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Remote customer service jobs: What they pay & how to get one

Remote customer service jobs at virtual call centers are one of the few work-from-home opportunities open to candidates at the entry level. Here’s where…



Quick facts:

Remote customer service jobs are available directly from companies and also from third-party customer experience firms called BPOs.

Jobs at customer experience BPOs are the easiest to get without experience, but starting pay is relatively low, and work can be inconsistent.

The highest-paying work-from-home customer service roles are with insurance companies, but these jobs may require experience or licensing.

Those new to the field can start at a customer service BPO, then aim for higher-paying roles with specific companies after they gain experience.

For many types of job-seekers, remote work is ideal, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to come by. The COVID-19 pandemic thrust the idea of working from home into the mainstream in 2020, and while the concept has certainly held onto some of its footing, many companies, even some in the tech sector — like Amazon — have since instituted fairly strict return-to-office policies. Remote positions, as a result, can be harder to find than they once were, especially for entry-level applicants.

One fairly broad field that consistently seems to employ remote workers, even at the entry level, is customer service. These days, customer service roles typically involve speaking on the phone and chatting online with customers (and sometimes other stakeholders like suppliers and vendors) to answer questions, resolve issues, and route important queries upward to more experienced professionals when appropriate.

Jobs like these certainly have their downsides — long, sedentary hours spent on the phone and computer and repeated interactions with sometimes-irritated customers, for instance — but the fact that they can be done remotely and usually don’t require a wealth of credentials or experience makes them a convenient choice for entry-level applicants who need to be able to work at home.

We scoured the web to find out what you need to do in order to get a work-from-home job as a customer service rep, what sorts of opportunities are out there, and what they pay.

Related: Amazon remote jobs & what they pay: Customer service, management & more

Equipment & qualifications for a job at a virtual call center

Different customer service roles have different requirements, but based on the common requisites listed across the bulk of job postings by individual companies and dedicated customer service firms, the following are must-haves for anyone applying to work as a remote call center representative.

  • A modern computer with a relatively fast processor (Intel i5, AMD Ryzen 5, Apple M1, etc.) and plenty of RAM (8+ GB)
  • A reliable high-speed internet connection (25 MBPS download; 5 MBPS upload)
  • Headphones with a microphone
  • The ability to type quickly (at least 35 words per minute)
  • General fluency with common computer operations (Microsoft Office, web navigation, form filling, etc.)
  • Language fluency
  • Problem-solving skills and a friendly, helpful attitude

Individual positions often have additional requirements, but the core list above represents the most crucial toolkit for anyone who wants to get hired to work from home in the customer service field.

In very rare cases, certain supplies (like a computer, keyboard, and headset) may be provided by the employer, but this is the exception and not the rule, so it’s best to show up to the virtual interview already equipped.

Some companies have their own customer service departments, while others outsource call center work to dedicated customer experience companies. 

picture alliance/Getty Images

How to find remote customer service jobs

Some companies run their own virtual call centers and hire their own remote customer service representatives, while others contract this work to a third-party customer experience company that serves many different corporate clients. These are known as BPO (business process outsourcing) firms.

It’s also worth mentioning that many of the higher-paying opportunities in remote customer service are in the insurance industry, although these sometimes require specific licenses and may involve some sales work.

For someone new to customer service work, all three of these options (working directly for a company, working for a BPO firm, and working in insurance) are worth exploring. A first job in an entry-level call center position could later serve as resume fodder when applying for a higher-level customer support position with an insurance company.

Here’s where to look for jobs in each of these three categories:

Positions at BPO customer experience companies

Positions at dedicated customer experience companies can be less stable than those working directly for a specific company, as employees may be assigned to a specific “campaign” (e.g., a one-month customer-support contract from, say, TurboTax) and then left hanging with few or no hours until another campaign comes up. For this reason, these companies and positions are known for high turnover.

That being said, working for a BPO customer experience firm can be a great way to get experience in the customer service industry, often providing support for major, Fortune 500 clients like Apple or Oracle. This type of experience can go a long way when applying to subsequent, potentially higher-paying, more stable positions in the remote customer service field.

Here are a few major work-from-home CX (customer experience) companies to check out:


Alorica is a large, multinational customer experience company with over 115,000 employees worldwide. It contracts with major clients in both the public and private sectors, including government organizations, banks, utilities companies, and wireless providers.

Most of Alorica’s U.S.-based remote customer service jobs start at around $15–$17 per hour at the entry level, but higher-paying opportunities ($18–$25 per hour) are also available to applicants with special qualifications, like those who are bilingual, have previous customer service experience, or have industry-specific certifications (like CompTIA A+ for IT-related positions). Training is paid, and permanent positions with Alorica come with a full suite of employee benefits.

To browse and apply to the company’s open positions, visit Alorica’s careers portal and search using your location (e.g., United States) and keywords like Remote or Work from home.

