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Marketplace Morning Report

For returnees to Mexico, English is a lucrative skill

Andy Uhler Mar 10, 2015
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For almost ten years now, more people have been leaving the U.S. for Mexico than immigrating here. Whether they’re leaving voluntarily or not, some experts estimate that over a decade, half a million young adults between 18 and 35 have returned to Mexico after living in America for five years or more. Returning home isn’t always easy, but it has created some opportunities for bilingual employees and the businesses that hire them.

When you walk down Padre Mier, one of the main drags in downtown Monterrey, you’d be hard pressed to avoid hearing someone speaking English.  It turns out those English speakers are increasingly working in one particular industry: call centers. There are at least nine on this particular street.

Now, Monterrey’s a big city — Mexico’s second-largest, but it’s still surprising to learn there are more than 30 call centers here. Big American companies outsource to Mexico to provide billing, technical and sometimes even direct sales support.

Juan Jose Cruz says his first job in Mexico was at Hispanic Teleservices. He spent most of his teenage years as an undocumented immigrant in Virginia. He’s now 26 and decided to move back to Mexico about five years ago. Cruz is from Guadalajara, but like many Mexicans that return home, he landed in Monterrey and started looking for a job.

“I was like, ‘OK, I can speak English and nobody speaks English down there.’ But I was completely wrong, you know?”

It turned out that there were lots of English speakers in Monterrey. And there was also lots of work in the call centers.

Omar Solis also returned to go back to college. He says he was pleasantly surprised with this particular job market, too.

“It tends to pay more than any other typical Mexican job without having any sort of formal qualifications,” Solis says. “Any sort of diplomas or formal education. However, where I think there was a bit of a difference there, was just the way I speak.”

Bill Colton, the President and co-founder of Global Telesourcing, says that’s exactly it. His company has had a call center in Monterrey for about eight years. He says about 95 percent of the people they hire spent their formative years in the U.S. and you can tell when you’re on the phone with them.

“Our employees speak English not just well, but they speak it natively,” Colton says

Mexicans who have lived in the U.S. can give better service because they’re essentially Americans and understand the way American consumers think, Colton says, therefore they’re worth paying a little more.

Juan Jose Cruz says there’s not a lot of glory working in a call center – it’s the pay that attracted him.

“They were like, ‘Oh, do you want to come work for us? We offer this salary.’ It was like, whoa that’s a big salary for Mexico. They were paying like 20,000 pesos.”

That’s 20,000 pesos a month or about $17,000 a year. That’s significantly more than the $13,000 most Mexicans earn annually.

Colton says the biggest reason employees in Monterrey quit is not because they don’t like the work or aren’t happy with the salary. It’s because they’re going back the U.S.

“Based on what their life situation is and where they think they can best achieve their next objective, they’re very comfortable picking up and moving across the border one way or the other because they’re truly bicultural and comfortable in both countries,” Colton says.

For some, it’s a little more complicated than that. Undocumented immigrants still can’t legally work in the US. So, as long as there’s a market for these returnees in Monterrey, there could be more Mexicans returning home for work than coming up to America. And as long as that’s the case, the call center business in Mexico will continue to grow.

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