Fairer “Cross-Border Transfers” Sought

JUNTA and the Yale Law School released a report highlighting the problems that immigrants face when they try to send money back home—and identified some possible solutions like having “remittance agencies” disclose fees more clearly.

The university and the Latino advocacy group jointly released the report Wednesday. The document is titled “Supporting Transnational Families: Improving Remittance Banking Services for Immigrants in New Haven,” available here online. Charanya Krishnaswami, Ariel Stevenson, and Celso Perez Carballo—all Yale Law students—prepared the report under the supervision of law professors Muneer Ahmad and Ray Brescia.

The report explained that remittances—“cross-border money transfers” sent by immigrants in rich countries to friends and families in poorer regions—constitute “a vital lifeline” for large populations living in poverty. It added that New Haven, with its large immigrant population, probably sees “millions of dollars” worth of such transfers.

Sending remittances, however, is far from easy. Immigrants trying to support their families face obstacles that include the high minimum balance required to keep a bank account, the lack of Spanish-language financial documentation, and the lack of proper identification documents. Another common problem was the opacity of the fees charged by remittances services.

“Sometimes,” a survey participant is quoted in the report, “it’s a little complicated because agencies don’t pay what is fair.” 

The report presented a number of policy solutions that may help overcome these obstacles. Among them were proposals to promote the acceptance of municipal identification documents such as the Elm City Resident Card; require that remittance agencies fully disclose their fees; and encourage that community-oriented banks “reach out to immigrant communities with dual-language staff and materials.”

The report added that these solutions are applicable not only to New Haven, but also to “low-income immigrant populations throughout the United States.”

“Despite the tremendous positive impact of these small cross-border money transfers,” the report concluded, “they have yet to realize their full impact due to high, hidden costs and financial instability faced by unbanked immigrants working in high-income countries.”

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