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Those migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border? They’re southbound

A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle is seen parked in the background through a repaired section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, Friday, June 29, 2007.

David Maung/AP

The flow of migrants between the United States and Mexico, always heavy, is apparently getting heavier still. It is an old story: People want to go where the economy is strong and opportunities are available. The new part of the story, however, is that the country people are leaving is the United States, and the country they are entering is Mexico.

It is all part of a twist in global economic fortunes that might have repercussions for a lot of countries – including Canada.

The past few years have seen skewed economic experiences in many parts of the globe. The long and arduous U.S. recession and so-called recovery have been well-publicized around the world. To someone thinking of migrating into the United States, the whole thing has been a like a giant advertising campaign against it.

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In contrast, Mexico has been going from strength to strength. China, which has been a manufacturing powerhouse, has been getting relatively expensive. As companies have looked around for a place to be, they have increasingly cast their eyes on Mexico, and opened their factories there instead.

Mexico now has a bit of cachet, and a lot of economic potential. As always happens under the circumstances, it is now a destination for international immigration. True, plenty of Mexicans still want in to the U.S., but it is no longer one-way traffic. According to data from the two countries (quoted in this recent article in the New York Times), over the past few years more Americans have been added to the population of Mexico than the other way around. People are also teeming into Mexico from many other locales, including Central America, Japan and Europe.

Whether Mexico stays a hot destination is uncertain. The country has a lot of issues, including crime, and its economic expansion has slowed over the past couple of years. The more important point, however, is that the tried and true destinations for immigrants may be looking a lot less appealing than they ever did. If you are looking for tomorrow's economic star as a place to move your family, it might make more sense to look at up-and-comers such as Mexico rather than the more developed countries like the U.S. – or Canada.

And yes, this is a story about Canada, a country where there would be no population growth at all if not for immigration. That's sort of important now, but it will be extremely important in future when natural population growth falls even further. Immigration – and in particular, immigration of skilled, educated, immigrants – has been our kind of ace-in-the-hole plan of how we are going to keep expanding when the demographics are against us.

Thing is, the world is changing and a whole new list of countries is rising to the top of the economic heap. It remains to be seen whether we can use immigrants to fuel our labour force and economy if countries like Mexico look good to them – or if their own countries of origin start looking like places they might as well stay.

Canada is still being chosen as a preferred destination for immigrants, but it might be best to not get too comfortable about keeping that spot. If Mexico is looking better than the U.S. as a place to be, then things have shifted pretty far already. That could be a strong signal that the world is changing fast, and that the best-laid plans may have to be adapted a bit.

Linda Nazareth is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Her book Economorphics: The Trends Changing Today into Tomorrow will be published by Relentless Press in January, 2014. www.economorphics.com

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