How Recessions Affect International Remittances

How Recessions Affect International Remittances

Millions of individuals around the world rely on international remittances, the transfer of money by migrants to their families in their home countries. These financial flows play a crucial role in supporting household consumption, fostering investment, and driving economic growth, particularly in developing nations.

However, the global economic landscape is not always stable. Recessions, periods of significant economic decline, can have a profound impact on various areas, including the flow of international remittances. While the initial thought might be that recessions solely lead to a decrease in remittances, the reality is far more nuanced.

This article strives to unearth how recessions affect international remittances. We will explore how economic downturns can have complex and multifaceted effects, ranging from potential decreases due to job losses and currency fluctuations to counterintuitive increases driven by altruistic behavior. By examining these diverse impacts and their underlying factors, we can gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities that recessions present for international financial flows and the communities they support.

Negative Impacts Of Recessions On Remittances

Recessions can have a significant negative impact on the flow of international remittances, posing challenges for both migrant workers and their families back home. Here are some key ways recessions can negatively impact remittances:

A. Decreased employment and earnings of migrants:

  • During recessions, businesses often face decreased demand for goods and services, leading to job losses and hiring freezes. Migrant workers, especially those in sectors heavily affected by the downturn, are particularly vulnerable to losing their jobs.
  • Even if they manage to stay employed, wages may stagnate or even decline as businesses look to cut costs. This directly reduces the amount of money migrants have available to send home, impacting their families' financial security.

B. Devaluation of host country currency:

  • Recessions often lead to a weakening of the host country's currency. This means that the exchange rate becomes less favourable for migrant workers, as they need to exchange more of their host country's currency to send the same amount of money back home in the recipient country's currency.
  • For example, if the host country's currency value decreases, it takes more units of that currency to buy the same amount of money in the home country's currency, reducing the purchasing power of the remittances sent back. This can leave families struggling to afford basic necessities, even when the nominal amount of the remittance remains the same.

C. Increased difficulty and cost of sending remittances:

  • Recessions can also lead to increased logistical challenges and higher fees associated with sending remittances.
  • Financial institutions might adjust their fees during economic downturns, making it more expensive to transfer money. Additionally, in some cases, access to remittance services can become limited due to bank closures or disruptions in financial systems, making it harder for migrants to send money home efficiently.

These combined factors can create a significant strain on remittance flows during recessions, with detrimental consequences for millions of families who rely on these financial resources for their basic needs and long-term development.

Counterintuitive Effects and Exceptions

While the previous section discussed the negative impacts of recessions on remittances, the story doesn't end there. Recessions can also have some counterintuitive effects and present exceptions to the general trend.

A. Altruistic behaviour and "counter-cyclical" remittances:

Contrary to the expectation of solely negative impacts, recessions can sometimes witness an increase in remittances, a phenomenon known as counter-cyclical remittances. This occurs when migrants, despite facing economic hardship themselves, prioritize sending money home to support their families during difficult times in their home countries.

Several factors contribute to this behaviour:

  • Family obligation and social pressure: Migrants often feel a strong sense of responsibility to support their families, especially when they are facing hardship. Social pressures within families and communities can further reinforce this commitment.
  • Insurance and risk-sharing: Remittances can act as a form of insurance for families back home. By sending money, migrants help their families mitigate the economic risks associated with the recession, such as job losses or income reductions.
  • Altruistic motivations: Many migrants are driven by altruistic motives and desire to contribute to their families' well-being, regardless of their own economic situation.

For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, studies showed an increase in remittances from the United States to Mexico, as migrants aimed to support families facing economic difficulties back home.

B. Regional variations and exceptions:

The impact of recessions on remittances also varies depending on the specific economies involved. Some regions or countries may be less susceptible to global economic downturns or experience recessions that differ in their nature and impact.

  • Countries with diversified economies: Nations with diversified economies that are less reliant on specific sectors affected by the recession may see a smaller decline in remittances compared to countries heavily reliant on a single industry that faces a significant slowdown during the downturn.
  • Remittance-dependent countries: Countries with a high dependence on remittances as a source of income may experience a delayed impact from recessions. While remittances might initially dip, families may utilize their savings or rely on other sources of income before experiencing a significant decline in remittance inflows.

It's important to note that the counterintuitive effects and exceptions are not universal and depend on various factors specific to each migrant community and the economic context of both sending and receiving countries. Further research and analysis are crucial to fully understand these complexities and their implications.

Long-Term Consequences and Policy Implications

Recession-induced changes in remittance flows can have lasting consequences for both sending and receiving countries.

For sending countries:

  • Reduced investment and development: A sustained decline in remittances can lead to a shortage of capital for investment in areas like education, healthcare, and infrastructure development in the sending countries. This can hinder long-term economic growth and poverty reduction efforts.
  • Increased poverty and vulnerability: Families heavily reliant on remittances may experience increased poverty and vulnerability due to a decline in their income. This can have a ripple effect on the entire community, impacting health, education, and overall well-being.

For receiving countries:

  • Macroeconomic instability: A significant drop in remittances can lead to macroeconomic instability in receiving countries. This can impact exchange rates, inflation, and overall economic growth.
  • Strain on social safety nets: Governments in receiving countries may face increased pressure on social safety nets as families struggle to meet their basic needs due to reduced remittances.

Policy Responses:

  • Financial inclusion and cost reduction: Policies promoting financial inclusion for migrants and reducing remittance fees can help ensure efficient and affordable transfer of funds, even during economic downturns.
  • Diversification and social protection: Both sending and receiving countries can benefit from policies that encourage economic diversification to reduce dependence on remittances and strengthen social protection systems to support vulnerable populations during economic shocks.
  • Collaboration and international cooperation: Addressing the challenges associated with recessions and remittances requires collaboration and international cooperation among governments, financial institutions, and civil society organizations. By working together, they can develop effective policies and strategies to mitigate negative impacts and ensure continued support for migrant communities and their families.

While recessions pose significant challenges to international remittances, understanding their complexities and counterintuitive effects is crucial. By implementing appropriate policy responses and fostering international cooperation, we can work towards a future where remittances remain a vital source of support for development and well-being, even in the face of economic hardship.


The relationship between recessions and international remittances is far from straightforward. While recessions can lead to decreased employment, weakened currency, and increased sending costs, research reveals the presence of counter-cyclical tendencies and regional variations that paint a more nuanced picture. Migrants may prioritize sending money home during economic hardship in their home countries, and certain regions may experience less severe impacts due to economic diversification or reliance on different sectors.

The long-term consequences of recession-induced changes can be significant for both sending and receiving countries, potentially hindering development, increasing poverty, and straining social safety nets. Recognizing these complexities is crucial for developing effective policy responses.

Moving forward, further research is crucial to fully understand the nuances of this dynamic relationship, particularly regarding the long-term consequences and the effectiveness of different policy interventions. By fostering international collaboration and implementing well-informed policies, we can work towards ensuring the continued flow of vital financial resources and supporting the well-being of migrant communities and their families, even in the face of economic challenges.