila pay didn’t cover the basics and heavy workloads made her too tired to exercise. She was more satisfied with her economic situation in the US, even though she found maquila work more interesting and skilled than her US jobs, which were all in cleaning.
Real wages dropped because of exchange rate fluctuations. Baja California is the most dollarized Mexican state, with maquiladoras greatly responsible because suppliers invoice in dollars and real estate prices, which are related to industrial land use, are in dollars (Gerber 2000). Historically, Tijuana’s economy functioned in dollars, but in 1976, maquilas began to pay in pesos, which bought less. While foreign companies could buy more for less, employees’ costs rose since necessities were priced in dollars (Iglesias 1985, pp. 31–33, 139–40). Emigration is a consequence of devaluation. Because maquilas increase dollarization and take advantage of exchange rates by paying in pesos, the currency market is an internal dynamic of the system.
The minimum wage in Tangiers in 2010 was 10 dihrams (dh) 70 centimos/hour (US$ 1.20). When asked at her interview’s end if she wanted to add anything, a Tangiers woman making wiring harnesses said “First, the salary is not enough, and especially for young men who want to get married (…). It is one reason that makes people think about emigrating”.
Currency markets and devaluation were not important dynamics in Morocco where the dirham is in a fixed exchange-rate regime. However, many elements of inequality within Tangiers-Tetouan are part of the wage-labour relation. Inequality is deepened by age discrimination caused by internships. A garment worker reported that her factory employed 700, 36% of whom were interns receiving only 5 dh/hr. Informality is another element of the Tangiers-Tetouan system that contributes to emigration. A sizeable portion of garment workers have no contracts. A leader of the Union of Moroccan Workers reported that in garments, 71% had contracts, 25% did not, and 4% knew nothing about contracts.
Many tangerinos reported that they were not paid for all regular working hours. Overtime work was mandatory but often went unpaid. Several said metaphorically that overtime pay was “swallowed up”; it was promised the following month, but not paid. As one Spaniard with experience in Moroccan garments said “they don’t respect the schedule (of hours)”. But interviewees said that low or unpaid wages may be compensated for by migrating using vehicles transporting exports, for example, hiding in trucks or boats. Such vehicles serve as material linkages across transnational space.
Within each case, average pay varies by sector in similar ways: agriculture (excluding marijuana), seafood, traditional crafts, garments, shoes, wiring harnesses, call centers. Workers’ real wages lead to absolute deprivation, or poverty. Important cross-case differences in labor markets, elements of these migration systems, explain why EI jobs inadequately anchor settlement. Tijuana maquiladoras experience peak seasons with periods of labor shortages. Moreover, interior migrant flows have decreased occasionally because industrial centers have arisen in southern areas such as Bahío, sometimes paying higher wages. During booms, companies compete for workers, spiking rotation. Moroccan EI job creation is insufficient. Between 1985 and 1995, in the urban Tangiers-Tetouan region, the percentage of the economically active population decreased.Footnote 8 From 1999 to 2011, female unemployment there doubled from 7.7% to 15.7%.Footnote 9 Tijuana rotation and Tangiers-Tetouan unemployment are evidence of low structural integration. Frequent job changes and not having a job reflect unstable occupational structures.
EIs may give employees bonuses and governments benefits. Bonuses promote attendance, promptness, and productivity of Mexican workers. Approximately 30% of maquila workers’ pay is in bonuses and benefits (Kopinak et al. 2018), including subsidized meals, transportation, grocery and furniture coupons, etc. Indirect pay in Tijuana enhances people’s capacity, for example, by supporting health with food and medical services. They bring poverty level wages closer to a living wage. When orders rise, companies offer better bonuses; during recessions, bonuses decrease or disappear since they are not contractual. The unreliability of bonuses weakens the wage-labour relation. Employers use them to attract employees from other companies, increasing movement between plants and across borders.
Bonuses were far less prevalent in Morocco. An interviewee from the Tangiers Spanish Chamber of Commerce reported that although rotation was problematic, employers could not lower it with bonuses because the majority of workers are women and would give the incentive to male kin. Because of constant surplus labor, EIs do not compete for or control workers with bonuses. Benefits varied by sector, size of company and job, being worse in garments and better in bigger companies. A mechanic reported receiving social security, a contract, health coverage, mutual savings, gifts at Eid-al-Fitr, 4 weeks paid vacation, and the annual circumcision of sons. In contrast, a garment worker said “they don’t give us anything”. Many garment workers said they received no holiday or sick pay or assistance with medical costs. Most Moroccans reported that their companies deducted social security dues from their pay, but did not register them fully, resulting in incomplete coverage.
