East Asia and Pacific
Remittances to developing countries decreased by 2.4 percent to an estimated $429 billion in 2016. This is the second consecutive year that remittances have declined. Such a trend has not been seen in the last 30 years. Even during the global financial crisis, remittances contracted only during 2009, bouncing back in the following year.
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In 1964, I came to the United States from South Korea, then an extremely poor developing country that most experts, including those at the World Bank, had written off as having little hope for economic growth.
My family moved to Texas, and later to Iowa. I was just 5 years old when we arrived, and my brother, sister, and I spoke no English. Most of our neighbors and classmates had never seen an Asian before. I felt like a resident alien in every sense of the term.
Remittances to EAP remain buoyant and continue to support macroeconomic stability - projected to increase by 7.0 percent to US$122 billion and to US$127 billion in 2015, as the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief 24 (Oct 2014) reports.
While steadily declining, the cost of remittances to EAP remains close to 8 percent in 3Q2014, according to the report. Money transfer operators (MTOs) contribute to lowering the cost; and cash-to-cash transfers are likely to cost higher than cash-to-account transfers for receiving countries in the region, highlighting the importance of deepening financial inclusion of migrant families in remittance-receiving countries.
In the May 2012 edition of the East Asia and Pacific economic update, I wrote that labor migration across East Asia will require more urgent attention from policy makers very soon given the large labor force declines that some countries will face in the next 40 years.
The recent negotiations between Philippines and Saudi Arabia about the minimum living wages for migrant workers have resulted in a stalemate. Philippines is demanding a minimum wage of $400 per month for its workers, while Saudi Arabia is willing to stipulate a minimum wage of $200 per month. Saudi Arabia stopped processing contracts of Filipino workers in March, recently the Philippines has said that it will not send Filipino maids to Saudi Arabia until the dispute is resolved. Saudi Arabia hosts 1.2 million Filipino migrants and accounts for nearly 300,000 overseas deployments annually, while the Philippines receives $1.5 billion annually in remittances from Saudi Arabia. Thus, this wage dispute could lead to loss of employment opportunities for Filipinos, involve cost of reintegrating returning workers, and a reduction in remittance flows -- all of which could adversely impact the Philippine economy.
I participated in a panel on Informal Markets and Peacebuilding in North Korea at the United States Institute of Pace last Tuesday where we discussed remittances. There is no data available on how much remittance North Korea receives since the country does not publish remittance statistics.
However, remittances are being sent from South Korea and China through informal channels (hand carried to the border by informal operators or wired). According to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, North Koreans living in Seoul remit around 10 million dollars per year. Other estimates indicate that the annual amount is within the range of $5-$15 million per year.