Those pesky migrants. All they bring is trouble, especially the so-called refugees and the bogus asylum seekers from Tunisia, Serbia, Chechnya, Moldova … If they went home there would be more jobs and less crime here in Europe (and Russia) and the brain drain that stifles development in their home countries would be reversed. Right?

I don’t think so, but what I want to do is expand the scope of the migration discussion to look at what they send back home from Europe. In a word, money, lots of it. For several countries, remittances represent far more money than those countries receive through foreign-aid programs or direct investment by foreign companies. Countries like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Moldova don’t just get a big financial boost from remittances. An argument could be made that they’d die without them, become totally failed states open for exploitation by anyone.

Consider these factoids:

Tajikistan holds the unfortunate record of having the highest ratio of remittances to GDP in the world – nearly 50 percent. Moldova and Kyrgyzstan come in at about 30 percent and Bosnia at around 15 percent. (Source: World Bank)

Remittance payments back to Macedonia were an impressive 1.4 billion euros in 2010 – six times as much as direct investment by foreign companies.

Romanian expats sent home well over 5 billion euros in 2010; Albanians, 690 million euros (down from 780 million in 2009); and Ukrainians, about 3.3 billion euros in 2009, the Financial Times’ Anora Mahmudova blogged.

Remittances, like most aspects of the migration debate, should not be oversimplified. They do help make poor countries less poor. On the other hand, all that cash flowing out of expat workers’ hands probably makes their lives even harder, seeing that many of them earn a living in low-paid jobs like agriculture, construction, and social care. Those who insist on a strong correlation between migration and crime might argue that the informal ways often used to send money home (most Albanian labor migrants bring it home personally) can also be used to launder money earned illegally in Europe. Nevertheless, Europe needs migrants, and migrants’ home countries need their money, desperately.

Ky Krauthamer

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at Transitions Online. Email: ky.krauthamer@tol.org

More Posts