Remittances from workers overseas are a significant element in several South East Asian economies, chief among them the Philippines, which trails only India and China in terms of money sent home by migrant workers.
The region booked US$47.96 billion in remittances from migrant workers last year, up 8.4 per cent from $44.23bn in 2011. The Philippines was the top receiver of remittances in South East Asia at $24.45bn, according to the World Bank Migration and Development Brief, which puts it behind India, with $69.35bn, and China with $60.24bn globally.
Remittances sent home by the millions of Filipinos working abroad rose by 8.4 per cent to $1.855bn in January, from $1.7bn a year ago, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the central bank, reported. It has a 5 per cent growth projection for cash remittances this year. Last year, remittances hit $20.11bn, up 7.2 per cent.
The BSP governor Amando Tetangco said the increase was down to "steady demand" for overseas Filipino workers as well as the expansion of remittance centres overseas.
"The introduction of new financial products and services has also contributed considerably in addressing the remittance needs of overseas Filipinos and their beneficiaries," he said.
Broken down, 39 per cent of remittances to the Philippines came from the United States, followed by Canada (11 per cent), Saudi Arabia (7.6 per cent), Britain (5.3 per cent), the UAE (4.7 per cent), Singapore (3.9 per cent) and Japan (3.8 per cent).
According to the Philippine overseas employment administration, a total of 1.8 million overseas workers were deployed last year, an increase of 6.7 per cent from 1.6 million a year ago. About 80 per cent of those are now land-based employees.
In addition, about two million workers are awaiting deployment, up 12.6 per cent, while job orders processed for the first two months reached 29,533. Most jobs were related to service, production, professional and technical sectors.
Remittances account for about 10 per cent of the $225bn economy, and inflows usually increase before the nation's school year starts in June, Bloomberg reported last month. The transfers climbed in May last year by $72.5 million from the previous month to $1.77bn, having risen $72m in May 2011, central bank data show. "Overseas Filipino workers remit more dollars than normal in April and May to pay for their kids' tuition," says Lito Mercado, the head of trading at Rizal Commercial Banking in Manila.
"Migration and remittances offer a vital lifeline for millions of people and can play a major role in an economy's takeoff," the World Bank chief economist Kaushik Basu says.
"They enable people to partake in the global labour market and create resources that can be leveraged for development and growth. But they are also a source of political contention, and for that very reason deserving of dispassionate analysis."
Migrant workers from developing countries remitted a record $401bn last year, up 5.3 per cent from 2011. According to the United Nations, more than 215 million people live outside their nations of birth, and more than 700 million people migrate within their home nations. This is a major factor when it comes to calculating China's remittances.
The most recent data on China is for 2011, from the Chinese ministry of commerce, which shows there were more than four million Chinese working overseas, of which a total of 812,000 were employed by Chinese firms working abroad.
Vietnam ranked second in the South East Asian region, and ninth in the world, for overseas remittances with $10bn last year, says the World Bank. The state committee for overseas Vietnamese affairs reported the remittance volume was up 10 per cent on 2011. About 4.5 million Vietnamese, including more than 400,000 guest workers, were living in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide, statistics showed, more than 80 per cent of them settled in developed nations.
According to the World Bank, Indonesia received $7.2bn from about 6.5 million migrant workers overseas last year, which amounts to about 1 per cent of GDP. More than half of Indonesia's 6.5 million migrant workers work in just two countries, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, and this includes both legal and illegal workers, local Indonesian media reported.
Most are ill-educated women who work as housemaids or as agricultural or factory workers. The figures possibly underestimate the total remittances as many migrant workers bring their earnings home in cash.
"Not everybody sends money through banks," Jumhur Hidayat, the head of the Indonesian Migrant Worker Placement and Protection Agency told the detik.com website.
"Many workers bring money home along with them. So combined together, the official and unofficial remittances by Indonesian workers might reach 120 trillion rupiahs [Dh45.3bn]," he said.
Most Indonesian migrant workers are housemaids who receive lower salaries than their better educated peers from places such as the Philippines, and many are exploited by unscrupulous employers, local media has reported.