Fideraza (state program using migrants's earnings...)
Fideraza (state program using migrants' earnings for development projects in the western state of Jalisco)
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Mexican Immigrants in U.S. Send $6b-10b Home Annually
Dayton Daily News
Transfers could be prime investment
GUADALAJARA, Mexico - It's a little-known fact, but Mexican immigrants in the United States send a whopping $6 billion to $10 billion a year home to families and communities that depend on them.
Mexican president-elect Vicente Fox, who is promising a more prosperous Mexico when he takes over Dec. 1, believes these transfers could serve as prime investment capital to create jobs. The transfers rival tourism as Mexico's third highest source of revenue, after manufacturing and oil.
If only, Fox has said, he could make sure the money gets transferred here more cheaply, without the usual hefty commissions and poor exchange rates that skim off as much as 30 percent. If only, Fox also has said, he could funnel more of those earnings into productive businesses, not just consumption.
Experts in money transfers, from Mexico to California to Atlanta, say Fox's dream isn't far-fetched.
"We're already doing it," said Arturo Olvera, an economist who runs FideRaza, a two-year-old state program in this state capital using migrants' earnings for development projects in the western state of Jalisco. The state has one of the highest levels of migration to the United States.
FideRaza, a trust fund, matches money donated by immigrants mostly in Los Angeles, Calif., along with state and municipal funds to build clinics, day-care centers, retirement homes and, increasingly, income- generating projects.
Migrants have long donated to their hometowns to fix roads and churches, as well as support families. But FideRaza is trying to leverage migrants' dollars to obtain financing for job development, which will reduce the need for migration in the first place.
One of the trust fund's recent projects was a milk-refrigeration system in one municipality that has allowed low-income farmers to form associations and finally avoid middlemen. "The first day a collection was done with the new system the price of milk they were paid went up 20 percent," said Olvera's assistant, Martha Soto.
FideRaza is generating funds from migrants' money via two businesses that happen to be among the lower-cost institutions for transferring money home.
One of the businesses is the National Bank of Mexico, Banamex, which gives FideRaza one percent of the annual average balance on the deposits of special accounts.
The small non-checking accounts are frequently fed money from migrants in California who deposit their money with Banamex through the bank's U.S. partners, Wells Fargo or California Commerce Bank.
The second business is a private Mexican-owned money-transfer company, Raza Express, which gives FideRaza a quarter of a cent for each dollar it transfers from the United States.
"We're about to expand the program into migrant communities in Chicago and Texas," Olvera said. About 15 percent of FideRaza's budget for projects come from the percentages donated by Raza Express and Banamex. Olvera hopes that amount will increase.
Other states in Mexico have similar programs, but FideRaza has a superior infrastructure for reviewing projects' viability, said economist Raul Hinojosa, who directs the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California at Los Angeles.
In fact, Hinojosa helped FideRaza obtain a coveted $2 million loan from the North American Development Bank, which was established by the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
The bank's loans so far are mostly for environmental clean-up projects on the U.S.-Mexico border. But Hinojosa, who was the brains behind setting up the development bank, said the loan to FideRaza is for projects that generate jobs and income.
"The whole idea in the first place was for the bank to do this," Hinojosa said. So far, however, the credit line to FideRaza "is the only loan that's been extended for productive enterprises in a migrant-sending region."
Hinojosa has found a kindred spirit in Fox, who suggested during trips to the United States recently that the bank could help finance development projects in poor regions in the interior of Mexico.
During a trip this month to Los Angeles, Fox met with immigrants like Javier Talamantes, a member of a migrant association in Reseda, Calif., that worked with FideRaza to build a health clinic in his remote hometown in Jalisco.
"This is a marvelous program," Talamantes said of FideRaza. He called on Fox, however, to promote more ways for migrants to transfer money home to relatives without exorbitant fees.
Two entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara, Calif., and Atlanta, Ga. say they can help.
Many migrants send money home via money orders, which are frequently stolen, or wiring services like Western Union or Money Gram, which can charge as much as $18 to send $300 and offer exchange rates as low as 10 percent below bank rates.
New transfer methods make use of ATM cards that migrants can send to their families in Mexico, where they can then withdraw from ATM machines.
"In my heart I know we have a better solution. I just haven't known who to go talk to down there," said Joe Meyer of Skylight, an Atlanta-based company.
Skylight sets up agreements with employers so they can transfer employees' pay into a FDIC-insured non-checking account that employees can access with an ATM card four times a month for free for $6.95.
Customers can set up sub-accounts for $3 a month that allow holders of the same ATM number and card to withdraw money - at the best exchange rate - from ATM machines anywhere in the world that have international links. The transfer costs $4 for up to $1000 sent.
"It's already being done in Asia, Mexico and Europe," Meyer said.
ON THE WEB
* The North American Integration and Development Center:
Local time: 15:51
Native speaker of: Spanish
PRO pts in category: 3