Similar stories are multiplied millions of times across the world. And such tales are nothing new.
But the scale of money flows is new. Mass migration has produced a giant worldwide economy all its own, which has accelerated so fast during the past few years that the figures have astounded the experts. This year, remittances — the cash that migrants send home — is set to exceed $232 billion, nearly 60% higher than the number just four years ago, according to the World Bank, which tracks the figures.
Of that, about $166.9 billion goes to poor countries, nearly double the amount in 2000. In many of those countries, the money from migrants has now overshot exports, and exceeds direct foreign aid from other governments.
"The way these numbers have increased is mind-boggling," says Dilip Ratha, a senior economist for the World Bank and co-author of a new Bank report on remittances. Ratha says he was so struck by the figures that he rechecked his research several times, wondering if he might have miscalculated.
Indeed, he believes the true figure for remittances this year is probably closer to $350 billion, since migrants are estimated to send one-third of their money using unofficial methods, including taking it home by hand.
One reason for the growth in recorded remittances has its origins in the global war on terrorism. To stop terrorist networks using informal transfer systems like hawala in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia (where it's referred to as hundi), European and U.S. officials have cracked down on them. That has shifted payments to easier-to-track official channels.
[Excerpted from a TIME magazine article, by Vivenne Walt]