Personal remittances statistics
Data extracted in November 2018. Planned article update: November 2019.
This article presents statistics and comments on recent developments relating to international remittances in the European Union (EU). It refers in particular to personal remittances according to the concept of the Balance of payments and international investment position manual (BPM6). The data situation currently only allows the production of approximate figures on personal remittances. This refers to the narrowest concept of international remittances, which are "personal remittances" and it is based on two standard components – personal transfers and compensation of employees.
- Author: Robert Obrzut
EU-28 is a net payer in personal remittances to the rest of the world again
According to the BPM6 methodology, personal remittances consist of both transfer and income elements (personal transfers and compensation of employees). While personal transfers (i.e. transfers sent by migrants to their home economies) generally show net outflows in the EU-28 (more outflows than inflows), compensation of employees (i.e. wages earned by employees who work in other countries on short-term work contracts, as seasonal workers or cross border commuters) show net inflows (more inflows than outflows).
Traditionally net outflows of personal transfers exceed net inflows of compensation of employees in the EU-28 (Figure 1), thus Europe is generally a major net payer in personal remittances to other parts of the world. However, from 2008 to 2014 net outflows in personal remittances were subsequently decreasing, going from EUR 13.9 billion in 2008 down to EUR 1.4 billion in 2014. In 2015 they turned even into a surplus of EUR 2.8 billion, leaving the EU-28 for the first time as net receiver of personal remittances from the rest of the world. This meant that net transfers sent by migrants in the EU to their home economies became less than the net incomes earned by EU citizens working abroad. Indeed, during that year net inflows in compensation of employees culminated at EUR 23.2 billion, while net outflows in personal transfers were only at EUR 20.5 billion. Ever since, this trend has been reversed, with decreasing net inflows from compensation of employees and increasing net outflows from personal transfers. As a consequence of the above the balance in personal remittances turned negative again, assuming in 2017 a deficit of EUR 5.1 billion, although the EU is currently far from being the major net payer in personal remittances as it was in 2008. Net inflows in income generated by EU citizens through their work abroad decreased since 2015 to EUR 17.0 billion in 2017, and net outflows in personal transfers by migrants to their home economies dynamically increased from EUR 19.0 billion in 2013 to EUR 22.0 billion in 2017 (Figure 1).
Surge in migration of 2015 has re-emphasised the importance of migrant transfers
While outflows in personal remittances stagnated slightly below EUR 40 billion between 2009 and 2013 in the EU-28, since 2014 they started to rise significantly again from EUR 40.8 billion in 2014 to EUR 48.6 billion in 2017 (Figure 2a). Inflows in personal remittances on the other hand dramatically increased since 2008 with a growing importance of income flows generated by EU citizens working abroad. The extent of inflows in personal remittances to the EU-28 boosted from EUR 28.0 billion in 2008 to EUR 46.0 billion in 2015 (Figure 2b), which effectively contributed to the earlier mentioned consolidation trend in remittances' in- and outflows. While outflows are predominantly driven by personal transfers (in 2017: EUR 32.7 billion), inflows are mostly nurtured by compensation of employees from border, seasonal or short-term work contracts by EU residents in other economies (in 2017: EUR 32.9 billion). Since 2015 growth in outflows exceeds considerably annual growth in GDP, while growth in inflows fell dramatically below GDP growth, indicating the favourable labour market conditions for migrant workers in the EU-28 and a boost in payments made to their home economies. Accordingly, outflows in personal remittances (supported in particular by personal transfers) increased at annual growth rates of 6% and more. Inflows on the other hand fell by 6.4% in 2016 and recovered slightly by growing 1.3% in 2017 again (Figure 3).
Almost 2 out of 3 euros remitted across borders remain within the EU-28
Almost 60 % of total out- and inflows in personal remittances in 2017 like in the previous years went to/came from EU Member States, i.e. EU-28 residents predominantly (but not exclusively) remit among themselves. This does not come as a surprise given that EU citizens are allowed to move freely within the EU labour market. There are however considerable disparities between the EU Member States in regard to their relative exposure to the rest of the world: in countries like Poland (97 % of total national outflows), France (73 %) and Italy (70 %) personal remittance outflows went predominantly to economies outside the EU-28, while Italy (75 % of total national inflows) and Austria (63 %) received their inflows mostly from outside the EU-28. As the most EU-centered economies in regard to international remittances, Luxembourg on the other hand recorded only 0.2 % of its total outflows beyond the EU-28, and Slovakia only 1.7 % of its total inflows from outside the EU (see Tables 1 and 2).
