Sonia Plaza's blog
As I mentioned in my previous blog, a renewed focus on Anti Money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (AML-CFT) regulations in Australia, the UK, and in the USA are impacting banks and MTOs.
Three effects on the remittance markets are observed. First, Banks stopped offering low cost remittance services. Second, banks closed accounts of MTOs. Two major banks, the Commonwealth Bank and the National Australia Bank, have closed already the accounts of MTOs in Australia. Recently, Westpac announced that it will close the bank accounts of MTOs serving Somalia by the end of this month. And third, small MTOs also closed since they could not any longer operate without bank accounts.
I have been writing about H1B visa in the past four years. This is the second year in a row since April 2008 that H1-B visas applications exceeded the 85,000 cap in the first few days. This FY 20015, the cap was reached on April 7. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency has received more than the required number of applications needed to fill the cap for the fiscal year as well as for the 20,000 H1-B petitions under the U.S. advanced degree exemption. This year USCIS will use a lottery system to choose petitions to consider for the visa.
Remittances have been the main source of foreign exchange supporting Somalia during the conflict for the last twenty years. A recent IMF fact-finding mission to Somalia found that about $2 billion in remittances are handled by money transfer companies. These companies are located throughout the country and they are providing shadow banking services since there are no licensed commercial banks. Somalis called this system “xawilaad” which is the Somali rendering of the Arabic word “hawala”.
Since the events of September 11, 2001, many countries have adopted stringent Anti-Money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terror (AML-CFT) regulations for funds transfers. Several banks in the US (Wells Fargo, US Bank, the TCF bank, and Sunrise Community Bank) and in the UK closed the accounts of money services business to avoid incurring in penalties for not complying with the new regulations. (Note: HSBC was fined $1.9 billion for not complying with money laundering controls in 2012.)
I just attended the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD)in Mauritius last November 21 -22, 2012. It was the first time that the GFMD was chaired by an African country. It was also the first time that the World Bank was invited to be a presenter (we are only observers in these meetings) in the Round Table - Supporting Migrants and Diaspora as Agents of Socioeconomic Change, co chaired by France, Kenya and Morocco. The Bank also wrote jointly with IFAD and IOM the background paper for this session.
A recently introduced bipartisan legislation entitled, “The Increasing American Jobs through Greater Exports to Africa Act of 2012 “ will promote the increase of US exports to Africa. On March 22, U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) jointly with U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) presented a bill to improve the competitiveness of U.S. business in Africa, including African diaspora businesses. The bill also proposes to explore ways to utilize diaspora remittances to Africa for development purposes.
The proceeds of the bond will be used to fund the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam. This dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed (5,250 Mega Watts). The first one was called the Millennium Corporate bond, and was for raising funds for the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) . The first diaspora bond issuance did not meet the expectations. Sales were slow during the first months of offering despite the efforts of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and the embassies and consulates to sell them. Some risks that the diaspora faced were: i) risk perceptions on the payment ability of EEPCO on its future earnings from the operations of the hydroelectric power; ii) lack of trust in the government as a guarantor; and iii) political risks.