Immigration to Mexico
From the early Sixteenth Century to the end of the Nineteenth Century, Mexico saw a continuous surge of immigrants from Spain. But several other countries — most notably Portugal, Italy, Germany, France, the Philippines and China — also contributed a steady stream of immigrants to various parts of Mexico through the centuries. Immigration from North America and other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean has also been healthy over the long haul.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1895 Census
According to the 1895 Mexican census, the countries with the largest number of natives living in Mexico were:
- Spain (14,108 natives)
- Guatemala (14,004)
- United States (12,945)
- France (3,897)
- United Kingdom (3,263)
- Germany (2,497)
- Italy (2,148)
- China (1,026)
The total number of extranjeros living in Mexico numbered 56,355 in 1895. In contrast, the number of people five years of age and older who spoke foreign languages amounted to only 23,916 persons. Of course, those individuals who were born in Spain and Guatemala and spoke Spanish did not speak a foreign language. Therefore the five most widely spoken foreign languages were:
- English (13,711 speakers)
- French (3,569 speakers)
- German (2,247 speakers)
- Italian (1,376 speakers)
- Chinese (827 speakers)
During the reign of Porfirio Díaz (1876-1910), foreigners
were invited to Mexico to serve as skilled professionals in a number of
industries, including the railroad and mining industries. This policy guaranteed
a steady stream of immigrant who entered Mexico, some of whom stayed and raised
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1900 Census
The total number of extranjeros living in Mexico increased from 56,355 in 1895 to 67,674 in 1900. Although Spain remained the largest contributor of natives to Mexico, United States moved into second place as the country of birth for Mexican residents. The most represented countries were:
- Spain (16,280 natives
- United States (15,242)
- Guatemala (5,820)
- France (3,970)
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1910 Census
In 1910, the total number of extranjeros living in Mexico almost doubled to 117,108 persons. Although the largest number of natives continued to be from the Spain, Guatemala and the United States, natives of China increased almost fourfold from 2,660 in 1900 to 13,203 in 1910. The countries most represented by extranjeros in Mexico’s 1910 census were:
- Spain (29,541 natives)
- Guatemala (21,334)
- United States (20,639)
- China (13,203)
- United Kingdom (5,274)
- France (4,729)
- Germany (3,627)
In the 1910 census, 56,491 persons five years of age and older spoke some foreign language. The most widely spoken foreign language was English (with 24,480 English speakers), followed by Chinese (12,972 speakers), French (4,729), German (4,132) and Arabic (3,545).
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1921 Census
Mexico experienced a violent revolution that caused widespread death, destruction and migration from 1910 to 1920. By the time the next census was taken in 1921, more than a million Mexicans had been killed and internal migration had displaced millions more. In 1921, the number of extranjeros dropped from 117,108 in 1910 to 101,312. The countries with the largest representation were:
- Spain (29,565 natives)
- China (14,472)
- Guatemala (13,974)
- United States (11,090)
- Syria (4,715)
As a general rule, many of the foreign populations decreased during the revolution as many people fled the country to escape the turmoil. The number of persons speaking foreign languages also dropped from 56,491 in 1910 to 47,989 in 1921. The six most widely spoken foreign languages were:
- Chinese (14,514 speakers)
- English (13,570 speakers)
- Arabic (5,420 speakers)
- German (3,772 speakers)
- French (3,553 speakers)
- Italian (2,108 speakers)
- Japanese (1,880 speakers)
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1930 Census
The number of extranjeros in Mexico increased from 101,312 in 1921 to 159,844 in 1930. The most represented countries were:
- Spain (47,239 natives)
- China (18,965)
- Guatemala (17,023)
- United States (12,396)
- Canada (7,779)
- Germany (6,501)
- Syria (5,195)
Arabic countries saw significant increases with several native populations well represented in the Mexican census: Saudi Arabia (4,435 natives), Lebanon (3,963) and Syria (5,159). However, speakers of foreign languages declined significantly from 47,989 to 8,223. The three most widely spoken languages were: English (5,134 speakers), Chinese (1,008) and German (503). The decline in foreign languages may have been due to a reluctance of individuals to admit that they spoke foreign languages, as well as assimilation of second-generation of Mexicans.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1940 Census
The total number of extranjeros in Mexico dropped dramatically from 159,844 in 1930 to 67,548 in 1940. As the older generation of immigrants died out, the Mexican-born children of the foreign-born individuals took their place as natives of Mexico, not a foreign country. The five countries with the largest representation in Mexico during this census year were:
- Spain (21,022 natives)
- United States (9,585)
- Canada (5,338)
- China (4,858)
- Guatemala (3,358)
Natives of Arab countries continued to make up a significant portion of the foreign natives: Lebanon (2,454 natives), Saudi Arabia (1,070) and Syria (1,041). Significant numbers of natives from the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union were also represented among the extranjeros.
