Loonie's plunge hits families of immigrants who send money home

A plunging Canadian dollar isn’t just bad news for cross-border shoppers and travellers. It’s also hurting the many family members abroad who are supported by immigrants and migrant workers in Canada.

Families in home countries find remittances from Canada don't stretch as far

For workers sending remittances overseas, the low Canadian dollar means big headaches. Renee Filippone reports 2:33

When Arashia Morris sent money to her family in the Caribbean last month she was shocked at how little that cash was worth.

"You're making the money. It's just the exchange rate is outrageous," she told CBC News.

A plunging Canadian dollar isn't just bad news for cross-border shoppers and travellers. It's also affecting Morris and the many other immigrants and migrant workers in Canada supporting family members abroad.

According to the World Bank, migrant workers in Canada send about $24 billion US to other countries every year, with the majority of the remittances going to China, India and the Philippines.

Now, with the Canadian dollar dropping below 70 cents US, that money isn't worth nearly as much in other parts of the world.

Families in need

Morris moved to Canada when she was 15. Now 36, she's supporting herself and her two children in Canada and also helping family members back home in Saint Vincent.
Arashia Morris says her family in Saint Vincent calls on her when they are in 'desperate need.'

"They only call when they desperately need it," said Morris. "They will call and say can you send some money to help out with bills this month."

Morris works in Toronto as a cook in a restaurant and doesn't mind helping her family abroad when she can, but lately her hard-earned Canadian dollars aren't going as far when exchanged to the East Caribbean dollar.

It used to be that $100 Cdn was equivalent to 300 East Caribbean dollars, a currency pegged to the U.S. dollar.

"But now it's awful — $100 Canadian is like $150 ECD, which is nothing," said Morris. "My brother called last night and asked me to help him out with a bill. I told him I'm not going to send because it's going to be a waste sending it. Even if I send $100 for him now, that's not even going to pay half of the bill."

Lifeline to loved ones

Rosemarie Ami-Seaborn arrived in Canada 15 years ago from the Philippines. A single mother of a 13-year-old daughter, she now works as a mortgage broker in Toronto and sends money home every month to her mother in Manila to help her pay for basics like food and medical expenses.  

"I'm the eldest and I'm the only one in Canada. So of course people in the Philippines, or wherever, when you are in Canada they look at you like you are a dollar tree," said Ami-Seaborn.
Rosemarie Ami-Seaborn is paying for surgery for her mother in the Philippines. Before Christmas, the bill was expected to be around $3,500. Now it's closer to $4,000.

Her mother is expected to have surgery next week to remove a kidney stone, and with no health coverage in the Philippines, Ami-Seaborn is footing the bill. But as the value of the Canadian dollar continues to decrease the cost of the surgery keeps rising.

"Before Christmas I was pegging it around $3,500, but now it's going to be more than $4,000. So that's a big chunk there, because of the exchange rate I have to send more," said Ami-Seaborn.

Exchange rate shocker

Belinda Herrera manages I-Remit in Canada — a money-wiring service that caters to Filipinos. The Canadian dollar is at a 12-year low against the Philippine peso, and Herrera says she feels terrible every time she updates the rates on the currency chart. The peso is not pegged to the U.S. greenback, but still moving higher against the loonie.

"Sometimes I don't even want to put up that sign anymore, because when [customers] come in they scream … 'What!'" said Herrera.

We are talking about supporting our family with their basic needs. It has a big impact on us and we are just hoping eventually the Canadian dollar will push through.–Rosemarie Ami-Seaborn

It's not just the low dollar that's causing pain. When you add in the fees to send money abroad it cuts even deeper.

Groups like ACORN, which advocate for low-and moderate-income families, have long campaigned against high fees to send money abroad.

"When you make so little and you have to send $100 and they are charging $10 or $12 or $14 or $20 sometimes, and then they penalize you too there when they receive the money, so it's not fair," said Alejandra Ruiz Vargas with ACORN.

The World Bank tracks remittance prices globally and estimates, for example, that sending $200 from Canada to the Philippines will cost on average an extra $10.40 in fees if transferred through a bank or $8.70 in fees if sent through a money transfer operator.

In October of last year, CIBC announced that it would no longer charge fees to send money from Canada to 34 countries, indicating that new technology and negotiations with transfer agents in other countries made it possible for the bank to eliminate fees. The only catch is that you have to send the money from a CIBC account.

Obliged to help

For Ami-Seaborn, and others like her, no matter what the value of the loonie or how expensive the fees, she still has to send money to help her family.

"This is a bigger issue because we are not talking about leisure," said Ami-Seaborn. "We are talking about supporting our family with their basic needs. It has a big impact on us and we are just hoping eventually the Canadian dollar will push through."


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