Individual Migrant Workers’ Remittances May Be of ‘Relatively Small Value,’ But Collectively They Are Three Times Greater than Global Official Development Aid


People at both sides of an opened teller window
Over 200 million migrant workers sent US$554 billion back to their families in remittance-reliant countries in 2019. PHOTO:© IFAD

16 June 2021 (United Nations)* — The International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and is observed on 16 June. The IDFR recognizes more than 200 million migrant workers, women and men, who send money home to over 800 million family members.

This day further highlights the great resilience of migrant workers in the face of economic insecurities, natural and climate related disasters and a global pandemic.

The IDFR is now globally recognized and is a key initiative in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (Objective 20), which urges the reduction of transfer costs and greater financial inclusion through remittances.

Remittances, or “cross-border person-to-person payments of relatively small value,” serve as a vital lifeline to the developing world. Individual remittances may be of ‘relatively small value,’ but collectively these flows are three times greater than global official development assistance.

Remittances underwrite many basic household needs and support skills formation and opportunities through education and entrepreneurship. These resources prove transformational for both households and local communities, enabling many families to achieve their ‘own SDGs.’

Remittance flows have increased five-fold over the past twenty years, serving in a counter-cyclical capacity during economic downturns in recipient countries. COVID-19 has been a formidable test for global remittances.

However, early forecasts of sharp declines greatly underestimated the resilience in remittances flows. A May 2021 report by the World Bank reveals a drop in remittances of only 1.6 per cent in 2020, to US$ 540 billion from US$ 548 in 2019.

The resilience of these flows is not surprising. Remittances are the financial side of the social contract that binds migrants to their families back home. While these inflows total in the billions, the number that matters the most to families is the average remittance of US$200-US$300 a month.

Behavioural shifts among migrants and the diaspora over the past year have further bolstered the resilience of remittances. Changes include an increased use of savings to sustain remittances flows, greater utilization of formal sending channels and more migrants sending money home for the first time.

Local currency depreciation in recipient countries and increased government support for formal migrants in host countries during the pandemic have also had an impact.

One of the greatest catalysts for formal remittances during 2020 was the accelerated adoption of digital technology by the migrant workers and their families. Both online and mobile digitalization have buoyed remittance flows during this challenging period.

Mobile remittances alone increased 65 per cent during 2020 to US$ 12.7 billion (GSMA, 2021). This change was hastened by lockdowns and social distancing rules that spurred the move away from informal channels and the use of cash for senders and recipients.

Digitalization is less costly than cash transfers and has reinforced the adoption of mobile money, thereby advancing the financial inclusion of migrants and their families.

The IDFR and the United Nations commend the determination and resilience of the human spirit as evidenced by migrant workers. Further, the UN calls for governments, the private sector, development organizations and the civil society to promote digital and financial solutions for remittances that foster greater social and economic resilience and inclusion.

For further information visit: familyRemittances.org and ifad.org/en/idfr.

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