Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Leaving home: Bolivia´s mass labor migration and the impact of remmittances

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The question of how much good remittances are doing to our countries is very difficult to answer. The first and most obvious answer is that they are definitely doing good since they are sent expressly to improve the quality of life of family members who stayed behind. Money comes in and the labor force goes out. However, this still fails to address the question of whether this is positive or not for Bolivia itself because what our country needs are long term solutions to our financial and labor problems. So what is the role of remittances seen from this perspective?

In the case of Bolivia two factors have to be considered to understand the process of migration. To begin with, there is the inner migration from the countryside to the cities that over the past twenty years has reshaped Bolivia. When this process reached saturation point and cities could no longer absorb the influx of people, exterior migration started. Migration to other countries was traditionally oriented to Argentina and the United States. However between 2004 and 2005 a massive wave of migration to European countries was registered, to Spain in particular. In 2010 the World Bank registered 684,600 Bolivian migrants, or 6.8 % of the total population. One of the main causes of this mass migration, apart from the lack of job opportunities, was the change in Bolivia’s political system from a representative democracy to a populist government. This sea-change, compounded by the fact that most Bolivian migrants are women, has led to a series of serious studies covering most issues with the notable exception of the economy.

Most Bolivian migrants don´t have a university degree, even so they are precious workforce lost to the country. Thousands of construction workers, carpenters, tailors, and so on have gone to Spain to do whatever jobs they can find leaving a huge void behind them. The natural economic effect of this process has been a rise in the wages of the depleted professions in Bolivia. Even so, these migrants still earn more outside than at home. It is important to note that this process is constantly molded by the way in which people act, that is us, as societies and individuals benefit from or resist the process. An associated phenomenon is the revolution of expectations that characterizes the cultural dimension of globalization.

The total amount of remittances which Bolivia has received since 2006 is 4.810 million dollars. From 2006 to 2010 growth in remittances was came to  67%. However, between 2008 and 2010 they dropped by 16% due to the international financial market crisis. Remittances to Bolivia reached their high point in 2008 when they stood at 998.7 million dollars. This amount dropped to 839.4 million in 2010. But the process is not over and remittances are picking up once more. By July 2011 the amount received was 592.9 so it may be expected that this year the general amount of remittances will reach a new peak and probably go beyond the thousand million dollar mark.

Finally I believe, as has been shown in the Local Views for Spain, that there has been a fundamental change in the way migrant workers behave in terms of the amount they send in relation to what they are really earning. As stated in the post, the increase in remittances is a defensive attitude towards the economic crisis migrants are facing in Spain. Consider that about 50% of remittances sent to Bolivia come from Spain, a country with a tenth of its population unemployed. I think this is a very strong point which shows the more complex make-up of remittances and migration over and beyond the numbers and economic figures. These figures and sums  stress the importance of the choices made by people sending remmitances and their impact on migrants home economies.


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