Money sent ‘home’

Strong loonie benefits immigrant workers’ families
Calgary remittance company sees surge in business when dollar rises
Last Updated: Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 4:58 PM MT
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CBC News
Hundreds of customers line up daily at iRemit in Calgary to send money to the Philippines. (CBC)

The strong Canadian dollar has immigrants heading to banks and remittance companies to send money to their families overseas.

The loonie reached parity with the U.S. dollar earlier this week. It retreated a bit since then but still stood at 99.79 cents US on Thursday morning.

Many new residents send money back to families in their home countries, where currencies are tied closely to the U.S. dollar. The closer the loonie is to the American currency, the more their money is worth overseas.

Calgary security guard Suleiman Yassin sends $500 to $600 US to his family every month in northern Somalia, where it is converted to local currencies.

“Every morning I watch the Canadian dollar along with other commodities like gold, stocks and all that, but my main focus is the Canadian dollar,” he said.

“If [the exchange rate is] lower, then we pay more to buy American dollar. If it’s close in parity like right now, then we pay less and we send more.”
‘That’s the thing that keeps Somalis alive back home. For those who do not have support from overseas, it’s very hard for them to survive.’
— Suleiman Yassin

Yassin said that when the loonie is strong, he sometimes buys more American dollars to use later when the Canadian currency plunges.

Elsie Decena, who works at a Vancouver agency that helps immigrants, said she sends $100 a month to her parents in the Philippines.

“I send it every payday, right, but then if I see the rate is higher today, even though it’s not payday, I send it, because even if it’s a few cents increase, it means a lot for me and for them,” Decena said.

This week, Filipino-Canadians in Calgary have been lining up at iRemit, a money transfer company, to send money home.

The branch in a northeast mall sends 10,000 transactions to the Philippines every month, with a surge in business when the loonie is strong.

“We’ve been staying actually pretty late just finishing all the customers because it’s summer in the Philippines right now, and since the dollar is going up people are just rushing to send their money while the rate is still up,” said manager Carmen Baladad.

“Now it could eventually go down because an election is coming up in the Philippines in May, and in the past the rate has gone down.”
Families depend on overseas salaries

No hard data exists on the total sum immigrants send abroad, but federal figures show that people from Haiti, the Philippines and Africa are more likely to send money in smaller amounts more often, while immigrants from China, India and Korea send larger quantities though less frequently.

Many people in developing countries depend on the money earned by relatives overseas.

René Houle, who co-wrote a 2008 Statistics Canada study on immigrants’ remittances, said the average amount sent home is $1,500 a year, and 45 per cent of new residents send some money at least once during their first four years in Canada.

Marianne Celeste sends $600 to $900 to her son and family in the Philippines every month, or more frequently if they request it.

“We Filipinos are very happy when the Canadian dollar is strong or high because we can send money more and the rate is so high,” said Celeste, who has been in Canada for almost four years, working as a nanny.

Filipino-Canadians send an estimated $600 million to their families in the Philippines every year. Money from foreign workers is the country’s largest revenue stream.

“It’s almost like clockwork,” explained Loi Lau, a co-ordinator at the Multicultural Helping House Society in Vancouver. “Or if they get a phone call or a text message from the Philippines that we need money, that’s when people go to the remittance office and send money. Especially for the live-in caregivers and the temporary foreign workers, it’s a huge sacrifice because they don’t make that much money, anywhere from $800 to $1,200 a month net.”

Expatriate Somalis from around the world send an estimated $1.3 billion home every year.

“That’s the thing that keeps Somalis alive back home. For those who do not have support from overseas, it’s very hard for them to survive. There are so many Somalis that are terribly, terribly poor,” Yassin said.

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