Concentrix is a large customer experience firm that handles call center work for a number of major companies. 

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Concentrix + Webhelp

Concentrix, which acquired Webhelp in 2023, is a similar business to Alorica, although it employs almost four times as many people worldwide. Concentrix’s clients span multiple industries, including technology, financial services, natural resources, healthcare, media, and others.

Unlike Alorica, Concetrix doesn’t provide starting wages on most of its job postings, but based on information shared by current and former employees on career data sites, starting pay for entry-level customer service positions is usually around $15 per hour. As with Alorica, however, applicants who are bilingual or have specialized certifications or previous experience may be eligible for higher starting pay. Training is paid, and most non-temporary positions are eligible for employee benefits and performance-based bonuses.

To browse the company’s open positions, visit Concentrix’s remote careers portal, click into the search bar, and select Contact Center from the “Job Categories” drop-down menu. This will land you on a list of open positions. On the left side of the screen, select the checkbox that corresponds to your country to further narrow your search.

Teleperformance is only slightly smaller than Concentrix but provides similar customer support services to large companies across a variety of industries. 

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images


Teleperformance, headquartered in France, has a workforce of around 410,000 worldwide, making it slightly smaller than Concentrix. As a BPO, It provides similar customer communication services to Alorica and Concentrix.

Like Concentrix, Teleperformance doesn’t provide starting wages on its job listings, but the company’s positions do come with paid training and a full suite of employee benefits. Current and former employee-provided wage information on career data sites indicates that while Teleperformance’s positions vary quite a bit compensation-wise, $15 per hour is common for entry-level employees, and those with specific qualifications can earn more.

To browse the company’s open positions, visit Teleperformance’s careers site, enter your location, and toggle the “Only work-from-home” switch.

Company-specific customer service positions

For many work-from-home customer service professionals, working directly for a company rather than working for a customer service BPO can have certain advantages like stability, pay raises, upward mobility, and sometimes, company-sponsored training for certifications. That being said, these jobs can be more difficult to land, so working for a BPO first to gain experience can be a good stepping stone.


Modivcare is a social services company headquartered in Atlanta that works with individuals through government programs like Medicaid, juvenile justice, welfare, and others. Modivcare hires its own customer service employees, so these jobs can be more stable than those at BPO companies, and employees may be able to move into higher-paying positions with experience.

Remote customer service positions here come with a full suite of benefits, and starting pay ranges from around $14.50 to $19 per hour, depending on the specifics of the position.

To look over the company’s job openings, visit Modivcare’s careers portal, and select Remote in the “Location” drop-down menu and Customer Service & Support Group in the “Job Category” drop-down menu. Some remote positions at Modivcare are state-specific, so be sure to read job postings carefully.

Rather than outsourcing call center work to a BPO, CVS has its own customer service department, and many representatives work from home. 

Joe Raedle/Getty Images


CVS is an American healthcare, pharmacy, and retail company with around 300,000 total employees, most of whom do not work remotely. The company does, however, regularly hire remote employees to work in customer service, sometimes in Medicaid-specific customer support roles.

Most of these positions do require some degree of experience (usually one or more years of call center work and/or some experience in the medical field) and the bulk of these tend to go to candidates who are bilingual in English and Spanish.

Because these jobs can be a bit harder to qualify for, they also tend to have better starting pay ranges. Most of the ranges listed on open customer service positions as of this article’s last update have a lower end around $17 per hour and a higher end closer to $30.

To browse what the company has available, go to CVS’ careers site, select Customer and Member Services from the “Job Category” drop-down men,u and check the Remote box under the “Remote Jobs” heading.

Tip: Start with a job at a customer service BPO like Teleperformance. Learn Spanish on your own time while gaining experience for a year or more, then apply to a higher-paying bilingual customer service role at CVS or Progressive.

Insurance industry customer service positions

Work-from-home call center jobs in the insurance industry tend to offer higher compensation, as they usually involve some element of sales, at least eventually — and that brings incentive pay into the equation. The very best insurance call center agents bring home over six figures per year after bonuses.

Of all major U.S. insurance companies, Progressive tends to have the most available remote customer service positions at any given time. 

Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images


Progressive is a large, American insurance company with about 55,000 employees. The company hires a large number of remote call center employees who, once they obtain the proper licenses (usually Property and Casualty or Personal Lines), can earn higher wages by acting as actual insurance agents.

Positions are available across the U.S., and most require either two years of post-secondary education or two years of relevant (i.e., customer service) experience. Additionally, the company prefers to hire candidates who are bilingual in English and Spanish. Because of these requirements, remote call center jobs here start at $20.25 per hour (or $21.50 per hour for already-licensed candidates).

