Migrant Cash Is World Economic Giant
Sunday, August 19, 2007; 12:13 AM
TIRANA, Albania -- Josif Poro pats his new sofa, points with pride to his carpets and runs a wrinkled hand over a gleaming white refrigerator. He and his wife barely scrape by on their $220 monthly pension. They'd have to do without many of the items in their cramped apartment if their son, a factory worker in Greece, didn't faithfully send home part of his earnings.
"We call him our golden boy," said Poro, 83, a retired textile mill worker.
Around the world, millions of immigrants are sending billions of dollars back home.
One sweaty wad of bills or $200 Western Union moneygram at a time, they form what could be called Immigration, Inc. _ one of the biggest businesses on the planet.
Experts tracking the phenomenon told The Associated Press they have gotten a much clearer picture since the 9/11 attacks, when authorities trying to cut the flow of cash to jihadists began taking a harder look at how immigrants move their money around.
Mass migration, they say, has spawned an underground economy of staggering proportions.
Globally, remittances _ the cash that immigrants send home _ totaled nearly $276 billion in 2006, the World Bank says. Remittances have more than doubled since 2000, and with globalization increasing the numbers of people on the move, there's no end in sight.
If these guest workers incorporated as a company, their migrant multinational would rank No. 3 on the Fortune 500 list, trailing only Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil in annual revenue.
Remittances "are larger than direct foreign investment in Mexico, tea exports in Sri Lanka, tourism revenue in Morocco, and revenue from the Suez Canal in Egypt," World Bank economist Dilip Ratha said in a recent report.
And unlike the conventional economy, more cash tends to change hands in an economic downturn, political crisis, natural disaster, famine or war.
Counterterrorism officials say al-Qaida and other groups are financed in part through informal money transfer networks called hawalas. Governments and the International Monetary Fund have been working to regulate those.
There are other downsides: fears of brain drains and a vast permanent army of economic exiles, and the untaxed earnings flowing out of host nations.