WASHINGTON — The first-ever study of global remittances found that migrants sent more than $300 billion home to their families last year, with India edging out Mexico as the top recipient.
India got $24.5 billion, while Mexico received $24.2 billion. China was third with $21 billion, according to the United Nations agency that released the report Wednesday.
The study also took a stab at estimating remittances to places where the numbers are difficult to tabulate, such as Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Somalia. Remittances have been growing at a 10 percent annual rate, the report's authors said, and the total is triple what rich nations donate to developing countries. In effect, remittances have become a huge money trail that follows people moving in search of jobs and opportunities.
"Walls are not stopping them; patrol boats are not stopping them," said Kevin Cleaver, the assistant president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Rome-based U.N. agency that did the study. "I was surprised at the magnitude of these numbers."
The IFAD commissioned the Inter-American Development Bank, an official lender for Latin America, and the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, to help with the number-gathering. The IDB has been estimating remittances going to Latin American and Caribbean economies since 2000.
The World Bank uses data from the countries' central banks to estimate migrant money flows but omits money that's transferred via informal means, such as cash sent in suitcases.
The IFAD and IDB combined official numbers with information from banks, money transfer companies and surveys of migrants.
The study estimates that 150 million migrants, most of them in Western Europe and North America, regularly send money to their mostly poor relatives in developing countries. About 10 percent of the world's population depends in some way on the money migrants send to their families, most of which is used to buy basic goods and services.
Cuba received $983 million in 2006, according to the report, in line with Cuban government data. Donald Terry, a top IDB official, said he was "fairly confident" of the number's accuracy, though he pointed out that the number was also obtained from non-government sources. Many economists dispute economic data from Cuba.
Afghanistan received $3.4 billion, and Iraq got $3.7 billion.
India, China and Mexico received the most money, but the impact on their economies was more modest relative to their size, from 0.8 percent of gross domestic product for China to 2.9 percent for Mexico. By contrast, the $2.3 billion received by Honduras represented almost a quarter of its GDP. El Salvador got $3.3 billion, accounting for more than 18 percent of its GDP. In Latin America, the impact of remittances was less than 1 percent of GDP for Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Argentina.
Other countries got smaller sums that represented an even bigger boost for their economies. Eritrea's $411 million is 38 percent of its GDP. Guinea Bissau's $148 million contributed 49 percent of its economic output.
Remittances to Grenada, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Laos and Moldova represented 30 percent or more of their GDPs.
Overall, Asia received $114 billion, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean with $68 billion. Europe — excluding the wealthier nations in Western Europe — obtained $51 billion, Africa $39 billion and the Near East $29 billion. The cost of sending money was lowest in Latin America, at 6 percent to 8 percent per transaction, thanks to competition among banks and money transfer companies.
To read the report, go to www.ifad.org/events/remittances/maps/index.htm