Migrants Sent $301 Billion Back Home in 2006, Study Finds

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Migrants around the world sent $301 billion to family members back home last year, with India edging out Mexico as the world’s top recipient, a U.N. agency said Wednesday.

An estimated 150 million migrants, most of them living in rich Western Europe and North America, regularly send money to their mostly poor relatives in developing economies, according to the first study of its kind. About 10 percent of the world’s population depends in some way on such remittances.

Remittances have been growing at a 10 percent annual rate, according to the report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a Rome-based U.N. agency. The total triples what rich nations donate to developing countries.

The money flow has become ’’the world’s most effective poverty alleviation program,’’ said Donald Terry, a top official of the Inter American Development Bank (IDB). And while rich countries also benefit from the arrival of young workers, “if you’re No. 1 in remittances, you’re not developing jobs in your local economy.’’

In effect, remittances have become a huge money trail that follows people moving in search of jobs and opportunities, the report said.

’’Walls are not stopping them [migrants], patrol boats are not stopping them,’’ said Kevin Cleaver, IFAD’s assistant president. “I was surprised at the magnitude of these numbers.’’

IFAD commissioned the IDB, a multilateral lender for Latin America, and the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, to help gather the numbers. The IDB has been estimating remittances to Latin American and Caribbean economies since 2000.

Indians received $24.5 billion and Mexicans $24.3 billion, the study showed. China was third with $21.1 billion, according to the report. The global total was $301 billion The study also took a stab at estimating remittances to places where the numbers are difficult to tabulate, like Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia.

FAD and the IDB combined official numbers from countries’ central banks with information from banks, money transfer companies and surveys of migrants, plus estimates of informal remittances like cash carried by travelers.

The report estimated that Cubans received $983 million in 2006 — in line with Cuban government data over the past several years. Terry said he was ’’fairly confident’’ of the number’s accuracy. Some Cuba-watchers have disputed Havana’s figures and put remittances at $400 million to $500 million per year.

Afghanistan received $3.4 billion; Iraq, $3.7 billion.

India, China and Mexico received the most money, but the impact on their economies was more modest relative to their size, going from 0.8 percent of GDP for China to 2.9 percent for Mexico.

In contrast, El Salvador got $3.3 billion, accounting for more than 18 percent of its GDP. The $2.3 billion received by Honduras represented almost a quarter of its GDP. In Latin America, the effect of remittances was less than 1 percent of GDP for Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina.

Other countries got smaller sums that represented an even bigger boost for their economies. Eritrea’s $411 million worked out to 38 percent of its GDP. Guinea Bissau’s $148 million contributed 49 percent of its economic output.

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Source: Miami Herald (link opens in a new window)