By Ivan Kanyali
Every year, people around the world face the devastating impacts of conflicts, diseases, disasters, and climate change that force them to consider migrating to a new country.
According to the United Nations, the estimated number of international migrants has increased over the past five decades, with approximately 281 million people now classified as international migrants.
Migrants contribute their knowledge, networks and skills to build stronger, more resilient communities, often flying the flags of their home country and overseas residency. As such, the global social and economic landscape is positively shaped through decisions to address the challenges and opportunities presented by global mobility and people on the move.
On 18 December, we celebrate International Migrants Day, a UN observance day, to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities presented by international migration.
Migration at the heart of global economy
As many developed economies continue to attract migrant workers to fill jobs that cannot be filled, migration will continue to thrive. As younger generations from developing countries become better educated, thanks to remittance dollars funding their educational journey, most migrants will complement the skills of domestic workers instead of competing with them.
By enlarging the labor force and the pool of consumers and by contributing their entrepreneurial capacities, migrants boost economic growth in receiving countries.
This year, Kenyans (both domestically and overseas) have come face-to-face with increased inflation. This has led to an increase in the cost of important expenditures such as education. A recent survey by WorldRemit shows that, on average, Kenyans paid 1.75 times their monthly salary on school supplies during the August back-to-school period.
Another survey by WorldRemit on the Cost of Christmas also shows that Kenyan families are expected to spend 17% less on Christmas celebrations this year compared to 2021. This decline is linked to the effects of inflation on household budgets.
Migration has therefore emerged as a powerful catalyst for social and economic progress given the impact of education on development.
The important connection of migration and remittances
An estimated three to four million Kenyans live and work overseas, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but continue to contribute to friends, loved ones and the economy back in Kenya. According to the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) Diaspora Remittances Survey, published in December 2021, indicates that most Kenyans leave the country in search of job opportunities and higher education abroad.
The amount of money Kenyans in the diaspora send back home – also known as remittances – has been steadily rising in the last 10 to 15 years.
As a result, remittance inflows to Kenya currently represent one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange, rivaling export earnings from key economic sectors such as tourism, tea, and horticulture. Additionally, the social impact of remittances cannot be overstated as they largely provide funds for basic household needs such as food, household goods, medicine and payment of education expenses.
The CBK notes in the Diaspora Remittances Survey that inflows to Kenya increased tenfold in the last 15 years to a record of $3,718 million in 2021. The trend has continued in earnest in 2022, with CBK data showing that inflows for the first nine months of the year increased to $3.053 billion, a 12.7% jump from $2.71 billion in the first nine months of 2021.
The sacrifice that Kenyan migrants make to support their family and friends back home continues to have a positive impact on economic and social development in the country.
Despite the rise in the cost-of-living, Kenyan migrants continue to support their loved ones in the country. Some have adjusted their lifestyles to be able to save and send money back home. These heroic Kenyans, some of whom brave long periods without visiting home, deserve special recognition as we market International Migrants Day.
(Kanyali is the Regional Manager for East Africa at WorldRemit).