Migration is concentrated on a few hotspots in Europe
In the beginning of 2017 7.5 % of the total population in the 28 EU Member States lived outside their home economies. This compares to 17.1 % of foreign born workers in the USA and 21.9 % of foreign born population in Canada. However, while countries like Luxembourg (47.6 %), Cyprus (16.4 %), and Austria (15.2 %) show relatively high shares of foreign-born population (in EFTA: Liechtenstein 33.8 % and Switzerland 24.9 %), some European countries have no significant resident foreign population, e.g. Poland and Romania (0.6 %). This situation points at considerable migration flows of workers across Europe or abroad, and seasonal or border work between countries, which provides the fundamentals for significant international remittance flows.
Western European countries are the focal point for cross-border remittances
As the major sending economies of personal remittances (in terms of outflows) figure Germany (17.2 % of total outbound personal remittances from the EU-28), France (10.5 %), Luxembourg (9.9 %) and the Netherlands (8.8 %). While Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have their remittance outflows predominantly based upon income generated through border, seasonal or short-term work, remittance outflows in France mainly stem from personal transfers. As the major recipient economies of personal remittances (in terms of inflows) appear France (20.4 % of total inbound personal remittances to the EU-28), Germany (13.7 %) and Belgium (8.7 %), all predominantly based on income generated through border, seasonal and short-term work (see Maps 1a and 1b).
An analysis of the major corridors in personal remittances places the above figures in a bilateral context, in which geographical proximity naturally plays an important role. In 2017 France observed major corridors with all its neighbour countries representing significant inflows, most notably from border and seasonal work of French residents in Switzerland (EUR 11.6 billion), Luxembourg (EUR 5.2 billion) and Germany (EUR 2.7 billion), while figuring as a main source for personal transfers to Morocco (EUR 2.0 billion) and Portugal (EUR 1.1 billion). In a similar manner Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg are exposed to their neighbouring countries in terms of border and seasonal work relations, while Belgium and Luxembourg also record significant inflows from the European Institutions domiciled in their jurisdictions (Belgium EUR 3.8 billion, Luxembourg EUR 1.3 billion). Beyond the limits of geographical proximity Germany is the major source of income for seasonal workers from Romania (EUR 1.8 billion) and migrant transfers to Serbia and Turkey (both EUR 0.8 billion), while France figures as sending economy for migrant transfers to Morocco (EUR 2.0 billion) and Portugal (EUR 1.1 billion). Italy records outflows in personal transfers to Romania (0.7 billion), Australia, the Philippines and India (each EUR 0.3 billion). As the major powerhouse for employment of EU citizens outside the EU-28 appears Switzerland, generating considerable inflows in compensation of employees to the EU. France (EUR 11.6 billion), Italy (EUR 4.4 billion), Germany (EUR 4.3 billion), Portugal (EUR 0.8 billion) and Austria (EUR 0.6 billion) benefit significantly from their residents working in Switzerland. Similarly Liechtenstein figures as a prominent source of income for neighbouring Austria (EUR 0.5 billion), and Norway for Sweden (EUR 1.1 billion) in 2017.
Croatia and Latvia are most dependent from international remittances in the EU
Dependency rates on international remittances are measured by the share of inflows in personal remittances in percentage of the respective country's GDP. According to this, the highest dependency rates on remittances in the EU-28 are observed in Croatia (4.5 % of GDP) and Latvia (4.1 % of GDP) in 2017 (see Figure 4), while the least dependent economies in the EU-28 are Greece, the United Kingdom and Ireland (each 0.2 % of GDP). In comparison, South-Eastern European economies appear much more reliant on this source of income: Kosovo (15.3 % of GDP), Montenegro (10.7 % of GDP), Albania (10.0 % of GDP), and Serbia (8.6 % of GDP). 