These positions come with full employee benefits, the opportunity for performance-based bonus pay, and 10% additional pay for evening and weekend shifts. The company also supports unlicensed hires through their licensing process during training. To browse the company’s open positions, visit Progressive’s careers site, type Remote into the “Keywords” field, and select Contact Center under the “Job Category” field.

Allstate, like Progressive, hires remote reps, but the company tends to have fewer work-from-home opportunities available at any given time. 

Scott Olson/Getty Images


Allstate is also a large American insurance company. Based in Illinois, it employs around 55,000 people. Allstate, like Progressive, offers remote customer service positions, but they are a little harder to come by, so it’s important to check their site frequently to see if anything has become available.

Customer service positions at Allstate are usually called “Licensed Inside Sales Representative,” and as the name implies, they do require an active Personal Lines or Property and Casualty License, although some candidates can earn these certifications post-hire.

These positions come with a base salary of around $36,400 annually (around $17.50 per hour), but the company states that average performers usually bring home between $57,000 and $69,280 per year, including performance-based incentives. These positions also come with a full array of employee benefits that go into effect immediately.

To see what jobs are available, visit Allstate’s careers portal and select the Call Center box under the “Departments” heading.

Related: Apple remote jobs & what they pay: Customer service, AI engineer & more

How to land your first work-from-home customer service job

  • Make sure you possess all of the equipment and qualifications listed above.
  • Craft a resume that highlights any relevant job experience (i.e., anything involving interpersonal interaction like retail or service work) and your technical proficiency with computer and telephone systems.
  • Apply to as many jobs as you can, including those at BPO customer experience companies, especially if you don’t have any previous call center experience and aren’t bilingual.
  • During interviews (which are usually remote and conducted via video chat), wear clean, smart clothing (i.e., business casual attire).
  • Look your interviewer in the eye, speak slowly and clearly, and maintain a polite composure to demonstrate your ability to respond calmly to questions and concerns as you would in a customer service role.

How to advance your career in remote customer service

  • Become bilingual. If you are in the United States, this means English and Spanish, although other, less common languages can qualify you for very specific positions that may offer higher pay.
  • Once you have at least a year of experience and are bilingual, begin applying to higher-paying positions at pharmacy or insurance call centers.
  • If you are able to land a job at an insurance company, begin working toward your certifications. In some cases, the company may be willing to reimburse you for the cost of courses and exams.
  • Once you are licensed, hone your sales skills, and aim to earn as much incentive pay as you can.
  • Over time and with experience, try to move up to training and management roles, which come with higher base salaries, while continuing to conduct sales in order to earn incentive pay. 

Related: Disney remote jobs: The most magical WFH careers on earth?

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Southwest Airlines challenged on its low-cost claims

The company markets itself as a ‘low-cost’ airline but that may not actually be true.



Some words have no legal definition even if most consumers take an "I know it when I see it" approach. 

You can call your company "low cost" or "discount" and that can mean very different things. 

For someone who shops at high-end retailers, Macy's may seem like a value brand (although the company does not make that claim). Or a regular Dillard's shopper might see Marshalls, Bealls and other retailers that market based on offering low prices as the low-cost or discount brands.   

Related: Failed deal leaves another airline facing bankruptcy, liquidation

When it comes to airlines it becomes even more confusing. Many full-fare airlines have higher prices and charge for "extras" like checked bags and onboard WiFi.

The lowest-cost carriers — Spirit (SAVE) , Frontier, Allegiant and similar players — market themselves as low-cost, but they are really a la carte. Passengers pay little for their tickets, but they pay extra for everything from carry-on bags to checked luggage and even getting an actual seat assignment.

Southwest Airlines (LUV) , which considers itself a discount carrier, has always operated differently from its rivals at both ends of the pricing spectrum. The airline's fares are generally cheaper than traditional airlines like United, Delta and American, but they cost more than Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant.

In addition, Southwest included carry-on and checked bags in your ticket price, so it's offering added value in that way as well. Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’Leary, a longtime supporter of Southwest, no longer sees the company as a low-cost carrier.

Image source: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Ryanair CEO makes Southwest Airlines claims

Southwest clearly defines its "purpose" on its website: "To connect people to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel." 

At the top of its "About Us" page, the airline also touts its "one-of-a-kind value."

O’Leary does not see it that way.

“Southwest’s average fare in the last decade has crept up – their average last year was $170 a seat. That’s not a particularly cheap airline. Our average airfare in Europe was €44 [$47] a seat. I don’t think Southwest is really a low-fares airline anymore,” he told Skift.

Ryanair's CEO says Southwest is causing itself problems by not charging for checked bags. He noted that his airline saw its rate of passengers who check bags drop to 20% from 80% once it started charging for the privilege.

“And yet at Southwest, you go through American airports and people are carrying on five bags, checking in five bags. The whole process is delayed," he said. "They put out all this schlock about ‘our passengers are our guests, and you wouldn’t want to charge your guests for their bags,’ but why do you charge for the seats if that’s the case? Give it all away for free.” 

