By David Gist
Remittances play a monumental role in helping families in the developing world.
Grace’s story as depicted in a PBS documentary bears this out. Grace reluctantly left her family in the Philippines to move to Baltimore, Maryland, where she works as a special education resource teacher. She says working with children who have special needs is fulfilling, but of course, she misses her family very much. She and her children see one another on video chats, but she won’t be there for her baby’s first steps.
Grace came to the United States because jobs are scarce in the Philippines. In Baltimore, she earns 17 times more than what she earned back home. This allows her to send remittances back to her family to support them. A remittance is the transfer of money by a foreign worker to someone in her or his home country.
Approximately 200 million people have left home to work in another country and will send back more than $450 billion to their families, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Households in Mexico received $27 billion in remittances last year, largely from family members working in the U.S. Today, remittances are Mexico’s largest source of foreign revenue.
Bread for the World urges Congress to fight hunger and poverty around the world, including countries where people like Grace have to leave their families to find work overseas. But as much as our nation does, remittances have an even greater impact on hunger and poverty. In a statement, IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo said remittances, “total more than three times the sum of official development assistance channeled from rich nations to poor.”
As the Migration Policy Institute points out in a report, “Remittances are associated with greater human development outcomes…such as health, education, and gender equality. There are also positive spillover effects, with some of the expenditures and investments made by remittance-receiving households accruing to entire communities.”
But remittances face challenges today. With immigrants in the U.S. under increasing threat of deportation, the pool of remittances is at risk of shrinking, which could lead to a rise in poverty overseas. To make matters worse, some critics of remittances want to complicate the process. During last year’s presidential race, President Trump called for blocking remittance payments to Mexico unless Mexico paid for a border wall. In March 2017, a few House members concerned about immigration introduced a bill to tax remittances to Mexico.
Here in the U.S., job growth and a robust economy are what we need to keep people working—immigrants and citizens alike—and to reduce and ultimately end hunger here at home and abroad. As the Philippine economy becomes larger and healthier, Grace hopes to be able to return home to work and be reunited with her family.
David Gist is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.