Review of Book on Migration, Remittances, and Development

Teófilo Altamirano Rúa, Migration, Remittances, and Development in Times of Crisis. Lima: United Nations Population Fund, 2010. ISBN 978-612-45732-2-4
The book is available online:
This book by Peruvian migration scholar Teófilo Altamirano Rúa is a global survey of internal and international migration and development in the early 21st century, particularly under the conditions of the global financial crisis of 2008. Although global in approach, Altamirano focuses on migrations within, away from, and into Latin American countries. Case studies emerge mostly from his fieldwork in Peru and the Peruvian diaspora. The major receiving regions he considers are North America and the European Union. At the centre of his study is the role of remittances in the human development of sending societies.
Remittances, the author argues, are the most important immediate result of international migrations. They are intricately linked: “There will be remittances as long as emigration exists” (30). Indeed, monetary remittances play a major role in the economies of those developing nations that see many of their people emigrate. “Globally, in underdeveloped countries,” Alamirano writes, “revenues from remittances are exceeded only by those from oil exports” (78). Remittances contribute greatly to the economies of several Central American and Caribbean countries: In 2006, they made up 36.9 per cent of the GDP of Haiti, 31 per cent of the GDP of Guyana, and 26.2 per cent of the GDP of Honduras; in El Salvador, they accounted for 18.1 per cent, and in Nicaragua for 17.7 per cent. In the larger South American economies, remittances, although numerically high, play a smaller role (ch. 1.7). In the Philippines, Mexico, Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria and many other African countries “remittances total more than government social spending, private investment and international co-operation” (67).
Next to monetary remittances, there are also diverse non-monetary remittances in the form of material gifts to relatives and friends as well as “new virtual networks” created by science and technology professionals from around the world. Such networks, including, for example, Chinese Scientists and Academics Abroad, the Latin American Studies Association, and the Peruvian American Medical Society, constitute “knowledge remittances” or “cultural remittances” that cannot be measured or quantified but which nevertheless contribute to the sending and receiving societies’ economies and cultures and benefit their elites (70). Similarly, material gifts in some cultures may take on symbolic meanings that transcend their monetary value and contribute to people’s subjective well-being. Remittances are not the same all over the world, Altamirano explains, but rather shaped by diverse cultural and rural origins that inscribe different values and meanings in monetary and non-monetary remittances.
At the macro-economic level, remittances may have a smaller or greater impact on a country’s GDP. At the meso-level of the community and the micro-level of the individual household, remittances may have an even greater impact. Next to personal household remittances, the author describes collective remittances handled by various “Transnational Communities” – migrant groups’ organizations such as Mexicans’ Hometown Associations in Canada and the United States, that support the development of their hometowns in Mexico. Collective remittances, Altamirano argues, decrease poverty at the meso-level, because they create jobs for the poor and stimulate consumption. Although collective remittances can empower communities, they must nevertheless be supported by state intervention in order to be successful (86-87,142).
Within remittances lies a potential for human development that has not been sufficiently tapped. Remittances should be more effectively used for human development in emigration countries. They are also a healthier form of supporting human development: “Remittances can be sustainable, because they are generated not by the government, political parties or rich nations, but by the sacrifice of the migrants themselves” (78). The author describes a number of programs developed in sending societies that make remittances an integral part of their development policies. For example, in Peru, in a region where many families receive regular remittance payments, the Huancayo Municipal Savings Bank offers a line-of-credit for an investment in establishing a small business (102-107). The Mexican 3×1 program matches each dollar that Hometown Associations send in support of local development with three dollars from different government levels (107-114). The author discusses both the pros and cons of such programs, but generally agrees with the supporters; yet, he also emphasizes that “migration and remittances alone do not create human development” (150).
Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg