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The World Bank, in its latest report, said that the remittances to developing countries fell for a second consecutive year in 2016, a trend not seen in three decades.
This was attributable mainly to the drop in oil prices and fiscal tightening in the oil-producing countries in the Middle East, which has a significant Indian migrant population accounting for a large chunk of remittances.
India, while retaining its top spot as the world's largest remittance recipient, led the decline with remittance inflows amounting to $62.7 billion last year, a decrease of 8.9 per cent over $68.9 billion in 2015.
In the latest edition of the Migration and Development Brief, the Bank estimates that officially recorded remittances to developing countries amounted to $429 billion in 2016, a decline of 2.4 per cent over $440 billion in 2015.
Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, contracted by 1.2 per cent to $575 billion in 2016, from $582 billion in 2015.
Low oil prices and weak economic growth in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the Russian Federation are taking a toll on remittance flows to South Asia and Central Asia, while weak growth in Europe has reduced flows to North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, it said.
The decline in remittances, when valued in US dollars, was made worse by a weaker euro, British pound and Russian ruble against the US dollar.
As a result, many large remittance-receiving countries saw sharp declines in remittance flows.
India was the largest remittance recipient followed closely by China ($61 billion), the Philippines ($29.9 billion), Mexico (28.5 billion) and Pakistan (19.8 billion), making up the top five.
As a share of the gross domestic product (GDP), however, the top five recipients were Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Liberia, Haiti, and Tonga.
According to the report, remittance to the South Asian region declined by 6.4 per cent in 2016 in the face of lower oil prices and fiscal tightening in the GCC countries.
"Nationalisation" policies aimed at lowering the unemployment rate of nationals have slowed employment of foreign workers, impacting remittance flows to South Asia, the report said.
"Remittances to India declined by 8.9 per cent in 2016, to $62.7 billion. In Bangladesh, remittances declined by an estimated 11.1 per cent in 2016," the report said, adding that in Pakistan, the 12 per cent growth witnessed in 2015 moderated to an estimated 2.8 per cent in 2016.
Nepal experienced unusually high growth in remittances, at 14.3 per cent in 2015, due to migrants sending financial assistance home after the earthquake.
In 2016, remittance flows to Nepal declined by an estimated 6.7 per cent from the previous year's high level.
In Sri Lanka, remittance growth was estimated at 3.9 per cent in 2016, the report said.
Remittances accounted for 2.9 per cent of India's GDP in 2016.
It was highest for Nepal with 29.7 per cent of the GDP, followed by Sri Lanka (8.8 per cent), Pakistan (6.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (6 per cent).
For Kerala, remittances were estimated at 36.3 per cent of the net state domestic product and contributed significantly to household consumption, the report said.
The World Bank said moving forward, remittance growth in South Asia is projected to remain muted, because of low growth and fiscal consolidation in GCC countries.
"An increase of only 2.0 per cent is expected in 2017. Bangladesh's remittance growth in 2017 is forecast at 2.4 per cent, India's at 1.9 per cent, Pakistan's at 1.4 per cent, and Sri Lanka's at 1.3 per cent," it said.
According to the World Bank, the economic slowdown in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait has adversely impacted Indian migrant workers in those countries.
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In the case of Nepal, the number of permits issued to labour migrants dropped by 3.8 per cent between fiscal years 2013/14 and 2014/15, because of lower demand from Malaysia and some GCC countries.
In 2015/16 worker departures dipped 20.6 per cent year- on-year in the first 11 months, it said.
In contrast, labour migration from Bangladesh increased by 36.3 per cent in 2016.
This increase, despite the slowdown in the GCC countries, is explained by the lifting of restrictions on the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers in Saudi Arabia (147 per cent growth in the number of migrants from Bangladesh) and Kuwait (124.3 per cent growth), the report said.
"Migration will almost certainly increase in the future due to large income gaps, widespread youth unemployment, ageing populations in many developed countries, climate change, fragility and conflict," said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the Brief and head of the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD).
"Currently, the global migration architecture is fragmented and undefined. The global community needs to systematically map the current institutional framework, clarify the missions of key organisations, and develop normative guidelines by building on existing conventions that address migration," he said.