Unofficial remittances on the rise

February 05, 2013 - 3:18:20 am

DOHA: Runaway and low-income workers who do not have identity (ID) cards because their residency permits are not renewed, and expatriates from countries facing economic and currency crises are using unofficial remittance channels to transfer money home.

These shady and illegal money transfer businesses are run by expatriates, most of whom are suspected to be local traders who might be buying goods from a nearby regional trading hub and exporting to their business agents in their home countries. 

The illegal money transfer businesses are run here purely on mutual trust and by operators who cater only to people from their own nationalities.

Bankers and foreign exchange officials say they are aware of such shady remittance operations going on here but have no idea of their extent, or cannot even estimate the volume of money being routed overseas illegally.

Juma Al Medadi, from Al Dar Exchange, told local Arabic daily Al Arab yesterday: “We have been hearing more of such shady operations recently. This is having a disastrous effect on our national economy”. The money transferred abroad through unofficial channels is not accounted for in the GDP estimates. This is a parallel and disastrous remittance route, he said. The daily said most of those using the unofficial remittance channels are runaway workers as well as low-income workers whose ID cards have expired and could not be renewed, or those who come from countries where the dollar sells on a premium on the black market due to economic and currency crises.

Naturally, the foreign exchange black marketers offer attractive rates for almost any currency (mostly African and Asian) and that is another reason why many low-income workers who could even use the official remittance channels rely on them. And money reaches the beneficiary in a matter of minutes. All one must do is provide the contact number of the beneficiary in a country concerned and the latter can get the cash in no time, the daily said.

“It’s a fool-proof remittance system and although illegal and undesirable, it is thriving here,” the daily said. Some operators in the shady businesses are traders and they pool in the money thus collected for remittance to buy goods for export to their home countries where either their agents or relatives run businesses and sell these goods. According to Qatar Central Bank (QCB) figures, an incredible QR47.5bn ($13bn) was routed overseas in 2011 with India topping the list of 10 largest recipient countries. Experts, however, declined to speculate as to how much money should be flowing out of the country through the unofficial remittance channels. 

The Peninsula