Published on People Move

Migration and Remittances during the Global Economic Crisis and Beyond: Myths and Realities

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The fears that the economic crisis of 2008 would lead to a decline in remittances and the returns of migrants to their sending countries were largely unfounded.  Our volume reveals that while remittances declined following the crisis, they have largely recovered.  Three trends that characterize remittances practices globally are:

  1. More diversified destinations and labor markets lead to more resilient remittances for migrants
  2. Lower barriers to labor mobility in receiving countries lead to remittances that are larger and critical to the economic health of migrant households.
  3. Remittance-dependent countries rely on remittance inflows for external financial needs.

These common sense findings are obscured by the myths that surround remittance practices, including:

Myth 1: Remittances are financial
While it can be very difficult to measure non-financial remittances, they are important to movers and non-movers.  The importance of non-monetary flows is particularly important when the amount of money a migrant sends is small and comes infrequently.

Myth 2: Remittances flow from migrants to sending households
While movers remit to their sending households and communities, non-movers also support movers and flows of money, goods and the like are often reversed

Myth 3: Remittances follow legal paths
There are billions of dollars flowing from movers to homes that are unaccounted and largely untraceable and these “pocket transfers” may double the total remittances traveling globally.

Myth 4: Remittances drive migration outcomes
Migration is a decision that reflects the strengths and weakness of the mover, the sending household, local history and expectations as well as destination communities and their politics.

Myth 5: Remittances are regular across migrant communities
Migrants from the same country may have different experiences and flow in different ways in response to movers and non-movers.

Myth 6: Migrant remittance practices are easily explained. Remittances practices are complex, difficult and expensive. Motivations for movers are not clear and outcomes of migration and remittance practices are not predictable.

Beyond myths
The realities of remittance practices and migration outcomes contrast with the remittances myths and help us understanding the resilience, complexity and importance of remittance flows during crises.

Remittances, like migration, do not occur in a vacuum. They link migrants and non-migrants, origins and destination in dynamic ways.  Our review of the myths framing the remittance debate is a step in better understanding this dynamic.


Jeffrey H. Cohen

Associate Professor of Anthropology, Ohio State University

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