Formally employed Mexicans are entitled to health care, housing loans and other credit. Many workers keep maquila jobs as a “back up” and commute to work in the US when possible. Indirect wages may make maquila jobs worth continuing, since workers’ US jobs usually have no benefits. In fact, one participant working in a US cafeteria with 8 years of maquila experience said that many people didn’t work in exports for the wages because they were so low, but for the bonuses. Fewer bonuses in Morocco indicate less integration into EI labor markets, and more motivation for permanent emigration. Spanish interviewees spoke of state benefits such as medical coverage and unemployment insurance as “rights”, explaining EI workers’ emigration by their absence.
One important benefit is a letter proving employment, a necessity for acquiring or renewing a visa, another element of the migration system. Visas incorporate migrants into the destination country legally. All employers can provide statements, but since EIs employ such a large portion of the labor force, they give more letters. In Mexico, help getting employees and their families’ visas was sometimes part of a package of bonuses used by the employer to lower rotation. It enhances capacity by allowing maquila employees to enter the US where goods are often cheaper. Carlet, who had worked in garments said that unlike most maquilas, hers did not discriminate in terms of age or appearance. Many women over 35 and not fitting beauty norms got jobs there intentionally to get support for documents, because they could not get hired in other maquilas.
Getting support for documents is more difficult in Tangiers-Tetouan. Several interviewees reported that EI pay was often insufficient to qualify for a visa. If sufficient, they often could not afford the visa. This is noteworthy, because visas are more expensive in Mexico than Morocco.Footnote 10 Some EIs refused to give workers proof of employment so they could disown them if they complained to authorities about labour practices. A great deal of garment production takes place informally in garages where there is unlikely to be support for visas. Both countries’ legislation permits written and verbal contracts, but verbal contracts are more prevalent in Morocco. The method of payment may also be problematic, since many are paid in cash with no pay stubs. Consulates giving visas require 3 months of pay stubs. There is no document such as the laser visa for Moroccan borderlanders, resulting in their entrance most often using tourist visas. The laser visa provides EI workers more possibility to integrate into California than the tourist visa does for Spain because it is issued for a longer period of time.
Even if Moroccans had similar support as Mexicans in getting documents, the differing dynamics in their migration systems may make emigration more difficult. The Strait of Gibraltar, an environmental dynamic, is more difficult to cross. One cannot walk or drive across for free as in CaliBaja, but must pay for the ferry, which costs €27 or more one way, the equivalent of 297 dh or 28 h of work at the wage reported above. The phenomenon of CaliBaja employees supplementing EI wages by commuting, and subsequently emigrating, is unaffordable in Tangiers-Tetouan except for managers.
Intra-societal security and the securitization of borders are two migration system dynamics which may contribute to EI employees using the visas EIs assist them with to cross the border. Both cases have narco-economies with northern neighbours pressuring to reduce them. Mexico arrested organized crime leaders, contributing to increased violence among their underlings competing for business (Shirk and Wallman 2015). Many maquila employees emigrated to escape conflict. King Hassan II declared a war on drugs (McMurray 2001), a condition Morocco met in return for negotiating a trade treaty with the EU (Andreas 2000, p. 32). Europe and Morocco are unwilling to end the drug trade because it contributes to economic stability and limits illicit emigration (p. 134). The king has not arrested narco leaders, thereby avoiding Tijuana’s pervasive violence. In order to contain the drug trade and prevent terrorism, both borders have been securitized. At the CaliBaja border, more time and stress are expended in crossing, motivating commuters’ emigration. White (2007, p. 798) shows how the Spanish securitization of migration “has not resulted in the cessation of immigration by Moroccans or others to Spain”.
Some kinds of income can be found more easily abroad than in EIs, drawing people across the border. Both countries require employers to pay compensation for unprovoked dismissal, but companies often default and governments fail to enforce the law. Foreign labor markets requiring less work for more pay and having less age discrimination, substitute for unemployment insurance. Pensions are very low or non-existent after EI jobs; employees emigrated to finance their and their parents’ retirement. Loans are also more readily available abroad. Even if one has the same amount of money at home or abroad, the enforcement of labor law in the destination country makes income there more secure. Lesser income security in origin countries is an element of the migration system.
While the findings reported above emphasize the more econometric aspects of wages (e.g. money earned, bonuses), this subsection highlights social psychological aspects. These are indicative of what Carr et al. (2016, pp. 7, 18) call subjective well-being and help us understand “how the agency of social actors shapes the system” (Bakewell 2014, p. 306). Migration economists in early research pointed to the objective character of immigrants’ economic integration, e.g. wage parity of immigrants and natives with identical characteristics (Amit and Riss 2014). Here, we demonstrate a subjective side of income.
