Migration and Remittances During COVID-19

by Daniela Ortega
3 weeks ago

Garment workers in Bangladesh lead complex lives. Their cares and concerns radiate beyond themselves in ways emotional, fiscal and geographic. The economics of life remain interconnected for many of them, as younger workers move from the family village to the city to earn a living and send money back to the older generations. Garment workers in the city use many financial tools to navigate their way, and now they must also do it in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Over the past few weeks MFO and SANEM have paid special attention to these topics of movement, remittances and financial decision making. Given that most workers are migrants, we have been able to explore the dynamics of remittances, including who controls how they are spent, and the impact of Covid-19 on their size and frequency.

Note: Numbers may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Migration

The vast majority of garment workers in our study migrated from their place of birth, and most of them did it for work. A sizable minority has migrated more than once.

  • 89% of respondents reported that they have migrated at least once, for any reason

    • 91% of women reported they had migrated compared to 83% of men

    • 81% of migrants said they had migrated for a work-related purpose

      • 64% of those respondents who had migrated for a work-related purpose said they had migrated just once

      • 24% of those respondents who had migrated for a work-related purpose said they had migrated twice

      • 12% of those respondents who had migrated for a work-related purpose said they had migrated three times or more

We asked workers why they migrated, and this is what they told us (respondents were allowed to select more than one answer, with gender differences highlighted):

Reason

All Respondents

Women

Men

Limited job opportunities in hometown

30%

27%

41%

Poverty

22%

23%

21%

To follow spouse or family

16%

19%

7%

Wanted to earn more

8%

7%

13%

Prefer the city

8%

7%

12%

To get married

6%

7%

1%

Forced to migrate

5%

6%

2%

Family problem

3%

3%

2%

Other reason

2%

2%

1%

 

Control over Remittances

One of the consequences of migration is that workers send money to their home village to support their family, and sometimes they receive money from home to support themselves or to meet a special need.

This often raises questions about who controls how such remittances are spent—the sender is making a sacrifice by sending money home and may feel they want to dictate how the money is spent but the receiver may want autonomy in deciding how to spend the money. To look at this further we asked workers who decides how the money sent or received by the respondent is spent.

  • Four out of five respondents (82%) were able to respond to questions about who controls the money they sent outside of the household,

  • Of those respondents who did know who decided how the money they sent outside the household was spent, 58% said that it was some other family member, while 42% said they were the ones who decided.

  • The respondents were the ones deciding how to spend the money they received from outside of the household 86% of the time

Decision Maker

Outside of Household

Sent

Received

I decide

34%

86%

My father decides

11%

1%

My mother decides

16%

1%

My spouse decides

12%

11%

One of my siblings decides

9%

0%

Someone else

0%

0%

I don’t know

18%

1%

 

Impact of COVID-19 on Livelihoods and Remittances

While 18% of respondents reported to us that the COVID-19 crisis has had no impact on their livelihoods, the remaining respondents reported at least some impact:

COVID-19 Impact on Livelihood

All Respondents Reporting

Spent savings to cover expenses

25%

Borrowed money to cover expenses

18%

Disobeyed quarantine rules to earn an income

15%

Relied on extended family assistance

9%

Moved to a cheaper place

4%

Looked for another job

3%

Missed work due to family responsibilities

3%

Moved back to hometown

3%

Found another job

2%

Sold assets to cover expenses

Less than 1%

The COVID-19 crisis has also had an impact on how garment workers share their wealth with their family members and across their networks.

  • 51% of respondents said that prior to COVID-19 they had sent money to family members, with 47% of women saying they had done so compared to 66% of men

    • 58% of those who had sent money to family prior to COVID-19 did so regularly

    • 33% of those who had sent money to family prior to COVID-19 did so occasionally, and

    • 9% of those who had sent money to family prior to COVID-19 did so rarely

  • Of those 51% of respondents who were sending remittances to family before COVID-19:

    • 18% said they are no longer sending money to family

    • 58% said they are sending either less money to family or sending it less frequently

    • 22% said there has been no impact of COVID-19 on their family remittances

    • 2% are sending either more money to family or sending it more frequently

  • During the past four weeks, only 27% of respondents have sent a transfer outside of the household

    • 69% of those transfers were sent to a family member

 

This blog is, in part, based on answers to questions supplied to us by the International Labour Organization (ILO). We encourage you to write to us, and to tell us what you’d like to know about garment workers’ lives in Bangladesh. The data forum is open and accepting questions, and we hope to include ever more voices in this two-way conversation as we continue listening to our clients.

All data presented here come from interviews conducted over the phone with a pool of 1,269 workers. These workers are employed in factories spread across the five main industrial areas of Bangladesh (Chittagong, Dhaka City, Gazipur, Narayanganj, and Savar). Just over three-quarters of the working respondents are women, roughly representative of workers in the sector as a whole.