|Legal status of persons|
A migrant worker is a person who either migrates within their home country or outside it to pursue work. Migrant workers usually do not have the intention to stay permanently in the country or region in which they work.
Migrant workers who work outside their home country are also called foreign workers. They may also be called expatriates or guest workers, especially when they have been sent for or invited to work in the host country before leaving the home country.
The International Labour Organization estimated in 2014 there were 232 million international migrants worldwide who were outside their home country for at least 12 months and approximately half of them were estimated to be economically active (i.e. being employed or seeking employment). Some countries have millions of migrant workers. Some migrant workers are illegal immigrants. Some are slaves.
The "United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families" defines migrant worker as follows:
The term "migrant worker" refers to a person who is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.
The Convention has been ratified by Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines (among many other nations that supply foreign labour) but it has not been ratified by the United States, Germany, and Japan (among other nations that receive foreign labor).
Guest workers may have their status defined in their host country by a particular guest worker program.
An estimated 14 million foreign workers live in the United States, which draws most of its immigrants from Mexico, including 4 or 5 million undocumented workers. It is estimated that around 5 million foreign workers live in Northwestern Europe, half a million in Japan, and around 5 million in Saudi Arabia. A comparable number of dependents are accompanying international workers.
Foreign nationals are accepted into Canada on a temporary basis if they have a student visa, are seeking asylum, or under special permits. The largest category however is called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), under which workers are brought to Canada by their employers for specific jobs. In 2006, there were a total of 265,000 foreign workers in Canada. Amongst those of working age, there was a 118% increase from 1996. By 2008, the intake of non-permanent immigrants (399,523, the majority of whom are TFWs), had overtaken the intake of permanent immigrants (247,243). In order to hire foreign workers, Canadian employers must acquire a Labour Market Impact Assessment administered by Employment and Social Development Canada.
Since the 1960s, farmers in Ontario and other provinces have been meeting some of their seasonal labour needs by hiring temporary workers from Caribbean countries and, since 1974, from Mexico under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP). This federal initiative allows for the organized entry into Canada of low- to mid-level skilled farm workers for up to eight months a year to fill labour shortages on Canadian farms during peak periods of planting, cultivating and harvesting of specified farm commodities. The program is run jointly with the governments of Mexico and the participating Caribbean states, which recruit the workers and appoint representatives in Canada to assist in the program's operations.
Non-agricultural companies in Canada have begun to recruit under the temporary foreign worker program since Service Canada's 2002 expansion of an immigration program for migrant workers.
As of 2002, the federal government introduced the Low Skill Pilot Project. This project allows companies to apply to bring in temporary foreign workers to fill low skill jobs. The classification of "low skill" means that workers require no more than high school or two years of job-specific training to qualify.
In 2006, the federal Conservatives expanded the list of occupations that qualified for the Low Skill Pilot Project and increased the speed of processing applications.
Immigrants often take any available job, and often they find employment in the fields. The work often consists of hard manual labour, often with unfair pay. The article "Migrant Farmworkers: Is government doing enough to protect them?”, by William Triplett, states that the median annual income was $7,500, and 61% had income below the poverty level. After losing their cultural identity immigrants try to find a way to feed their families, and end up being exploited. Triplett also says that since 1989, "their average real hourly wages (in 1998 dollars) had dropped from $6.89 to $6.18", and that immigrants suffer physical as well as economic exploitation in the work place.
Green card workers are individuals who have requested and received legal permanent residence in the United States from the government and who intend to work in the United States on a permanent basis. The United States’ Diversity Immigrant Visa (DV) Lottery program authorizes up to 50,000 immigrant visas to be granted each year. This help facilitate foreign nationals with low rates of immigration to the United States a chance to participate in a random drawing for the possibility of obtaining an immigration visa.
Overall, the Chinese government has tacitly supported migration as means of providing labour for factories and construction sites and for the long-term goals of transforming China from a rural-based economy to an urban-based one. Some inland cities have started providing migrants with social security, including pensions and other insurance. In 2012, there were a reported 167 million migrant workers in China, with trends of working closer to home within their own or a neighbouring province but with a wage drop of 21%. Because so many migrant workers are moving to the city from rural areas, employers can hire them to work in poor working conditions for low wages. Migrant workers in China are notoriously marginalized, especially due to the hukou system of residency permits, which tie one stated residence to all social welfare benefits.
There has been a substantial flow of people from Bangladesh and Nepal to India over recent decades in search of better work. Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute found that these migrant workers are often subject to harassment, violence, and discrimination during their journeys at their destinations and when they return home. Bangladeshi women appear to be particularly vulnerable. These findings highlight the need to promote migrants' rights with, among others, health staff, police and employers at destination.
