Immigration to Mexico

I entered Mexico with a single-entry temporary student visa and showed my visa at the airport in order to begin the immigration process that would allow me to stay longer than the 180 days allowed for tourists. In order to get a temporary visa to stay in Mexico beyond 180 days, I needed to go to the nearest “Instituto Nacional de Migración” office within 30 days of arriving in the country to begin the visa process. I went to the INM office in Pachuca, the capital of Hidalgo, to exchange my “Forma Migratoria Múltiple” for a temporary resident card.

My own experience with the migration office and the bureaucratic process inspired me to learn more about immigration to Mexico, and Pachuca is one of many places in Mexico with an interesting immigration history.

In the late 19th Century, immigrants from Cornwall, England came to Mexico, settling in the mining city of Pachuca. The Cornish came to Mexico for work opportunities and their cultural influence remains visible throughout the state of Hidalgo. The Cornish introduced fútbol to Mexico, which is now the most popular sport in the country. In addition to bringing their favorite pastime to Mexico, the Cornish introduced a type of food that is now a regional specialty.* A paste is a pasty (similar to a hand-pie or empanada) common in Cornwall. Cornish would bring this tasty and portable food with them down in to the mines. You can now find pastes all over Hidalgo, often filled with meats like chicken tinga, vegetarian options like rajas con queso, or sweet varieties like piña or arroz con leche. We sampled a few pastes while waiting for the migration office to process our visa documents at a small restaurant down the block from the office.


Throughout history, people have immigrated to Mexico from various countries for many different reasons. Not surprisingly, the most notable waves of immigration are the result of people fleeing their home country due to war, economic instability, and racial, religious and/or political persecution.

The first wave of immigration occurred in the 1500s after the Spanish Conquest and during colonization, with most immigrants coming from Spain. Most of the first Spaniards to arrive in Mexico were from Andalucía, the southern region of Spain, which was heavily influenced by the Moors after their invasion in 711.

There was another wave of immigration in the 1800s. From 1880 to 1920 French, Lebanese, Italian and Jewish people crossed the Atlantic to settle in Mexico, with many of the first immigrants landing on the Yucatan peninsula. Many Lebanese**, Syrians and Palestinians came after WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A significant Lebanese population settled in Yucatan between 1880-1910. Just as the pastes in Pachuca symbolize the Cornish influence, other Mexican cuisine reflects Lebanese traditions.

The famous rotating vertical spits of meat for tacos al pastor that are seen throughout Mexico are derived from kebabs and shawarma. However, instead of lamb, pork was used in Mexico because it was more readily available. In addition to the food, there are many linguistic connections between Arabic and Spanish. If you’re interested in learning more about the etymology of many Spanish (and English words) and their connection to Arabic, I recommend that you check out these articles: and

tacos al pastor

Additionally, there is an interesting history of Chinese immigration to Mexico. The first Chinese immigrants were brought to Mexico as indentured laborers and slaves, along with other slaves from the Philippines and Korea. In the late 19th Century, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 in the United States caused many Chinese immigrants to come to Mexico since they were denied residency and citizenship in the U.S. Many Chinese-Mexicans in Mexico were deported in the 1930s, which is part of a long history of xenophobia against Chinese immigrants in Mexico.

Mexico received Filipino immigrants, French immigrants during the French Revolution, more Spanish immigrants during the Spanish Civil War and Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, European immigrants during WWII and Eastern Europeans during the Cold war. Other notable groups are Argentines (between 40,000-150,000), who emigrated from Argentina to escape the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, the migrant crisis of Central Americans traveling through Mexico towards the U.S. is a pressing migration issue.

There is a large U.S. population of retired expats living in Mexico, mostly in Puerto Vallarta, Los Capos, San Miguel de Allende, Cuernavaca, and Merida. Mexico is home to the largest number of U.S. citizens outside of the United States.

Clearly there is a complex history of immigration in Mexico, and much that I haven’t mentioned in this post. I plan to write a more specific post about U.S./Mexico immigration, looking at the history of various immigration and labor policies like the Bracero Program.

A trip to the migration office in Pachuca inspired me to learn more about immigration in Mexico and the subsequent research taught me a lot about this country of which I am now a temporary resident. I now have an identification card with a NUE (Numero Único del Extranjero) and a CURP (Clave Única de Registro de Población) that allows me to enter and exit the country.

Here are the resources that I used to write this post as well as some articles for further reading:

*A friend who knows a lot about geography informed me that a similar culinary tradition exists in northern Minnesota where there is also a history of immigrants working in the iron mines. In Minnesota the hand pies are also called pasties and are a portable lunch eaten in the mines.

**Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helú, the richest man in in the world from 2010-13, is the son of a Lebanese immigrant.

Image Credit: Tacos al Pastor –


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