Remittances to Latin America, Caribbean are rising again

Ever since he arrived in the United States in 2005, Miguel López has set a goal of sending $1,000 a month to his family in Nebaj, a town in northern Guatemala.

He was able to send that monthly amount to his wife and three children until 2008, but then he had to reduce his payments as opportunities for work diminished dramatically. The situation improved in May when López was again able to wire $1,000 to his family for the first time in years, he said in an interview while waiting for agricultural or gardening work in South Dade.

Comments by López, a 27-year-old day laborer, and a half-dozen other Latin American workers interviewed in South Florida reflect the conclusions of recent reports by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Bank of Mexico and other Central American financial institutions, which point to an improvement in the region’s money-transfer industry.

A report by the Bank of México in early August indicated that money transfers during the first six months of this year had increased 5 percent compared to the same period last year. Likewise, a report by the IDB issued in March indicated that money transfers to the region from the United States, which had plunged dramatically in 2009, began to stabilize in 2010.

The report, titled “Stabilization After the Crisis,” indicates that the amount of transfers to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2010 was $58.9 billion compared to $58.8 billion in transfers in 2009. But the 2009 number was dramatically lower than the total transfers in 2008, which reached a record $69.2 billion.

Transfers to Mexico from the United States constitute the highest volume in the region: $21.2 billion in 2010. The high amount of transfers reported by the Bank of Mexico in August is considered important because it could be indicative of a recovery in the total amount of transfers since the financial crisis, which caused many immigrants to return to their countries over the past couple years.

After a rough 2009, other countries in the region have also registered higher transfers during the first half of 2011. In Guatemala, money transfers sent by immigrants, mostly from the United States, reached $2.5 billion in the first seven months of 2011, or 6.5 percent more than during the same period in 2010, according to statistics published by the Bank of Guatemala.

Banking officials in Nicaragua reported in February that money transfers from Nicaraguans abroad also had increased during 2010.

Argentina Villavicencio, originally from Jinotepe, Nicaragua, said she continues to send her family $300 a month, the same amount she’s been sending for a few years. She sometimes manages to send more.

“I have always sent the money because I have enough work now,” said Villavicencio, of Kendall, who cleans houses and cares for the elderly.

Aside from helping her family, with the money she has transferred, Villavicencio has been able to have a house built in Nicaragua. She plans to live in the house after her retirement.

Villavicencio fears the U.S. economy could get worse and she may have to return to her country earlier if she can’t work as much.

“The way this is going, I would go back because there I don’t have to pay rent,” Villavicencio said. “I have my little house there.”

López said he sends nearly all the money he earns here to his parents, his wife and three children. He makes a living mostly as a gardener and picking vegetables.

“Sometimes I can only send $300 or $400,” said López, who added that he keeps only $350 to pay for rent and food. “The U.S. economy went down and work is not like it was before. Maybe I will have to go back to Guatemala.”

Another immigrant, Alexandra Sánchez, from Colombia, said the amount of her transfers to her mother, uncles and grandparents has not changed.

“I send $300 to $400 a month,” said Sánchez, interviewed in an exchange house in South Dade that wires money transfers. “There has been absolutely no change for me.”

Sánchez thinks the U.S. economy will get better.

“This is a country with a lot of structure,” she said. “It’s very organized and very strong. Everything will get better. I’m very optimistic.”

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