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Estimated $18 Billion/ Year Flows into US Via Remittances

Though immigrants often send money to family in other countries, that trend is a two-way street: US residents also boost the economy with financial help sent from family abroad.

The United States receives about $5.6 billion a year in remittances from other countries. Eighty-two percent of the money is being sent to U.S. residents who were born abroad.

That’s according to data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau, which for the first time asked residents of more than 50,000 households about the remittances they have sent and received over the past two years.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization Inter-American Dialogue, believes these are very conservative estimates, since according to its own calculations, which take into account a web of migration networks, the amount of money sent to the United States each year in remittances reaches $18 billion.

In any case, there is no doubt that the world’s largest economy not only sends money to other countries in the form of immigrants helping out their families, but U.S. residents also receive help from their loved ones abroad.

"With this global economy, people move in all directions. It’s no longer just people from rich countries sending money to people in poor countries," said Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert Smith Business School, who notes that the difference in currency value could be a determining factor in sending remittances.

"The Census has always had a lot of problems counting immigrants," Manuel Orozco, director of the remittance and development program at Inter-American Dialogue, said when asked about the difference in the estimates. "For example, they say there are only two million Americans living abroad, when there are many more."

The organizations and economists consulted by La Opinión agree on two points. One is that part of the remittances coming into the United States are going to college students from other countries who are studying here. An estimated 80 percent of the 600,000 foreign students receive some kind of economic stipend from outside the United States.

The other point is that retirees in the United States often receive money from relatives abroad. Some U.S. workers who work for foreign companies also receive their paychecks from abroad.

Canada and the United Kingdom represent 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively, of the remittances coming into the United States. Among Hispanic countries, Spain and Mexico send the most to the United States, with a combined total of more than $757 million.

"The increase in immigration, both legal and undocumented, and the number of foreign students, along with retirees here and abroad, are what have increased the flow of remittances in both directions," according to Robert Scott, an analyst with the Economic Policy Institute.

Compared to the amount of remittances the United States sends other countries, an estimated $11.7 billion a year according to the Census, the proportion of money that stays abroad drops to $6.1 billion, after subtracting the amount this country receives. But this figure is also too conservative, according to Inter-American Diaologue, which estimates that the United States sends more than $116 billion a year in remittances.

Manuel Orozco, however, dismisses the notion that the economic crisis has forced immigrants living in the United States to ask for money from their home countries. This happens in isolated cases, he says, but is not happening on a large scale.

"People here sometimes send money home to put it into savings or as an investment, and when they need it, they’ll ask for it again for their survival,” said Lidia Reyes Flores, director of Latino Family Services, an organization that helps immigrants in Detroit. "Like now, when people here who work in landscaping are no longer working, and everyone is rushing to get money."

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