Southwest allows two free checked bags per passenger.

O'Leary took one parting shot at the airline he studied when building Ryanair: “Southwest has lost the passion for low-cost, low-fare air travel.” 

Data show Ryanair's O'Leary may have a point

While 2022 may have been an abnormal year as airlines and the overall economy recovered from the covid pandemic, a study of airline revenue per seat mile conducted by Flight Advisor was not favorable to Southwest. 

"Although Southwest Airlines is technically the world’s largest low-cost carrier, the airline’s total revenue per seat mile is the highest on our list at $0.1729," wrote Amy Lancelotte. "This isn’t much more than Delta, but travelers who think that Southwest offers the lowest prices are in for a surprise. This brings forth the question of whether Southwest should even be considered a budget carrier."

Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, in that order, had the lowest revenue per seat mile. 

A similar report by LendEdu, done in May 2023, also ranked Southwest as the most expensive of the major U.S. airlines on a cost-per-mile basis.

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The Optimism-Fatalism Historical Cycle

The Optimism-Fatalism Historical Cycle

Authored by Gregory Copley via The Epoch Times,

No fundamental form of human behavior, for better…



The Optimism-Fatalism Historical Cycle

Authored by Gregory Copley via The Epoch Times,

No fundamental form of human behavior, for better or worse, disappears forever.

Cycles of wealth, fear, or frustration force changes, and they bear an uncanny similarity to Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man.” We are, above all else, predictable.

The present decline, distortion, or much-heralded “end of democracy” is overstated. Still, it is difficult to disagree that the present cycle of democracy—beginning in the 18th century—has run its course. It is a human concept of behavior and, as with all things human, has its lifespan before it becomes feeble and sclerotic, corrupt and cynical, and ultimately a parody of what was intended in the flush of innocent youth.

Throughout the world, “democracies” now see themselves beset by the internal competition for office by career politicians whose goal, before all else, is to attain and retain power. The compromises of dignity, nobility of purpose, and service to the electorate are the hallmarks of the age. These compromises have led to the thing aspiring politicians once saw as the bane of human existence: autocracies or, worse, rampant and totalitarian tyrannies. But autocracies cloak themselves with the language of democracy.

Just as Africa, freed now from the coercion of major external powers, has resorted to removing governments by force, we see politicians in power using their office to suppress, deter, or remove their challengers for office.

The Communist Party of China (CCP) introduced the concept of “lawfare” to outmaneuver its domestic and international opponents: using legal mechanisms to constrain an adversary. This concept has been adopted vigorously by “democratically elected politicians” worldwide, so there are now few societies where “lawfare” is not used to eliminate legitimate opponents and constrain and channel society at large.

The spirit of democracy is nowhere to be seen.

Waste no time on mourning. Democracy has had its day and will return when the time is right.

But, equally, waste no time nurturing the self-delusion that moral or intellectual superiority lies in the pretense of democracy, the pretense that societies still embody what they once set out to represent. But we, most of us, insist on our certainty of the moral superiority of our own society because we have nowhere else to go. We cannot embrace our historical or geopolitical opponents’ rights to their own certainties.

But we do not know how best to reorganize our own society without the unthinkable collapse of that same democracy to force our actions.

The birth and death of states have been a preoccupation of scholars since humanity began to structure into durable communities. In 2006, I created—with the help of Greek Cypriot scholar Marios Evriviades—the words “cratocide” (the murder of nations) and “cratogenesis” (the birth of nations) for the book, “The Art of Victory.” Shortly afterward, we added the word “cratometamorphosis” to describe the total reorganization of societies.

Collapse is always the prerequisite to “cratometamorphosis.” Theoretically, this reorganization and revitalization of society should be feasible before total collapse creates a situation when no other option is available. But the very safeguards we have put in place over decades and centuries to protect our present structures also safeguard the corrupted wreckage they have become.

So if, as it appears, many societies—and by no means only those that thought of themselves as democratic—are waiting painfully for that total collapse so that they may be free to recreate themselves “closer to the heart’s desire,” then why is little thought given to that future society, that utopia?

During the years of difficulty that beset so many during the Industrial Revolutions, new concepts were conjured, speculatively, out of whole ideals. There were also years of uncertainty in societies in flux, during which new belief systems were devised.

These religions and ideologies all rippled down the ages and continue to inspire followers, often in the face of historical evidence that they failed here and there but were never revised to truly meet new requirements. Indeed, modern democracy itself—mirroring several iterations in the Hellenic states and earlier in the Indus Valley civilizations over the past 10,000 years—was just such a “revivalist creed,” and its new advocates failed to understand (or even question) why, in its earlier iterations, it had ultimately collapsed.

