Immigrant Workers Send Billions Home

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The large migration of workers from poor countries to rich, industrialized nations has produced an equally large flow of money in the opposite direction. A United Nations agency says immigrant workers sent home more than $300 billion last year, a number that far outpaces official government aid.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So our economy may be slowing down, but the stream of money out of this country is not.

A United Nations agency says immigrant workers in rich countries sent home more than $300 billion last year; that far outpaces official government aid.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

(Soundbite of money transfer office)

SCOTT HORSLEY: At this international money transfer office in San Diego, three clocks hang on the wall. The clocks are labeled San Diego, New York and Saigon. It's about 1:00 o'clock San Diego time when Linda Lee stops by to wire $300 to her brother-in-law in Vietnam.

Ms. LINDA LEE (Resident, San Diego): We have more ability to make money here, more opportunity, but over there with a hundred dollar they can live a month.

HORSLEY: These small transfers - $100 or $200 at a time - add up fast when multiplied by tens of millions of immigrant workers worldwide. Even so, this $300 billion in informal family assistance went largely unaccounted by official sources until the Inter-American Development Bank began making a tally seven years ago.

Bank official Donald Terry says most of the money is needed for immediate expenses, but some could be invested in ways that would improve long-term prospects back home.

Mr. DONALD TERRY (Inter-American Develop Bank): Our hope, of course, is that in the next generation fewer numbers of young people living in developing countries will have to leave home. They're going to stay with their families and they can contribute even more to their own local economies.

HORSLEY: Competition has already helped lower transaction costs. Linda Lee's overnight wire to Vietnam cost just $6.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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