The population of Indonesia, as the world's fourth largest, has contributed to the surplus of work forces.[clarification needed] Combined with a scarcity of jobs at home, this has led numbers of Indonesians to seek work abroad. It is estimated that around 4.5 million Indonesians work abroad; 70% of them are women: most are employed in the domestic sector as maids and in the manufacturing sector. Most of them are between 18 and 35 years old. Around 30% are men, mostly working in plantations, construction, transportation and the service sector. Currently Malaysia employs the largest numbers of Indonesian migrant workers, followed by Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. These are official numbers, the actual numbers might be far larger, due to unrecorded illegal entry of Indonesian workers into foreign countries. They are prone to exploitation, extortion, physical and sexual abuses, suffered by those enduring human trafficking. Several cases of abuses upon Indonesian migrant workers have been reported, and some have gained worldwide attention.
During the Seventh Malaysia Plan (1995–2000), Malaysia's total population increased by 2.3% per year, while foreign residents (non-citizens) make up 7.6% of the total working-age population in Malaysia, not including illegal foreign residents. In 2008 the majority of migrant workers (1,085,658: 52.6%) originally came from Indonesia. This was followed by Bangladesh (316,401), Philippines (26,713), Thailand (21,065) and Pakistan (21,278). The total number of migrant workers from other countries was 591,481. Their arrival, if not controlled, will decrease the local population's employment opportunities. However, the arrival of migrant workers increased the country's output and reduced the wage rates in the local labor market. Despite the benefits achieved by both the sending and receiving countries, many problems arise in the receiving country, Malaysia. The number of migrant workers currently in Malaysia is very difficult to determine, although the numbers working legally, with a passport and a work permit, are known.
In 2013, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that approximately 10.2 million Filipinos worked or resided abroad. In the census year of 2010, about 9.3 percent of Filipinos worked or resided abroad.
More than a million Filipinos every year leave to work abroad through overseas employment agencies, and other programs, including government-sponsored initiatives. Overseas Filipinos often work as doctors, physical therapists, nurses, accountants, IT professionals, engineers, architects, entertainers, technicians, teachers, military servicemen, seafarers, students and fast food workers. Also, a sizable number of women work overseas as domestic helpers and caregivers. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration is an agency of the Government of the Philippines responsible for opening the benefits of the overseas employment program of the Philippines. It is the main government agency assigned to monitor and supervise recruitment agencies in the Philippines.
Since the late 1970s, Singapore has become one of the major receiving countries of migrant workers in Southeast Asia with 1,340,300 foreign workers constituting 37% of the total workforce in December 2014.  This is the largest foreign labour force in Asia as a proportion of population. About 991,300 of Singapore's foreign workers fall under the category of unskilled or low-skilled. In 2019, there were 322,700 male construction workers and 222,500 female domestic workers in Singapore. Many came from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines or Thailand. In 2020, it was reported that of the 1.4 million foreign workers in Singapore, nearly 1 million were in low paid, low skilled work. Such jobs are often perceived by local Singaporeans as less attractive due to being dirty, physically demanding and potentially dangerous. Observers such as OCBC Bank economist Selena Ling say migrant workers are necessary given the ageing labour force and a low fertility rate. In order to control the large amount of these workers, Singapore implemented migration policies with visa categories for different skill levels. The entry of foreign domestic workers is controlled through strict enforcement of a "guestworker policy of transience". Employers are required to post a S$5,000 bond with the Government to guarantee a worker's repatriation at the end of their two-year work permit. The government controls the entire realm of migrant workers with this law.
The number of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore increased from about 201,000 in 2010 to 255,800 in 2019, or by 27 per cent. As of 2019, one of every five Singaporean household hires a maid. In 1990, the ratio was about one in 13, with about 50,000 maids in Singapore at that time. Within Singapore there is evidence of a double-sided problem: the country needs foreign workers, but doesn't want to interact with them. In 2008, when the government sought to convert a school into a worker dormitory in Serangoon Gardens, close to 1,500 households petitioned against it as they were concerned about the effects it would have on their property values. This represented a significant minority of the 7,000 households in the neighbourhood.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to further concerns about treatment of migrant workers, especially those in dormitories. COVID-19 in the dormitories saw a more rapid spread of the virus compared to the rest of the population in Singapore. According to the Minister of Manpower, Josephine Teo, approximately 200,000 workers live in 43 dormitories in Singapore with about 10 to 20 workers sharing each room. 
Like many nations, South Korea started as a labour exporter in the 1960s before its economic development in the 1980s changed it to a labor importer. In 1993, the Industrial Trainee Program was established to meets the needs of migrant workers. It provided work for foreigners as trainees in small and medium-sized businesses. However, these workers were considered trainees and not official employees, so they could not receive protection under Korean labour laws. On 14 February 1995 Guidelines for the Protection and Management of Foreign Industrial Trainees provided legal and social welfare for migrant workers. The Act on the Employment of Foreign Workers which states that "a foreign worker shall not be given discriminatory treatment on the ground that he/she is a foreigner", was put into force on 16 August 2003. Later that year the numbers of migrant workers multiplied dramatically.