Is it possible that at our present impasse, there is some belief that technology—artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and so on—will define or create a new social framework? Have we, in so embracing “technology,” outsourced responsibility for devising ways in which humans can best work together? Certainly, technology has enabled the implementation of mass guidance of vast numbers of the human population, like the “murmuration of starlings,” the uncanny, but now understood, mass coordination of flocks of starlings in flight.

This “mass guidance” of humans is the mass psychosis tendency, a fundamental self-protection mechanism in human behavior designed to create herd protection.

That mass psychosis, of course, is what we saw during the COVID-19 crisis. However, it presupposes that human societies can be made to walk willingly and fatalistically toward the scenario outlined in the book, “1984,” by George Orwell. It may be man’s good fortune that economic dislocations—now being evidenced in the tremblors that shake the values of currencies and the viability of major economies—will gradually erode the pace of technological progress, enabling human society to regroup on more elemental or human lines.

To “start again” with new concepts for societal organization—governance—will inevitably involve considering concepts that, whether we realize it or not, have probably been played out before. However, it would be ideal to recognize that the framework begins with the sovereignty of each individual and the requirement for each individual to respect each other individually to achieve progress and human reproduction.

At least that optimistic framework can reemerge for a while until we see politics once more fatalistically reach the point where all respect is once again lost, and the desire for power outweighs the desire for societal wellbeing.

Tyler Durden Fri, 03/29/2024 - 23:15

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CEPR Sanctions Watch March 2024

In this edition of Sanctions Watch, covering March 2024: World Bank finds that sanctions overcompliance is hindering the private sector in Afghanistan;…



In this edition of Sanctions Watch, covering March 2024:

  • World Bank finds that sanctions overcompliance is hindering the private sector in Afghanistan;
  • Cuba turns to the UN for assistance amid embargo-fueled food shortages;
  • New book argues that Iran sanctions have hurt civilians, strengthened government;
  • Human Rights Watch reports that North Korea sanctions negatively impact health, access to food;
  • EU moves forward with plan to seize profits from frozen Russian assets;
  • UN official describes Syrian economy as “in free fall amid tightening sanctions”;
  • Biden plans to allow Venezuela oil sanctions license to expire in mid-April;
  • Biden (partly) ends the Zimbabwe sanctions program, and more.

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Background: Following the Taliban takeover in 2021, the Biden administration blocked Afghanistan’s central bank from accessing roughly $7 billion of its foreign reserves held in the United States. Half of these assets have since been allocated to a trust fund, largely under US control, that has yet to disburse funds to Afghanistan. Around $2 billion of central bank assets have also been blocked by European authorities. Along with a cutoff of aid, this asset seizure — representing the near totality of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves — has contributed to a collapse of the country’s economy.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill that would require the US to withhold its contributions to the UN for assistance in Afghanistan until it is certified that US funds are not used in UN cash shipments to Afghanistan and that the Taliban are not receiving funds from these shipments. The bill is likely a reaction to a January report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that states that some money from UN cash shipments to Afghanistan winds up in the country’s central bank. However, the same report states that the UN decided to ship cash into Afghanistan in consultation with the State Department in part to mitigate the effects of “sanctions on the Taliban and the isolation of Afghanistan’s banking sector.” ProPublica reported this month that “U.N. officials do not deny that the cash delivered to Afghanistan makes its way to the central bank. But they say there is no avoiding it since the Taliban control the country.”

The UN cash shipments are essential to funding humanitarian activities. Moreover, while there are concerns over the potential misuse of funds, the central bank urgently needs access to foreign currency to support the Afghan financial system.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports: “Afghanistan has been in the throes of an economic crisis for more than two years, after donors cut foreign funding in response to the Taliban takeover in 2021 and suspended Afghanistan’s Central Bank from the international system.” As a result, Afghans are going hungry. HRW recommends that governments “support measures to normalize payments and other transactions through Afghanistan’s banking system,” among other policies. The head of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific stated: “sectors such as finance have ‘basically collapsed’ and there are no major sources of economic activity such as exports or public expenditure, leaving small and medium enterprises … and farmers as the lifeblood of the faltering economy.” Indeed, a recent World Bank report on Afghanistan mentions that “correspondent banks have de-risked in response to a lack of clarity on the applicability of … sanctions by restricting transactions with most Afghan banks. These restrictions have directly affected private sector activities, disrupting trade as firms struggle to access international banking services and thus to pay for imports or receive payments for exports.”

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Background: The US embargo against Cuba is one of the oldest and most stringent of all US sanctions regimes, prohibiting nearly all trade and financial transactions between the United States and Cuba since the early 1960s. After a brief loosening under Obama, sanctions were tightened and expanded under Trump — a policy the Biden administration has, for the most part, maintained.

