Here are eight things you might not know about the transformative power of these often small – yet major – contributions to sustainable development worldwide:
1. About one in nine people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers
Currently, about one billion people in the world – or one in seven – are involved with remittances, either by sending or receiving them. Around 800 million in the world – or one in nine people– are recipients of these flows of money sent by their family members who have migrated for work.
2. What migrants send back home represents only 15 per cent of what they earn
On average, migrant workers send between US$200 and $300 home every one or two months. Contrary maybe to popular belief, this represents only 15 per cent of what they earn: the rest –85 per cent – stays in the countries where they actually earn the money, and is re-ingested into the local economy, or saved.
3. Remittances remain expensive to send
These international money transfers tend to be costly: on average, globally, currency conversions and fees amount to 7 per cent of the total amounts sent. To ensure that the funds can be put to better purposes, countries are aiming through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.C to “reduce to less than 3 per cent the transaction costs of migrant remittances and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5 per cent by 2030”.
Technical innovations, in particular mobile technologies, digitalization and blockchain can fundamentally transform the markets, coupled with a more conducive regulatory environment.
4. The money received is key in helping millions out of poverty
Although the money sent represents only 15 per cent of the money earned by migrants in the host countries, it is often a major part of a household’s total income in the countries of origin and, as such, represents a lifeline for millions of families.
"It is not about the money being sent home, it is about the impact on people’s lives,” explains Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. “The small amounts of $200 or $300 that each migrant sends home make up about 60 per cent of the family’s household income, and this makes an enormous difference in their lives and the communities in which they live."
The small amounts of $200 or $300 that each migrant sends home make up about 60 per cent of the family’s household income - IFAD head, Gilbert Houngbo.
It is estimated that three quarters of remittances are used to cover essential things: put food on the table and cover medical expenses, school fees or housing expenses. In addition, in times of crises, migrant workers tend to send more money home to cover loss of crops or family emergencies.
The rest, about 25 per cent of remittances – representing over $100 billion per year – can be either saved or invested in asset building or activities that generate income, jobs and transform economies, in particular in rural areas.
5. Specifically, remittances can help achieve at least seven of the 17 SDGs
When migrants send money back home, they contribute to several of the goals set in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. In particular: SDG 1, No Poverty; SDG 2, Zero Hunger; SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being; SDG 4, Quality Education; SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth; and SDG 10, Reduced Inequality.
If current trends continue, between 2015 and 2030, the timeframe of the 2030 Agenda, an estimated $8.5 trillion will be transferred by migrants to their communities of origin in developing countries. Of that amount, more than $2 trillion – a quarter -- will either be saved or invested, a key aspect of sustainable development.
"Governments, regulators and the private sector have an important role to play in leveraging the effects of these flows and, in so doing, helping nearly one billion people to reach their own sustainable development goals by 2030," IFAD’s Gilbert F. Houngbo stressed in a statement.
6. Half of the money sent goes straight to rural areas, where the world's poorest live
Around half of global remittances go to rural areas, where three quarters of the world's poor and food insecure live. It is estimated that globally, the accumulated flows to rural areas over the next five years will reach $1 trillion.
7. They are three times more important than international aid, and counting
Remittances are a private source of capital that’s over three times the amount of official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI) combined.
In 2018, over 200 million migrant workers sent $689 billion back home to remittance reliant countries, of which $529 billion went to developing countries.
In addition, the amount of money sent by international migrant workers to their families in developing countries is expected to rise to over $550 billion in 2019, up some $20 billion from 2018, according to IFAD.
8. The UN is working to facilitate remittances worldwide
"It is fair to say that, in poor rural areas, remittances can help to make migration a choice rather than a necessity for so many young people and for future generations," explained Mr. Houngbo.
As such, migrant contributions to development – through remittances and investments – is one of the Objectives of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December of last year.
With half of all flows going to rural areas in developing countries, IFAD, the UN’s agency mandated with agricultural development, is working to make the development impact of remittances even greater. The organisation’s Financing Facility for Remittances programme (FFR) was designed to promote innovative business models in order to lower transfer costs and provide financial services for migrants and their families. Through partnerships across several sectors, the programme runs initiatives to empower migrants and their families through financial education and inclusion, as well as migrant investment and entrepreneurship.
"Over the past decade, IFAD has invested in over 40 countries, supporting more than 60 projects aimed at leveraging the development impact of remittances for families and communities,” said Paul Winters, IFAD’s Associate Vice-President, in an event held on Friday at UN headquarters in New York.