Belgium, Latvia and Lithuania eliminate their current account deficits from personal remittances
In the above context of importing national wealth of Member States via the economic activities of the diaspora, personal remittances also provide an essential contribution towards reducing national current account deficits or even contribute to current account surpluses. In 2017 three Member States recorded a current account surplus, which would have turned into a deficit without the impact of personal remittances. Those were Belgium, Latvia and Lithuania (see Figure 5). Most prominently, Belgium showed a current account surplus of EUR 3.2 billion. Without personal remittances this would have turned into a considerable deficit of EUR 2.1 billion in 2017. The major share came from income generated by Belgian residents from border work in neighbouring countries, like Luxembourg (EUR 2.9 billion) and the Netherlands (EUR 1.5 billion), and from employment in the European Institutions (EUR 3.8 billion). Latvia turned an otherwise current account deficit of EUR 0.5 billion with the help of personal remittances to a surplus of EUR 0.2 billion in 2017, Lithuania a current account deficit of EUR 0.3 billion into a surplus of EUR 0.4 billion. Major inflows in personal remittances to Latvia came from income generated through short-term or seasonal work by Latvians in the United Kingdom (0.2 billion), major inflows in personal remittances to Lithuania came from personal transfers sent by Lithuanians from the United States, United Kingdom and Russia (each EUR 0.2 billion). Romania could considerably reduce its current account deficit through personal remittances to EUR 6.3 billion, which otherwise would have assumed a deficit of EUR 9.8 billion. The same applies to a smaller extent for Albania and Serbia.
EU citizens working abroad - the US is main source of income
The balance in personal remittances of the EU-28 with countries abroad is recorded as considerable surplus of EUR 1.6 billion with the United States. The most prominent inflows come in this context from compensation of employees by German, British and French residents working in the United States, as well as from personal transfers sent by Portuguese, Lithuanians and Bulgarians to their home economies. As the EU-28 is however a net payer of personal remittances to the rest of the world, the bilateral balances of the EU-28 with most overseas partners are otherwise negative. Major net outflows were recorded to Morocco (EUR 3.3 billion), China (EUR 1.5 billion) and Turkey (EUR 1.4 billion) in 2017. Net outflows to Morocco and Turkey were based on personal transfers, those to China both on personal transfers and compensation of employees equally (Figure 6).
Data on personal remittances according to the BPM6 manual are currently available from dedicated tables (bop_rem6) in the Eurostat database under the balance of payments domain, with the most comprehensive coverage starting from 2005. Personal remittances are not directly reported by Member States, but are compiled from the two standard components personal transfers and compensation of employees. The online tables are available for each component on an annual basis and are reported by Member States by end-September each year with a somewhat extended geographical breakdown (Geo 5 – main world aggregates and a large selection of countries). The EU-28 aggregates contain also confidential data as well as Eurostat estimations for missing data. Quarterly data on personal transfers and compensation of employees are regularly collected by Eurostat as part of the quarterly balance of payments data, but with less geographical details. All disseminated data are subject to revisions.
The World Bank publishes also annual data on personal remittances under its World Development Indicators. The data starting from 2005 are compiled according to the BPM6. Differences to World Bank figures (in US$) could occur from exchange rates applied, different update frequencies or in particular geographical breakdowns due to World Bank estimations.
Data on personal remittances and its components are collected on the basis of Regulation (EU) No. 1013/2016 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment.
Personal remittances allow to measure and analyse transactions resulting from private households’ economic activities in other countries, either as migrant transfers to their home economies or as income gained from employment abroad or with non-resident entities. As both components relate to the same phenomenon, a combined presentation appears legitimate according to the BPM6 standard, although in the public perception the concepts of "personal transfers", "personal remittances" and "workers' remittances" are commonly mixed up, while it rarely connects the concept of "compensation of employees" to remittances. However, the concept of personal remittances is the broadest of them, including all of the above mentioned as major elements. 
