By Andrea Sosa Cabrios
When a customer in the US who needs technical support with his satellite television system or his credit card gets on the phone to make a call, it could very well be that it will be answered by a young man like Luis Eduardo Avila.
Avila, 32, was deported five months ago to Mexico from the US. He is currently in training. He has to answer calls in English from people who are clients with Dish, one of the biggest subscription-based television service companies in the US. Avila helps clients with complaints or technical problems.
He does it thousands of kilometres away, at a call centre located next to the Monument to the Revolution in downtown Mexico City.
“Some people are curious and they ask ‘Whom am I speaking to? Where am I calling?’, but they’re nice and say they want to visit Cancun. Others are a bit problematic. ‘I want to talk to an agent in the United States!’, they say. So then I have to transfer them to one,” says Avila.
There are currently over 110,000 people offering services in English to clients in the US from contact centres or telephone assistance offices in Mexico. The telephone services sector employs about 700,000 people.
Many bilingual repatriates quickly find their first jobs back in Mexico in the telephone services sector with no need for prior experience or school diplomas. Salaries are at least four or five times lower than what they would earn at a similar job in the US.
Avila, who formerly worked in clothing warehouses in Texas, was deported in April after having lived in the US since the age of six. A ticket for drunk driving put an end to his 25 years in the US and sent him back to Mexico.
He speaks English with his co-workers at the job. “Sometimes we slip into Spanish, but it’s mostly English,” he says with an American accent. English is the language Avila and his fellow workers grew up with. Many of them still think of Texas or California as their home.
After India and the Philippines, Mexico is the country with the most offshore contact centres for clients in the US.
Telecoms firms, financial sector companies, insurance companies, travel and tourism agencies, and telemarketing firms all outsource their services to other countries to lower their operating costs.
According to Maria Eugenia Garcia, director of the Mexican Teleservices Institute, the number of jobs in the telephone service sector has increased by 75 per cent in the last five years, and many of the new workers are bilingual repatriates.
“We have no estimate as to how many of the employees could be repatriated people, but there many companies employing them with very good results, since they are not only bilingual – they are bicultural,” Garcia told DPA.
“In fact, companies are putting up signs in certain areas where repatriated migrants can see them so they can join their contact centres. It is very attractive for us that this work force is available,” she said.
“Welcome to your future job. Apply now!” Says a large sign over the entrance to TeleTech, one of the largest outsourcing firms in Mexico City.
Other similar companies in the city include Telvista, Call Centre Services International, Teleperformance, Sykes and BLS. Companies like American Express and AT&T also have their own in-house bilingual help centres.
The lowest salary for a marketing agent at a call centre in the US is about 11.24 dollars per hour, according to the US Labour Statistics Office.
Things are very different in Mexico. The average salary for a bilingual agent in Mexico is of between 45 and 50 pesos per hour (2.5 to 2.8 dollars per hour). However, they are eligible for additional bonuses that can increase their earnings so they make more than at other jobs.
But there is a great deal of stress for employees at call centres because of all the calls they have to deal with. The turnover rate is very high. Many repatriated Mexican migrants do this work only temporarily as an initial option before they seek other work. They do not stay for long.
Concha, the founder of the New Beginnings civic association, began working at a call centre when he was deported in 2014.
He had lived in the US since the age of two and had built up his own transportation company with a fleet of taxis, shuttles and limousines. But his life changed completely at 34, also because of a traffic offence.
Now, Concha helps other repatriates through New Beginnings. His organisation helps them to integrate back into Mexico, both into the job market and socially and emotionally. He helps them with bureaucratic procedures and also with psychological counselling. New Beginnings helps repatriated Mexicans learn grammatically correct Spanish and helps them find employment, often at call centres.
“If you are bilingual you can make a good salary. But the problem is that the turnover of call centre agents is high – most last approximately eight months or less,” says Concha. “We want other possibilities to open up in other fields, in business, so that people can really have the opportunity to get a job where they can make a future.”
In the wake of US President Donald Trump’s move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, Concha’s words strike an even more poignant note, since it could be that droves of young Mexicans will soon be returned to Mexico from the US as their work permits expire. - DPA
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