In migrants' countries of origin, escalating desires — for things like better education and bigger homes — help drive the remittances.
Ironically, economists calculate that the poorer the migrants are, the more money they dispatch. "There is enormous social pressure to send money home," says Khalid Koser, a geography professor at University College London, who in October co-authored a report for the Global Commission on International Migration in Geneva, which researches governments' immigration policies. Koser found that many migrants scrape by in first-world cities, depriving themselves of basic comforts in order to "keep people alive" back home.
"There are many people sending 40% of their income in remittances," he says, adding that many families save to pay the passage of a migrant to richer parts of Asia, or to Europe or the U.S.
In Hong Kong, Endang Muna Saroh, 35, works as a nanny to two children in a comfortable residential neighborhood, and sends $200 home every month to her mother and 10-year-old son in Surabaya, Indonesia. (Indonesia receives recorded remittances such as this worth a total of $1.8 billion a year.) Yet like many migrants, Endang also saved hundreds of dollars to carry by hand to her family in August, when she flew home for her first visit in four years.
Ruhel Daked, a 26-year-old Bangladeshi, earns €1,300 a month working as a chef in Paris. Yet despite his modestly comfortable salary, he bunks with two other Bangladeshis in a dormitory building for immigrants, with one toilet shared among many men, because he says he has one goal: "To save! Save as much as I can. That is why I am here."
[Excerpted from a TIME magazine article, by Vivenne Walt]