The Cuban government requested assistance from the World Food Programme for the first time ever at the end of last month — another sign of the increasingly dire economic situation on the island, caused in large part by the US embargo. When the worsening conditions, including food shortages and blackouts, prompted protests in the city of Santiago, the US Embassy “urge[d] the Cuban government to respect the human rights of the protestors.” This, in turn, prompted charges of hypocrisy, given the role of US policy in stoking the crisis. While sanctions hard-liner Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) responded to the events by claiming that there is “no food embargo” on Cuba, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made clear that US policies do significantly impede the export of food to the island (see also this explainer from Belly of the Beast).

Ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Western Hemisphere Subcommittee Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) expressed frustration with Biden’s Cuba policies, noting that “the decision not to reverse harmful Trump-era policies — including the State Sponsor of Terror designation — is a serious missed opportunity that has worsened the lives of everyday Cubans.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) lamented that “for 65 long years, the Cuban people have suffered under the weight of American embargo,” and called the terror designation, “completely unwarranted,” “cruel,” “counterproductive,” and “a political trap for the Biden administration.”

The second appropriations package passed by Congress this month included provisions paving the way for sanctions on foreign government officials that take part in Cuba’s medical brigades program — a valuable source of income for Cuba, and of medical assistance for vulnerable communities in many countries around the world.

Finally, two new studies by the National Institutes of Health have found no evidence of brain damage among those who experienced symptoms attributed to so-called “Havana Syndrome.” Accusations that US diplomats were being secretly targeted by Cuban spies with futuristic technology were used as a partial justification for the additional sanctions imposed under Trump. Last year, a US intelligence assessment concluded that it was “very unlikely” that these symptoms were caused by the actions of foreign adversaries.

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Background: US sanctions on Iran began during the 1979 hostage crisis, and currently bar US actors — plus some non-US actors — from almost all trade and financial transactions with Iran. Though certain sanctions were lifted as a result of the 2015 nuclear deal, the majority have been reimposed since the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement. The European Union also maintains certain trade and financial sector sanctions on Iran.

The Biden administration has again renewed a license allowing Iraq to make oil payments to Iran via a limited account that only allows Iran to use the proceeds for humanitarian purposes. Despite misrepresentations in the conservative press, the waiver does not grant Iran access to the full $10 billion already owed to it by Iraq. A week later, the administration announced new sanctions against a number of individuals and entities in Iran, Turkey, Oman, and Germany allegedly involved in helping Iran to procure materials that can be used in weapons production. Also this month, the European Union reiterated threats to sanction Iran if it transfers ballistic missiles to Russia, but is reportedly split on a separate, France- and Germany-led proposal to sanction individuals and entities involved in supporting Iran’s regional allies, such as Hezbollah and Ansar Allah. EU officials expressed concern that the latter would undermine nuclear diplomacy and “conflate the two theaters” — Russia and the Middle East.

In a webinar hosted by the Middle East Institute, the authors of a new book, How Sanctions Work, Iran and the Impact of Economic Warfare, argued that sanctions have had broad, adverse impacts across the Iranian economy — harming the middle class and increasing poverty rates, but in fact strengthening the government’s hold on power. Ongoing sanctions have likely contributed to the Iranian rial’s record depreciation — dropping to an all-time low against the dollar this month as annual inflation rates hit 50 percent.

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North Korea

Background: The United States first imposed sanctions on North Korea during the Korean War in the 1950s. Following the country’s 2006 nuclear test, more stringent sanctions were added, which have periodically intensified since then. US sanctions now target oil imports and cover most finance and trade as well as the key minerals sector. In addition, the UN Security Council has adopted nine major sanctions resolutions since 2006. The European Union has implemented these in addition to its own sanctions.

A Human Rights Watch report on North Korea’s response to COVID-19 found that sanctions contributed to the country’s isolation during the pandemic and deepened the suffering of its citizens. More precisely, “China’s enforcement of the new UN sanctions disrupted general cross-border trade and people’s movement, leading to impacts far beyond the economic sectors for which the sanctions were intended.” The report goes on to say:

by imposing broad-based sanctions on the North Korean economy, including formal and informal market activities, their enforcement exacted a toll on the population at large by undermining people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, and thus to food and health. This had an especially hard impact on women, the main breadwinners in most households, by reducing the activities in the markets in which they traded.

HRW recommends that the UN Security Council review its North Korea sanctions and their enforcement “to evaluate their impacts on human rights and delivery of humanitarian aid.”

On March 28, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended the mandate of a UN panel of experts monitoring the enforcement of North Korea sanctions. The mandate is set to expire on April 30. The veto may have been a reaction to the Council’s failure to adopt Moscow and Beijing’s proposals to reduce the panel’s reporting requirements, and add sunset clauses to the sanctions themselves. Right before the vote, Russia’s ambassador to the UN said the West was trying to “strangle” North Korea with sanctions that are “detached from reality.”  

