A laudable measure that will benefit Haitians, more than any other aid and assistance, is the decision by the United States to grant them temporary protected status (TPS) for 18 months. This will allow about 200,000 Haitians currently residing in the US without proper documents to live and work here legally, without a fear of deportation. It would also allow them to send money home quickly and efficiently through formal remittance channels.
Haiti receives between $1.5-1.8 billion in remittances each year (some estimates are even larger, over a half of its national income). If the TPS resulted in a 20 percent increase in the average remittance per migrant, we would expect an additional $360 million remittance flows to Haiti in 2010! What is more, if the TPS were to be extended once beyond the currently stipulated 18 months – the extension is almost certain to happen, judging by the history of extensions of the TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan – additional fund flows to Haiti would exceed a billion dollar over three years. That would be a billion dollar of financial help coupled with goodwill and advice, tailored to the needs of the recipient. Financial help in the form of remittances from family members abroad is always the first to arrive in times of distress. Remittances to Haiti this year will surge, as they have done whenever and wherever there has been a crisis or natural disaster (see paper).
In the immediate term, there is a need to ensure that remittance flows to Haiti are not disrupted. In the medium-term, there is a need to leverage these flows for local and national development (without directly interfering with these flows). The challenge would be to tame a temptation on the part of the government and the donor community to treat remittances as a substitute for aid or public spending on rebuilding efforts, especially in communities where migrants’ relatives reside.
According to official statistics about a million Haitians are living overseas, about a half of them in the US. Newspapers often report that a million Haitians live in the neighboring Dominican Republic. There is now a fear of mass migration from Haiti to the US and to Dominican Republic, and both countries are now tightening borders to prevent an influx of Haitians. This is not surprising, but this is paradoxical, like the proverbial giving-with-one-hand-and-taking-it-away-with-the-other. I should think the short-term surge in migration would subside rather quickly when Haiti begins to recover and rebuild itself.