Migrant workers in the UK, many in low-paid jobs, are sending £8bn a year to support families in their home countries, says a report from the United Nations' education agency. As well as migrant workers in low-paid jobs, there are also well-qualified, professional workers who go to wealthy countries and then send money home to help with others in their family wanting to study. Western Union said they believed that about 30% of transfers were intended for education.
The remittances sent home by migrants can be a lifeline for families in poorer countries - sent back by people working in wealthier parts of the world. The £8bn sent back from migrant workers in the UK compares with about £13bn, which is said to be the UK government's total overseas aid.
In the US, more than £500bn per year is sent worldwide in remittances.
But Unesco warns too much of this "hard-earned money" is being taken in transfer charges by finance companies. It says that people wiring money should only have to pay 3% in charges - but the global average is 7%.
The UK is in the top 10 countries for overseas workers sending back money - with billions of pounds sent to the three biggest recipients - Nigeria, India and Pakistan. Hundreds of millions are sent to Poland, China, Kenya, Philippines, Bangladesh and Ghana each year.
From the US, remittances have been particularly important to countries in Central America and South America.
Companies should not be allowed to continue skimming off so much of the money that migrants are sending back home," says Manos Antoninis, director of the Global Education Monitoring report. "Such transaction costs are highest for the poorest migrants" Unesco's Mr Antoninis explained, "These migrants have left everything, often following a dream. They then send their hard-earned money back home to support those they left behind, only to find they are charged extortionate fees for the service."
Getting fees down to 3% across the world would save migrant families $25bn (£20bn) per year - which the UN's education estimates would lead to an extra $1bn being spent on education. In 18 countries across Africa and Asia, remittances increased education spending by 35% - and in Latin America by over 50%. In India, rural families receiving remittances spent 17% more on education than neighbours who did not have such cash being sent back by relations. In the Philippines, this extra income from overseas was seen as a way of reducing child labour, allowing children to remain in education. In Ecuador, money from remittances has become important to keeping girls enrolled in school.