RIYADH: Saudi Arabia was the third largest source of remittances globally in 2020, just behind the UAE and the US, according to the latest report from the World Bank.
The US was the biggest source country, sending $68 billion abroad last year, while foreign workers in the UAE sent home $43 billion and those in Saudi Arabia transferred $35 billion, said the report, published Thursday. Among middle-income countries, immigrants to Russia were the biggest remitters, sending $17 billion.
Remittances from Saudi Arabia have been slowly declining since 2015 as oil prices have moderated and the government has encouraged the hiring of Saudi nationals. For instance, foreign workers sent $1.8 billion to the Philippines in 2020, down 36 percent from 2015.
Despite the large drop in foreign workers in Gulf Cooperation Council states, remittances from Saudi Arabia held up in 2020 thanks in part to the cancelation of travel to Saudi Arabia, which diverted funds set aside for the Hajj pilgrimage to remittances to Bangladesh and Pakistan, according to the report. Both of those countries offered tax incentives last year to boost remittances from migrant workers abroad, while a devastating flood in July 2020 also led to an increase in payments.
Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa rose by 2.3 percent to about $56 billion in 2020, following a 3.4 percent increase in 2019, the report said. The gains came amid unexpectedly strong inflows to Egypt (up 11 percent to a record $30 billion), the fifth-largest recipient of remittances globally, and to Morocco (6.5 percent to $7.4 billion). Tunisia saw a 2.5 percent increase, while other countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and West Bank and Gaza all experienced double-digit declines.
Globally, remittances to low and middle-income countries fell 1.6 percent to $540 billion, a smaller decline than expected, the World Bank said. The figure is forecast to increase to $553 billion this year and to $565 billion in 2022.
In December, analysis by Arab News of the monthly remittance levels in Saudi Arabia during 2020 showed some big fluctuations throughout the year, as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold.
Figures from the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) showed the biggest spike was in June when the monthly amount surged 60 percent compared with June 2019.
July also witnessed a rise of 32 percent, while August, September, and October saw monthly levels increase 24.7 percent, 28.5 percent, and 19.2 percent, respectively, compared with the equivalent months last year.
Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Riyadh-based financial services company Al Rajhi Capital, told Arab News: “Debt to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio in emerging economies has increased up to 70 percent recently, and the unemployment rate led by (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19 has also increased in countries such as India and the Philippines, which are the countries forming the majority of the expat population in the Kingdom. Therefore, we believe that increased remittances are due to rising unemployment and difficult economic conditions back in the home countries of expats.”
He said another reason why expats may have been sending more funds home was because their surplus income had increased as a result of being unable to travel or spend as much as normal due to COVID-19 restrictions. “Once the unemployment risks recede for expats in Saudi Arabia, as well as in home countries, this level should normalize in our view,” Al-Sudairi added.