Predictions were that immigrants would stop sending money home when the coronavirus took their jobs. But that did not take into account how determined foreign workers were to help their families.
LOS ANGELES — Jesus Perlera’s pay from hauling shipping containers to and from the port of Oakland, Calif., plummeted in the spring as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged business. But, through the shaky months, the self-employed trucker never stopped sending money to his mother in El Salvador. “If I don’t support her,” he said, “how will she eat?”
Mr. Perlera and many other immigrants like him have managed to continue sending substantial amounts of money home, even after the coronavirus pushed their own jobs and earnings into free fall — belying early warnings of a dire global consequence from the pandemic.
The World Bank had predicted in April that remittances transferred to Latin America and the Caribbean by immigrants would plunge by almost 20 percent this year, “their sharpest decline in recent history,” as workers were laid off or their hours slashed. But that forecast, as well as others from international financial analysts, is unlikely to materialize if current trends hold.
The predictions made sense. Remittances historically have risen and fallen with the fortunes of the economies where immigrants have traveled to work.
But after weathering the worst months of the lockdown, many immigrants are back on the job and sending their relatives even more money than before the downturn, according to newly compiled estimates.
“Everybody was talking about how remittances would drop, yet they have remained remarkably strong,” said Matt Oppenheimer, the chief executive of Remitly, a digital money-transfer company based in Seattle.
After dropping precipitously in March and April, remittances to Latin America, about three-quarters of which are sent by immigrants working in the United States, have rebounded. The money transferred to some of those countries in the first half of 2020 actually eclipsed the amount sent during the same period in 2019, according to official data.
Remittances from Indians, Filipinos and Nigerians in the United States have also continued to grow relative to last year, according to executives at money-transfer companies who track such transfers.
The unexpected results underscore the resilience of immigrants, their capacity to navigate through turbulent times and their sense of obligation to relatives they left behind.
“It’s counterintuitive to most Americans,” Mr. Oppenheimer said. “But for immigrants, supporting their families back home is the fundamental reason they came here in the first place.”
Elias Bruno, 31, a construction worker in Panama City, Fla., supports five people in Mexico. The contractor who regularly employs him has fewer projects than before the pandemic, but rather than remain idle, Mr. Bruno said he had been stationing himself outside a hardware store, where he waits for a homeowner or another contractor to hire him for day work.
“We are struggling here, but it’s worse in Mexico,” Mr. Bruno said. “You have to make every sacrifice to feed your family.” He has been sending them at least $200 a month.
Jason Go, a Filipino cardiologist in Grand Forks, N.D., said that not only had he continued to transfer money monthly to his 71-year-old mother in the Philippines, he was now sending her even more. “Part of my motivation to come here was to help support my mom who put me through med school,” said Dr. Go, 46, who arrived in the United States 17 years ago. The money covers her rent, utilities, medical bills and food.
“Given that there are extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic, I send extra so she can buy her medicine ahead of time,” he said. “She also has needed money to buy masks and groceries in bulk because she can’t keep going out.”
Unlike workers who are tied down with homes and families, many immigrants have been able to continue to send money home because they are willing to follow the work.
Working for a company in Maryland that lays asphalt and patches up parking lots for commercial properties, Rafael Romero, an immigrant from Mexico, was earning $1,400 a week before the virus shuttered business after business and his wages shrank by half.
While he usually had sent his parents, children and siblings in Mexico $600 a month, he managed only $300 for three consecutive months this spring. So this month, Mr. Romero, 42, traveled 240 miles from his home in Jessup, Md., to work in Virginia Beach.
“We aren’t going to let down our families who depend on us,” Mr. Romero said during a work break with two fellow immigrants, one from Guatemala, the other from El Salvador, who had traveled with him to the area.