Editorial

Rethink the remittance legislation

Sunday, May 07, 2017

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US Congressman Mike Rogers introduced HR 1813, the Border Wall Funding Act of 2017, on March 30, 2017. If enacted by the US Congress and signed by President Donald Trump, it would impose a fee of two per cent on remittances from the United States of America to a number of Caribbean and Latin American countries.The revenue from the remittance fees shall be submitted to the US Treasury to be expended for the purpose of improving border security, specifically the building of a wall on the border between the USA and Mexico.

Failure to comply with the provisions of the Bill will result in a penalty of up to $500,000 or twice the value of the funds involved in the remittance transfer, whichever is greater, or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both. The Bill also has a provision to punish foreign governments deemed to be helping individuals avoid the fee. As such, those governments would be ineligible to receive US assistance and to participate in the visa waiver programme or any other programmes.

The Bill proposes to apply this regime to Mexico and to all the countries of the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Colombia and Venezuela, for a five-year period beginning on the date of the enactment.

If enacted, it would be tapping into a very large pool of funds. It is estimated that in 2016 the flow of remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean surpassed US$70 billion. Remittances are the largest source of foreign exchange, exceeding earnings from tourism and bauxite exports. In 2016, Jamaica received US$2.5 billion in remittances. If the figure in 2017 is of the same magnitude, it could cost Jamaica an estimated loss of US$30 million.

Great global powers must be judged by how they treat the vulnerable, such as the small countries and poor people in their own country. Hundreds of thousands of people in the Caribbean diaspora who send remittances are hard-working, law-abiding tax-paying US permanent residents and citizens, both by birth and naturalisation. It is unfair to force countries that are good neighbours and allies of the USA to pay for the construction of a wall which has nothing to do with them. The wall, its construction and who pays for it is a bilateral Mexico-USA issue.

This is no way to treat Caribbean countries who are good neighbours, and allies. We urge or friend, the USA, to rethink this proposed legislation.

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