Growing ranks of immigrants come from middle-income nations

Compared to 1990, immigrants in the United States today are more likely to be someone like Mahendren.

He’s 28. He’s from Pondicherry, a city in southern India.


“I’m a chef by profession,” he explained. “I went to culinary school after I graduated high school. Then I got placed in five-star hotels back there. Then I went to a cruise ship so I learned to cook for a mass group like two thousand, three thousand people.”

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Mahendren asked me not to use his full name because he’s not authorized to work in the US, but his story illustrates some of the common factors in work in all types of migration from middle-income countries.

More and more of the world’s migrants are coming from what international economists call the “global middle.” These are middle-income, emerging economies. The big three are: India, Mexico, and China.

The Pew Research Center says middle-income countries accounted for 60 percent of immigrants in 2013.  In 1990 less than half of migrants came from these middle countries. 

While Mahendren may come from a poor family, the relative economic prosperity of his country gave him the education and mobility to move abroad. Pew also points to the greater economic interconnection between middle and high-income countries.

Mahendren sends money back to his sister who still lives in India. She’s investing it in land.

Remittances are often talked about in the context of economic development in poor countries. In sum, these individual contributions become large — according to the World Bank, larger than the flow of foreign aid from governments.

Phillip Connor, of the Pew Research Center points out that “patterns of remittances and movement are very intertwined.”

“Nearly 57 percent of remittances worldwide were sent to middle-income countries in 2000,” he said. “But that’s up to 71 percent in 2013.”

These flows are hard to measure — Connor’s estimate of what’s sent from the United States ranges from $50 to $100 billion.

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