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The Migration Gift Exchange: Financial Flows from America’s Immigrants

This past Tuesday was International Migrants Day, declared by the United Nations to honor the contributions and sacrifices that international migrants make to both their destination and origin countries. As I’ve written previously, migrants are “economic ambassadors” that contribute to the growth of two economies simultaneously because they are more likely to be sending remittances--personal flows of money sent across international borders--to family members in their countries of origin. As many of us rush into the shopping malls this weekend for last minute gifts, the millions of migrants living thousands of miles away from their families are rushing to gift money to their households abroad. They may be America’s strongest weapon in the fight against global poverty.

The World Bank released a recent study estimating that global remittances sent by migrants totals about $536 billion for 2012 and is projected to rise to $685 billion by 2015. The biggest chunk of these financial flows, about $406 billion, go to poorer nations in the developing world. The global financial flow from migrants is more than four times the amount of official development assistance (ODA), almost as large as global foreign direct investment (FDI), and is the most stable international financial flow. The top countries receiving remittances are India ($70 billion), China ($66 billion), and Mexico and the Philippines (tied for third at $24 billion each). 

As the largest immigrant-receiving country in the world, U.S. immigrants send most remittances to Latin American and the Caribbean ($46 billion) nations. Being the largest immigrant source country in the U.S., Mexico receives the biggest bulk ($23 billion) of these financial flows to the region. Numerous studies have shown that remittances help increase household investments in education, entrepreneurship, and health and contribute to the building of housing markets in the developing world. 

No only do migrants contribute by sending money across international borders, but to keep in touch with their families abroad they contribute to multi-billion dollar industries: banking and money transfer businesses, international travel, telecommunications, and trade flows.

So whenever you we see immigrants hard at work in our country, don’t forget that they are the gift that keeps giving. They not only contribute by providing skills to American employers, but they also help develop their home communities abroad and contribute to the building of industries that deal with these global flows.