The reason for incomplete data on personal remittances lies in the considerable information asymmetries between host and recipient economies and the relative insignificance of remittance flows in industrial nations in their role as host economies. For recipient economies abroad they represent however very often a substantial source of income (see above measures in relation to GDP and current account balance). Further, the heterogeneous character of remittance transactions makes the compilation process more complex, thus usually having to rely on a combination of resources (data collections from the financial sector, surveys on migrant or commuter populations, estimations based on macroeconomic modelling), depending on the availability of corresponding data sources in the compiling economy. As a consequence there appears to be a systemic problem of under-coverage (excluding unrecorded remittances in cash and kind via informal transmission channels) combined with data asymmetries, which should be kept in mind when analysing data on international remittances.
This can be illustrated by analysing intra-EU remittance flows, i.e. remittance flows between the Member States of the EU. In theory, intra-EU inflows (credits) should equal mirror intra-EU outflows (debits). Indeed since 2008 encouraging improvements in intra-EU data asymmetries can be observed, which could be attributed to the increasing coordination work among compilers. In 2017 EUR 64.7 billion of intra-EU inflows were reported against EUR 64.9 billion in intra-EU outflows, thus showing a discrepancy of only EUR 0.2 billion in 2017, which compares to a discrepancy of EUR -6.0 billion in 2008 (Figure 7).
The use of macroeconomic modelling has certainly increased knowledge about international remittance flows and can address to some extent the problem of under-coverage, but unfortunately bears also the risk in diffusing the delineation between the included remittance components (e.g. capital transfers, net compensation of employees). As a result, the consideration of the components in strict interpretation of the accounting standard (BPM6) remains implicit and does not allow comparable breakdowns.
Finally, a particular interest in international remittance data is nurtured by the quest for analysing persisting global labour market disparities and assessing dependencies and opportunities (such as “diaspora externalities”) arising for recipient economies from this source of income, as well as predicting its correlation to business cycles in both host and recipient economies.
In view of the large movements of refugees and migrants in recent years a renewed interest on international remittances in the context of migration evolves among European policy-makers, emphasising the significant impact of remittances to developing economies. For a snapshot on migration and remittances from a global perspective the World Bank recently published a comprehensive fact book, dealing among others with statistical issues related to the compilation of remittance data, the use of data sources, data quality issues and providing for country tables. Further its newsletter provides valuable updates on recent trends in migration and remittances.
- Personal transfers and compensation of employees (bop_rem6)
- Balance of payments and international investment position manual, Washington D.C., IMF 2009, 6th edition (BPM6)
- Regulation (EU) No. 1013/2016 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2016 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment
- Regulation (EC) No.184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 January 2005 on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment.
- Commission Regulation (EU) No.555/2012 of 22 June 2012 amending Regulation (EC) No.184/2005 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community statistics concerning balance of payments, international trade in services and foreign direct investment, as regards the update of data requirements and definitions.
- News release - Personal transfers in the EU
- Including citizens who moved between EU Member States and stateless persons
- US Bureau of Labour Statistics (2017)
- Statistics Canada (2016)
- Latvian and Estonian figures appear hardly comparable in this context due to the status of the Russian minorities in these countries)
- Data from Eurostat Statistics Explained Migration and migrant population statistics
- Due to the unavailability of Swiss data, this figure was derived from inbound flows reported by France.
- Source: Eurostat
- In some countries the memo item workers' remittances is available instead of personal transfers
- For more details see in Eurostat Statistics Explained Remittances according to the BPM6 manual
- Attempts to estimate the impact of informal remittance transactions and to provide major geographical breakdowns could be based on international migration statistics, e.g. Jiménez-Martin S./Jorgensen N./Labeaga J.M.: The volume and geography of remittances from the EU, European Commission, September 2007
- Brain Drain in Globalization: A general Equilibrium Analysis from the Sending Countries’ Perspective. In: Economic Enquiry, Vol. 51, No.2, April 2013
- Bettin G./Presbitero A./Spatafora N.: Remittances and Vulnerability in Developing Countries, IMF Working Paper, January 2014
- http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2016/11/07/second-world-bank-eu-presidency-conference-on-migration-and-the-global-development-agenda Move4Dev: 2nd EU Presidency-World Bank Conference on Migration and Development, December 2016
- https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/23743/9781464803192.pdf Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016, World Bank
- http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2017/04/21/trends-in-migration-and-remittances-2017 Trends in Migration and Remittances 2017, World Bank