WASHINGTON – The large number of Latin American immigrants who flooded into southern Louisiana for jobs after Hurricane Katrina are sending hundreds of millions of dollars to their loved ones back home, according to a new study.

The projected number of cash transfers – known as “remittances” – from the United States to Latin America for 2006 showed its largest increase in Louisiana, according to an Inter-American Development Bank study released Wednesday. Researchers estimated that immigrants working in the state will send $208 million to Latin America countries this year, a four-fold increase since 2004.

“Where there are jobs, there are Latin American immigrants,” said Sergio Bendixon, author of the bank study. “The large number of jobs after Katrina made Louisiana the state with the largest growth in remittances to Latin America.”

Overall, an estimated 12 million Latin American immigrants in the United States will send $45 billion to their home countries this year, accounting for a major economic force in a perennially struggling part of the world. The average remittance has grown to $300 a month, a 50 percent increase in the past five years.

With high unemployment and low-paying jobs in their home countries, the lure of service industry and construction work paying $10 an hour or more in the United States is enough for millions of Latin Americans to leave their families and come to the United States, frequently illegally. The Inter-American Bank study, which surveyed 2,511 immigrants by telephone in May, indicates that the vast majority – 73 percent – send a portion of their wages home.

The bank has been tracking remittances since 2000 as part of a campaign to promote investments in insurance.

housing and education as a way of stimulating the economy of Latin America.

“Remittances are an important opportunity to boost development,” said Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Bank.

Louisiana’s immigrant explosion is directly tied to the massive rebuilding after Katrina, the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history. Faced with a severe worker shortage in all industries, local firms have been offering cash signing bonuses to even unskilled immigrants and paying far more than the minimum wage.

The bank study suggests there also has been a financial upside to remittances originating in the United States. The survey found that 90 percent of the money earned by immigrants stays in the U.S. The study projected that immigrants would pour $2.1 billion into Louisiana’s economy in 2006.

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