Horowitz (2009) found that newcomers to Reynosa maintained origin locations as references in his study of workers’ resistance to poor maquila wages and working conditions. Our interviewees also said that with northern opportunities to improve, they felt fewer scarcities than in hometowns. Many had remitted when arriving at the border, but after approximately 15 years stopped, needing to support growing local families. When asked when they first started to think about emigrating, many said only after moving north for EI jobs. They adopt US standards as references, and experience a second form of relative deprivation: international. This is part of the agency undertaken by internal migrants having become borderlanders, i. e. identifying with material comfort abroad. Horowitz (2009, p. 683) asks, “Why endure the risks of collective struggle when the individual strategy of crossing holds out such great material possibility?”
In a critique of four decades of Acculturation Psychology which stresses culture, a group of psychologists have created a Liberation Psychology perspective on immigrant integration (Albar et al. 2010). Migrants are viewed as vulnerable and at risk of oppression, who develop a critical vision in their community groups and overcome exploitation in order to integrate. Our findings, like that of Howowitz’s, are that internal migrants do develop a critical vision of wages, but exit by emigrating rather than organizing for better pay. Our findings differs from those of Albar et al. (2010) partly because our cases are internal migrants in border cities, who may cross borders relatively easily, maintaining former ties as transationals while perhaps acculturating as emigrants. Thus, while wages are an important element of the migration system leading to inequality, borders are important system dynamics making it easier to leave and facilitating return visits because they are internal to the migration systems.
Many interviewees reported wanting to emigrate when they saw the money and goods with which emigrants returned. A noteworthy aspect of cultures of migration in both cases is that those south of the border can watch their northern neighbour’s television, observing consumer levels. The significance of international relative deprivation is demonstrated by the counterfactual. Those who opposed emigration tended to express skepticism, saying returnees fabricated stories of success and had rented the fancy cars in which they visited. This was especially true of export workers who had some NGO affiliation, who preferred to stay to improve their communities. They maintained their homelands as references, but worked abroad when they “had to” because of special needs or unemployment. Those involved in NGOs were more often return emigrants who support the Liberation Psychology perspective on integration.
The degree to which the receiving society is welcoming also affects migrant integration (Huddleston et al. 2013). Some native residents in our cases expressed negative attitudes toward internal migrants. Tangerinos often disapproved of southerners because they accepted lower pay. A Mexican emigrant said he had disliked living in Tijuana because it was not really Mexico due to its composition by people from many different parts of the country.
EIs increase inequality by introducing previously non-existent wage inequality. They provide a social context at the meso-level in which at least three income comparisons are made: a) between people doing the same work in different nations, b) former EI employees who emigrated and those remaining, and c) native EI employees and foreign personnel doing the same work. These comparisons are an important form of second-order feedback in the migration system which can create international relative deprivation stimulating emigration.
Luisa had worked in the only maquila near her hometown in Jalisco for 5 years. When the factory closed she and her family moved to California. She said “they know that they are doing the same work as someone in the United States and they know that they are earning much less.”
Hafizah, a Tangiers garment worker, had a cousin working in another EI who bought a tourist visa from a coworker. She said of her cousin who returned annually for vacation, “She went seven years ago and has already bought her house ( …) in Morocco. And us, ( …) we are paying rent. (...) If I had gone I would be better off. (...) If I found something better abroad, I would go”.
In Tijuana, US professionals are paid more than equally qualified natives doing the same work. When Mario acquired a green card with family assistance, he asked for a raise to the US level, and was fired. He became a manager in the US and emigrated. In Tangiers-Tetouan, Inaya, who had made wiring harnesses for 10 years, said, “foreigners came. They worked at the same jobs just like we did. They got 20 dh/hr., and we got, ( …) 8 dh ( …) Besides that, they weren’t working under pressure like we were”. Her friend had gone to Spain to work in strawberries for 6 months, earning what Inaya did in 2 years. She regretted staying.
Azzam, with EI experience, went to Seville, was caught and returned. He expressed how EI employment contributed to his adoption of European culture and his sense that he belonged there.
For me, the export factories (…) spur migration, because the foreigners come who are in charge and they have a different treatment. (…) We see them and say that they live a better life than ours. (…) They pass on their culture and their civilization and how they live in an indirect way (…) that makes us dream of one day becoming like them (…). I prefer to work as a bus driver in Europe than a director of an (…) export company.
Such cultural comparisons are less important in CaliBaja because of a greater shared regional culture.