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Wilfrid Laurier University Office of Research Services
October 25, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Dr. Hennebry (left) with a Mexican Seasonal Worker and his family in Mexico, and Karen Vanderwillik (right), a 4th Year Laurier Student.

Jenna Hennebry, Mexican-Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Migration

ICTs, Development and Migration:
A Case Study of Mexican-Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Migration 

by Dr. J Hennebry, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies 

Between 2003 and 2005, Dr. J. Hennebry (Assistant Professor, Department of Communication Studies, WLU) carried out a research project on the use and development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) among migrant workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). This project was funded by Wilfrid Laurier University, the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) .

This research project involved extensive qualitative fieldwork and interviews with Mexican seasonal migrants and their families, both in Canada and in Mexico, examining ICTs in relation to migration and development. “Migrant workers” have become an important labour resource in the global economy. Multilateral government agreements, trade liberalization, and advancements in communication and transportation networks have enabled flows of the world’s poor into managed international labour migration programs. This research documents how ICTs have facilitated this movement, how a “migration industry” comprised largely of ICT service providers has profited from this market, and how temporary migration systems have impacted families and communities in Mexico. With remittance dollars sent home from Canada, families and communities have invested in ICT infrastructure and services, built homes and clean water reservoirs, etc. These changes have impacted family cohesion and gender roles, social relations and culture.

Karen Vanderwillik, a 4th Year WLU student accompanied Hennebry to Mexico where she assisted in carrying out interviews with Mexican families and gathered data on ICT infrastructure acquired while migrant workers were participating in the agricultural migration program. 

Hennebry and Vanderwillik observed significant changes among migrant families, with women taking on new work as remittance receivers, managing family finances, working on family farms and in new businesses. Seasonal migration has had impacts on the division of labour in the family and on gender roles. 

There was a clear gendered culture of migration, where young men plan to enter the SAWP instead of working on family farms, leaving behind their families, communities and cultures.

Mexico's incoming international telephone traffic more than doubled between 1998 and 2003, growing from just under 3 billion minutes to over 6 billion in 2003. Remittances to Mexico equal 10% the total value of exports, more than income from tourism. The areas with the largest remittances are those with highest participation in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Migrant workers send home their earnings from Canada through electronic services like Western Union or bank money orders. 

Workers call their families weekly to organize their transnational family income, and to keep in touch, typically using telephone cards and payphones.

The over 20,000 migrant workers who come to work on Canada’s farms annually, send home thousands of dollars in remittances every year. Migrants and their families use this money to build homes, invest in water, transportation and communication systems.  The Mexican family in the photograph began their own textile business with the money from participation in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, and they also purchased a cellular phone.