Immigrant Migration Patterns: Little Pink Houses

It's no surprise that when times are tough and jobs are scarce, the number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. drops.  What IS interesting, however, is in trying to understand the impact of the recession on overall U.S. immigration…and census stats can't quite tell the tale.

Today's Wall Street Journal features a great article on page A3 entitled "The Sun Belt Loses Its Shine".  The piece examines data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau which illustrates the rapid cooling of the uber-hot migrant magnets of the past.  The data, collected between July 2008 and July 2009, is a snapshot of America during the "depths of the recession", as the author puts it.

Based on the numbers, some of the country's top immigrant destinations saw an abrupt swing in population patterns.  Las Vegas, for example,  went from an inflow of 54,000 new residents per year to a loss of 1300; similarly, Orlando, went from an inflow of about 52,000 per year (2004-05) to an outflow of about 4,300.  Atlanta also declined signficantly.  But not all big cities are losing numbers: Washington, D.C. had a net gain of 18,200 residents, its first net gain since 2002.  New York City, Boston, and Chicago also grew.

The article is an interesting read and analyzes the impact of the real estate downturn as a key factor in the changes.  One factor NOT examined, however, is the impact of EB-5 Regional Center Investors who continue to flock to the U.S., albeit in statistically insignificant numbers (when compared to cumulative migration patterns.)  Still, it's an interesting shift in the way immigrants come to the U.S.  Consider:

  • a decent flat for a family of 3-4 in any Chinese industrial city is probably a half million U.S. dollar investment…if they can find one; for that same price, that family can buy into a U.S. EB-5 Regional Center investment and immigrate to the U.S.
  • while the U.S. recession — especially the freeze in construction — has a direct and visible impact on low-skilled and semi-skilled workers (i.e., those most likely to remain in the U.S. and fall out of legal status even if they entered with a valid visitor visa), this same recession has made U.S. investment opportunities better than ever not only for the affluent but for working professionals with significant nest eggs…and an interest in bringing their families to America.
  • Unlike the traditional channels of employment and investment-based immigration, there is no geographic nexus in EB-5 Regional Center immigration because the investor does not HAVE to take up residence in the geographic area in which his/her investment is made

Let's leave it at this: when the U.S. is booming, it is a magnet for immigrants looking for jobs and expensive for prospective immigrant investors.  When times are tough in America, things are often tougher elsewhere, and geopolitical instabilities make the U.S. even more attractive as a result.

It would be fascinating to research and document exactly where all these new EB-5 Regional Center investors are settling when they get to the U.S.  Given the sheer numbers of Chinese investors, I suspect California is the primary "landing field".  But as one group leaves, others group come, and, as John Melloncamp so aptly asked, "Ain't that America…?"