Remittances from unlikely places are helping poor countries in the downturn
Apr 28th 2012 | TAPACHULA
IN TAPACHULA, a furnace of a city in southern Mexico, people line up inside an air-conditioned branch of Banco Azteca to process their remittances. Last year Mexicans received an estimated $24 billion from friends and family working abroad, mainly in the United States, with which Mexico forms the world's busiest remittance corridor (see map). But a closer look at the Tapachulan queue shows how the remittance business is changing. Many are not Mexicans receiving cash from America, but migrant workers sending it back home to Guatemala or Honduras. “Very similar to what happens at the other border,” observes Jorge Luis Valdivieso, the bank's regional administrator, referring to Mexico's better-known northern frontier.
The value of remittances to poor countries is enormous. Since 1996 they have been worth more than all overseas-development aid, and for most of the past decade more than private debt and portfolio equity inflows. In 2011 remittances to poor countries totalled $372 billion, according to the World Bank (total remittances, including to the rich world, came to $501 billion). That is not far off the total amount of foreign direct investment that flowed to poor countries. Given that cash is ferried home stuffed into socks as well as by wire transfer, the real total could be 50% higher.