Also this month, the US State Department’s deputy special representative for North Korea said there is a need for “interim steps” with regard to North Korea’s denuclearization. This has raised questions about a potential US policy shift. The US official remained vague, but the Korea Times wrote: “In the negotiation lexicon for the North, interim steps usually involve such measures as Pyongyang’s freeze of its nuclear weapons development in return for sanctions relief or other incentives to encourage the regime’s denuclearization efforts.” Despite this, on March 27, the US and South Korea jointly sanctioned six individuals and two entities based in Russia, China, and the UAE for allegedly financing North Korea’s weapons program.

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Background: US sanctions on Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors began after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. This sanctions regime was greatly expanded, particularly by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union in response to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. It includes the barring of most financial transactions and of Russian oil and gas imports as well as the freezing of Russian assets abroad, among other measures.

The EU is moving forward with a plan to seize profits generated by Russia’s frozen assets — projected to be around 3 billion euros per year — to assist Ukraine. EU leaders have agreed in principle to a proposal in which profits generated as of February 15 will primarily be used to fund Ukrainian weapons purchases, a portion will be used for recovery and reconstruction efforts, and around 3 percent will stay in the EU to finance the legal defense against Russian litigation. Some Western banks are lobbying against the proposal over fears of Russian retaliation, as Moscow has warned of “catastrophic consequences” for banks’ legal departments. The US had reportedly proposed an alternate plan — creating a special purpose vehicle backed by Russia’s assets to issue $50 billion in bonds to help fund Ukraine — but Germany and France are opposed.

The US issued two sets of Russia-related sanctions this month. On March 20, it imposed sanctions on two individuals and two entities for allegedly providing services to the Russian government in connection with disinformation campaigns, and on March 25, it sanctioned two individuals and 13 entities in Russia’s fintech sector for facilitating sanctions evasion. The US also threatened a major Austrian bank for its dealings in Russia, and the EU imposed sanctions on Russian judiciary and penitentiary officials over the death of Alexei Navalny, as did Canada. Japan (12 individuals and eight entities), New Zealand (45 individuals and 16 entities), and Switzerland (106 individuals and 88 entities) also sanctioned Russian targets to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia continues to face difficulties from the sanctions. “Indian oil refiners — Moscow’s second-biggest customers after China since the 2022 invasion — will no longer accept tankers owned by state-run Sovcomflot PJSC because of the risk posed by sanction,” Bloomberg reports. Last year, Sovcomflot transported one-fifth of Russian crude deliveries to India. At least nine Chinese banks are no longer processing transactions from Russia, and “Dubai’s main state-owned bank has shut some accounts held by Russian oligarchs and traders of Russian oil,” the Wall Street Journal notes. The head of Russia’s Central Bank recently said, “After the decline at the beginning of the year, exports have been rebounding, driven by the increase in oil prices. However, secondary sanctions hinder this process.”

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Background: As a designated “State Sponsor of Terrorism” since the list’s creation, Syria has faced unilateral sanctions in some form since 1979. These were augmented during the George W. Bush administration, and greatly expanded under Presidents Obama and Trump to bar most financial transactions with Syrian entities. The “Caesar Act,” passed by Congress in 2019, goes even further, imposing secondary sanctions on third-party entities that engage in such transactions, even if they have no connection to the US.

On the 13th anniversary of the start of Syria’s civil war, the humanitarian and economic situation remains dire, due in part to sanctions. According to the Chair of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, “More than 90 percent [of those in Syria] now live in poverty, [and] the economy is in free fall amid tightening sanctions.” The Commission also warned that 16.7 million Syrians require humanitarian assistance, but that aid is severely hampered by funding shortfalls, the Syrian government’s “arbitrary decision-making,” and by economic sanctions. A piece in a UAE state-owned paper reports that only half of Syria’s hospitals remain fully functional, with doctors and pharmacists noting that sanctions severely limit their access to medicines and essential medical equipment.

Toward the end of the month, the Biden administration announced new sanctions on individuals and entities involved in mining exports, and on others allegedly connected to the production and trade in Captagon, an amphetamine-like drug.

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Background: While the George W. Bush and Obama administrations adopted sanctions on military equipment and against Venezuelan individuals, it was under Trump that broad financial sanctions and restrictions on oil exports were first implemented. These have caused at least tens of thousands of deaths of Venezuelans, from the resulting economic collapse and drastic reduction in access to essential imports and production, including food, medicine, health care, and health infrastructure. In addition, the United States, the United Kingdom, and others have frozen — and in some cases transferred to opposition actors — Venezuelan state assets.

