Other Poverty Study

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    Using Remittance Transaction Data for Timely Estimation of the Foreign Worker Population in Malaysia
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2020-06-06) Ahmad, Zainab Ali ; Simler, Kenneth ; Yi, Soonhwa
    Malaysia has been grappling with understanding how many foreign workers reside in the country and thus faces challenges in formulating evidence-based foreign worker policies. This paper investigates how to use micro-level remittance transaction data collected from money transfer service providers to estimate the number of foreign workers. Most foreign workers remit a large portion of their earnings to support family members back home. They are low-income earners, are sensitive to remittance costs, and thus opt for money transfer service providers to remit money rather than regular banks, where transfer services are more expensive. Therefore, the remittance data provide a useful source to conduct the investigation. Existing estimates range from two to five million foreign workers; our results narrow that range considerably, estimating a total of 2.99 million to 3.16 million foreign workers in Malaysia as of 2017–18. State and nationality distributions of foreign workers in our estimates are consistent with the Ministry of Home Affairs data, lending support to the validity of our estimates. Nevertheless, authors note that the Bank Negara Malaysia remittance data could potentially underestimate the number of workers in states with low access to money service providers, as well as nationalities that have access to alternative money transfer mechanisms such as commercial banking and informal transfer channels.