As the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis continues to spread, the amount of money migrant workers send home is projected to decline 14 percent by 2021 compared to the pre-COVID-19 levels in 2019, according to the latest estimates published in the World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief.
Remittance flows to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are projected to fall by 7 percent, to $508 billion in 2020, followed by a further decline of 7.5 percent, to $470 billion in 2021. The foremost factors driving the decline in remittances include weak economic growth and employment levels in migrant-hosting countries, weak oil prices; and depreciation of the currencies of remittance-source countries against the US dollar.
“The impact of COVID-19 is pervasive when viewed through a migration lens as it affects migrants and their families who rely on remittances,” said Mamta Murthi, Vice President for Human Development and Chair of the Migration Steering Group of the World Bank. “The World Bank will continue working with partners and countries to keep the remittance lifeline flowing, and to help sustain human capital development.”
The declines in 2020 and 2021 will affect all regions, with the steepest drop expected in Europe and Central Asia (by 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively), followed by East Asia and the Pacific (11 percent and 4 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (8 percent and 8 percent), Sub-Saharan Africa (9 percent and 6 percent), South Asia (4 percent and 11 percent), and Latin America and the Caribbean (0.2 percent and 8 percent).
The importance of remittances as a source of external financing for LMICs is expected to amplify in 2020, even with the expected decline. Remittance flows to LMICs touched a record high of $548 billion in 2019, larger than foreign direct investment flows ($534 billion) and overseas development assistance (about $166 billion). The gap between remittance flows and FDI is expected to widen further as FDI is expected to decline more sharply.
“Migrants are suffering greater health risks and unemployment during this crisis,” said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the Brief and head of KNOMAD. “The underlying fundamentals driving remittances are weak and this is not the time to take our eyes off the downside risks to the remittance lifelines.”
This year, for the first time in recent history, the stock of international migrants is likely to decline as new migration has slowed and return migration has increased. Return migration has been reported in all parts of the world following the lifting of national lockdowns which left many migrant workers stranded in host countries. Rising unemployment in the face of tighter visa restrictions on migrants and refugees is likely to result in a further increase in return migration.
“Beyond humanitarian considerations, there is strong case to support migrants who work with host communities on the frontline in hospitals, labs, farms, and factories,” said Michal Rutkowski, Global Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank. “Supportive policy responses by host countries should include migrants, while origin or transit countries should consider measures to support migrants returning home.
Origin countries must find ways of supporting returning migrants in resettling, finding jobs or opening businesses. The surge in return migration is likely to prove burdensome for the communities (to which migrants return) as they must provide quarantine facilities in the immediate term and support housing, jobs, and reintegration efforts in the medium term.