During this census, the number of people who spoke foreign languages also dropped from 8,223 in 1930 to 6,465 in 1940. German was the most widely spoken foreign language (with 5,111 speakers), followed by English (1,159 speakers). It is likely that many people tallied in the census simply did not admit that they spoke foreign languages. It is also possible that many of the 14,923 natives from Canada and the U.S. may actually have been the children of Mexican immigrants who returned to Mexico with their children during the repatriation of the 1930’s and in the aftermath of a devastating world-wide economic depression.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1950 Census
Between 1940 and 1950, the number of foreign-born residents in Mexico increased significantly from 67,548 to 106,015. The largest number of immigrants that had entered Mexico during the last decade came from the United States and Spain. For the first time, United States had the largest representation. The most widely represented countries were:
- United States (30,454 natives)
- Spain (26,676)
- Canada (6,102)
- China (5,124)
- Guatemala (4,613)
Other countries represented in significant numbers were France, Germany, Italy, Cuba, Japan, Lebanon and Poland. Speakers of foreign languages also increased dramatically from 6,465 in 1940 to 100,830 in 1950. The five most widely spoken languages correlated to some extent with the influx of natives:
- English (57,172 speakers)
- German (9,383 speakers)
- French (5,975 speakers)
- Chinese (5,262 speakers)
- Japanese (1,805)
Although the influx of English speakers correlated with the increase of immigrants from Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S., the number of German speakers (9,383) did not seem to match the number of German-born Mexicans (1,811), indicating possibly that second-generation German-Mexicans may have retained their German language skills. There seemed to be a similar phenomenon with French (5,975 French speakers compared to 1,088 French natives in Mexico). Chinese, on the other hand, seemed to correlate well between the two classifications.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1960 Census
Between 1950 and 1960, the number of foreign-born in Mexico more than doubled from 106,015 to 223,468. The United States had the largest number of natives, followed at a great distance by Spain, Guatemala and Germany, as indicated below:
- United States (97,902 natives)
- Spain (49,637)
- Guatemala (8,743)
- Germany (6,690)
- Canada (5,631)
- China (5,085)
- Poland (4,275)
- France (4,196)
Between 1950 and 1960, the number of persons speaking foreign languages also increased from 100,830 to 147,827. English speakers were the largest group (103,154), followed by French, German, Arabic, Japanese and Polish. Spanish-speakers from Spain, Guatemala and other Latin American countries, of course, would not be included as speakers of foreign languages and, as such, did not figure in the calculations for speakers of foreign languages.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1970 Census
Between 1960 and 1970, the number of foreign-born in Mexico dropped for the first time from 223,468 to 192,208. The number of U.S.-born natives barely decreased from 97,902 to 97,248 while the number of Spanish immigrants dropped significantly from 49,637 to 31,038. Below is a tally of the extranjeros in Mexico at the time of the 1970 census:
- United States (97,248 natives)
- Spain (31,038)
- Guatemala (6,969)
- Germany (5,379)
- Cuba (4,197)
- Nicaragua (3,674)
- France (3,495)
- Canada (3,352)
One of the most notable increases took place among natives from a variety of Latin American countries. Immigration from 13 Latin American countries accounted for 24,561 foreign-born individuals in the 1970 census. Although a variety of reasons for this immigration may have instigated this enhanced movement, the flight of refuges from Castro’s Cuba probably played a role in placing Cuban-born nationals in fifth place.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 1980 Census
Between 1970 and 1980, the number of foreign-born persons in Mexico increased from 192,208 to 268,900. Once again, natives from the United States made up the largest segment with 157,080 persons, followed by Spain (32,240). However, natives from 13 Latin American countries totaled 33,981 and made up 12.6% of all the foreign-born residents. The countries most represented by the extranjeros in the 1980 census were:
- United States (157,080 natives)
- Spain (32,240)
- Argentina (5,479)
- Germany (4,824)
- France (4,242)
- Guatemala (4,115)
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 2000 Census
At the time of the 2000 census, 492,617 extranjeros lived in Mexico. A total of 343,591 extranjeros were born in the United States, representing 69.75% of the entire immigrant population in Mexico. The countries most represented by the extranjeros in the 2000 census were:
Immigrants from both the United States and the rest of the
Americas constituted 87.5% of all extranjeros living in Mexico in 2000. Natives
of Spain and Guatemala, together, represented 9.1% of all Extranjeros (44,982).
Together, natives of Canada, France and Germany — numbering 17,086 in 2000 —
represented another 3.5% of the extranjero population.
Extranjeros in Mexico’s 2010 Census
At the time of the 2010 census, there were 961,121 extranjeros in Mexico, an increase of almost 115% from 2000. Natives of the United States numbered 738,103 and represented over three-quarters of the total extranjero population. The primary countries contributing Extranjeros to Mexico in 2010 are shown in the following table:
As illustrated in the preceding table, the extranjero populations from the United States, Colombia, Argentina more than doubled, while immigration from Honduras almost tripled and immigration from Venezuela increased by over 256%.
If current trends continue in the Twenty-First Century, it is likely that immigration from both the United States and Latin America will continue to constitute the largest number of extranjeros residing in Mexico.
The Largest Contributors of Extranjeros
From 1895 to 2010, the United States has steadily increased its contribution to Mexico’s extranjeros population from a low of 7.8% in 1930 to a high of 76.8% in 2010. On the other hand, Mexico’s former colonial master, Spain, has seen a steady drop from 31.1% in 1940 to a low of 2.0% in 2010. Although Guatemala’s contribution has dropped over the last century, it is now in second-place behind the U.S. and ahead of Spain. The following chart illustrates the extranjero contribution from all three counties between 1895 and 2010:
© 2019, John P. Schmal. All rights reserved.
Castillo, Manuel Angel. Extranjeros en México, 2000-2010. Mexico: July 16, 2012.
Departamento de la Estadística Nacional, Annuario de 1930. Tacubaya, D.F., Mexico, 1932.
Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI). Censo de Población y Vivienda de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (1980-2000).
Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). Tabulados Básicos. Estados Unidos Mexicanos. XII Censo General de Población y Vivienda, 2000 y 2010.
Secretaria de la Economia Nacional, Dirección General de Estadistica, Annuario Estadístico de los Estados Unidos Mexicano (1938-1972).