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Global Migration Drives Global Democracy
How Workers Abroad Weaken Dictators Back Home
By
Abel Escribà-Folch, Covadonga Meseguer, and Joseph Wright
June 2, 2021
Celebrating election results in Banjul, Gambia, December 2016
Thierry Gouegnon / Reuters
Remittances, the money migrants send to their communities and families back home, have long been recognized as a driver of development in poor countries. But while their economic benefits are better appreciated, their political effects are no less consequential: remittances are one of the most potent weapons against dictatorship. Bolstered by funding from abroad, citizens in closed societies grow less reliant on autocratic governments and more likely to call for reform. The money migrants send makes grassroots pressure possible, opening the door to democratic change.
Around the world, remittances reached a record high of $548 billion in 2019. They have become the largest source of foreign financing in developing countries, outstripping international aid three times over. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, these payments have proved resilient. The global total fell by only 1.6 percent in 2020, according to the most recent estimate—faring better through the crisis than either foreign direct investment or development assistance. 
The role of remittances in linking migration to development is well established. When workers emigrate from low- and middle-income countries to high-income countries, they do so not only to earn higher wages for themselves. Many also send part of their earnings directly to the family members they leave behind.
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ABEL ESCRIBÀ-FOLCH is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political and Social Sciences of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.
COVADONGA MESEGUER is an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at ICADE, Comillas Pontifical University, Madrid.
JOSEPH WRIGHT is Professor of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University.
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More:World Globalization DemocratizationRefugees & Migration
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