The Biden administration reportedly plans to allow its oil sanctions waiver to expire in mid-April if the Maduro government does not meet its conditions regarding this year’s presidential elections, now set for July 28. While the license is limited, the country has seen a modest improvement in oil output, reaching 820,000 barrels per day (bpd) in February — the highest since the 2019 oil sanctions were imposed, but still far short of the 1.9 million bpd level prior to Trump-era sanctions. Analysts predict that the license’s expiration would quickly wipe out the recent gains. The threatened expiration comes as Venezuelan authorities arrested members of opposition candidate María Corina Machado’s staff this month for their alleged role in “destabilizing” plots, and as they contested the Machado’s coalition’s replacement candidates’ registration. 12 other opposition candidates were able to register. The Brazilian government reportedly expressed concerns about the process, but warned that sanctions “only contribute to isolating Venezuela and increasing the suffering of its people.”

Also this month, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill led by hard-line sanctions advocate Rep. Maria Salazar (R-FL) that would reauthorize the 2019 Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance, and Development (VERDAD) Act. The bill was primarily cosponsored by Republicans, although three Florida Democrats also supported it. President Biden renewed the national emergency that forms the legal basis for the US’s Venezuela sanctions program (as it does for many other US sanctions regimes), which identifies Venezuela as “an extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

Finally, in an interview with “60 Minutes,” Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador reiterated his proposals for the United States to reduce migration to the southern border by ending unilateral sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela.

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On March 4, President Biden signed an executive order terminating the US’s national emergency declaration with respect to Zimbabwe, thereby ending the Zimbabwe sanctions program that had been in place for over 20 years. Initiated by President George W. Bush, purportedly over concerns about democracy and human rights, the program has been seen by many as punishment for then president Mugabe’s postcolonial land reforms, which expropriated many white large landowners’ farms for redistribution to Black subsistence farmers. Over the years, the sanctions program grew to cover over 100 individuals and entities, including major economic actors such as a state mining company.

Biden subsequently designated 14 Zimbabwean individuals and entities — including the president, vice president, and the heads of police, intelligence, and defense — under a different, non-geographically specific sanctions authority, the Global Magnitsky Act. Moreover, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) — which makes it US policy to oppose IMF, World Bank, and other multilateral development financing or debt relief for Zimbabwe — remains in place. (Read our blog post for further analysis.)

Reacting to the news, the office of President Mnangagwa stated:

Today Zimbabwe cannot be expected to thank or be grateful to President Biden and the US for announcing palliative measures towards finally rescinding an illegality and an outrage, even then at its own pace, perpetrated for more than two decades, and in flagrant violation of international law. Nothing short of some prompt, unconditional removal in toto of those illegal coercive measures, including the infamous ZDERA, is acceptable to Zimbabwe and her long-abused, innocent people.

Meanwhile, in Northern Gaza, mass “famine is imminent” and may arrive between mid-March and May, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a food security monitoring initiative used and developed by governments, UN agencies, and major NGOs. In the most likely scenario, the IPC warns, “half of the population of the Gaza Strip (1.11 million people) is expected to face catastrophic conditions (IPC Phase 5),” its highest level of food insecurity. An official from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization called this “unprecedented,” and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “the situation of hunger, starvation and famine is a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods,” which “may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war.” The EU’s foreign policy chief agreed that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war. Already, 27 child deaths have been reported due to malnutrition.

Despite this, the spending bill recently signed by President Biden suspends US funds to UNRWA, the UN’s Palestinian aid agency, at a time when Israel has barred it from transporting assistance into Northern Gaza, where the need is most severe. To get around Israel’s blocking of aid, some countries have begun airdropping supplies into the blockaded territory. Human rights organizations argue that airdrops are inefficient, cannot substitute for humanitarian access, and that efforts should focus instead on pushing Israel to lift the siege. Airdrops are also dangerous: 12 Palestinians drowned in a desperate attempt to reach aid that had fallen into the sea, and earlier in the month at least 5 Palestinians were killed and 10 more injured when airdropped supplies fell on them. However, it appears that international and domestic pressure on the US government led it to abstain on a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate, but temporary, ceasefire in Gaza and the lifting of barriers to humanitarian aid, which allowed the measure to pass. In addition, the US has sanctioned three Israeli West Bank settlers, and the EU may follow suit for the first time.

Finally, in an apparent bid to incentivize maximum sanctions enforcement, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced a bill to allow the Office of Foreign Assets Control — the main US sanctions enforcement agency — to keep 5 percent of any assets it seizes.

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About Sanctions Watch

Economic sanctions have become one of the main tools of US foreign policy despite widespread evidence that they can cause severe harm to civilian populations (which may, in fact, be the point). Though now a defining feature of the global economic order, sanctions and their human costs receive relatively little attention in most US media outlets.

CEPR’s Sanctions Watch news bulletin aims to generate more awareness on the use and impact of sanctions through monthly round-ups of news and analysis on US sanctions policy.

Click here to see past editions of CEPR’s Sanctions Watch.

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The post CEPR Sanctions Watch March 2024 appeared first on Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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