Even though there has been a drastic rise of migrant workers in Korea and policies are in place for their protection, the lack of cheap labour in Korea has forced the Korean community to condone the maltreatment of illegal migrant workers, and other unsavoury practices. In response, the Korean government has increased the quota for migrant workers by 5,000, to 62,000 individuals in 2013. In addition, on 31 January 2013, the minimum wage for migrant workers increased to 38,880 KRW for eight hours per day or a monthly rate of 1,015,740 KRW. Programs were put into place to protect migrant workers and ease their integration to Korean society. Programs sponsored by the government such as Sejonghakdang (세종학당), Multicultural Center of Gender Equality and Family Program, Foreign Ministry Personnel Center Program, and Ministry of Justice Social Integration Program provide free Korean language lessons for migrant workers. In addition, by fulfilling all the requirements of the Ministry of Justice Social Integration Program, migrant workers can apply for Korean citizenship without taking the Naturalization exams.
The E-9 Non-professional Employment visa was launched in order to hire foreigners to work in the manual labour field. The visa is only limited to people that come from 15 Asian countries including, the Philippines, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Cambodia, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Myanmar and East Timor. A new visa, known as the C-3 visa, was launched on 3 December 2018 which allows one to stay in South Korea for up to 90 days within the visa's validity period of up to 10 years with no restrictions on the number of visits to the country. The visa is specifically designed for professionals like doctors, lawyers or professors, graduates who are enrolled in four-year-plus programs in South Korean universities and those with master's degrees or above from overseas. The visa is only granted to people from 11 Asian countries those being Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Traditionally, South Korea has appeared to largely accept overseas ethnic Koreans such as the Koreans of China and other Asians. Under the Employment Permit System launched in 2004 for foreign worker registration, 55% of those registered in 2007 were ethnic Koreans, mostly Chinese nationals of Korean descent. Among those who weren't ethnic Koreans, most were Asian with the largest groups being the Vietnamese, Thais, Mongolians, Indonesians and Sri Lankans. In 2013, there were 479,426 foreigners working in South Korea and holding nonprofessional working visas and 99% of them came from other Asian countries with ethnic Koreans from China at 45.6%, Vietnamese at 11.8%, Indonesians at 5.9%, Uzbeks at 5.1%, ethnic Chinese at 4.2%, Cambodians at 4%, Sri Lankans at 3.9%, Thais at 3.9%, Filipinos at 3.8% and Nepalis at 3.3%. The vast majority of foreign workers in South Korea come from other parts of Asia with most coming from China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Central Asia.
Sri Lanka is currently a net emigration country, however in recent years a gradual rise in immigrant workers in Sri Lanka has coincided with the decline in the departure of Sri Lankans leaving the country for overseas employment. As a result, the country has now been transitioning from a country that only sends workers overseas to one that both sends and receives migrant workers. Thousands of foreign workers have entered the country from other Asian countries to work in Sri Lanka with 8000 coming from China and others coming from Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India. In addition to lawfully residing and working foreigners in the country, there are those that have over-stayed their visas or have illegally entered the country. In 2017, there were 793 investigations on unauthorised workers in the country and 392 foreign nationals were removed. The number of illegal Nepali migrants hiding in Sri Lanka prompted Nepal to launch an investigation in 2016 in order to crack down on the illegal movement of its citizens into Sri Lanka. An estimate from a Sri Lankan minister in 2017 put the number of foreign workers in the country at 200,000. However this number has been disputed. Additionally, there have been allegations that there are 200,000 illegal workers from China, India and Bangladesh working in the country, however certain parties have also dismissed this claim.
As of June 2016, there are more than 600,000 migrant workers in Taiwan which are spread across different sectors of industry, ranging from construction workers, domestic helpers, factory workers and other manual jobs. Most of them come from Southeast Asia.
In Thailand, migrants come from bordering countries such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Many face hardships such as lack of food, abuse, and low wages with deportation being their biggest fear. In Bangkok, Thailand many migrant workers attend Dear Burma school where they study subjects such as Thai language, Burmese language, English language, computer skills and photography.
In 2016, around 7.14% (15,88,300 people) of total EU employment were not citizens, 3.61% (8,143,800) were from another EU Member State, 3.53% (7.741.500) were from a non-EU country. Switzerland 0.53%, France 0.65%, Spain 0.88%, Italy 1.08%, United Kingdom 1.46%, Germany 1.81% were countries where more than 0.5% of employees were not citizens. United Kingdom 0.91%, Germany 0.94% are countries where more than 0.9% of employees were from non-EU countries. countries with more than 0.5% employees were from another EU country were Spain 0.54%, United Kingdom 0.55%, Italy 0.72%, Germany (until 1990 former territory of the FRG) 0.87%.
The recent expansions of the European Union have provided opportunities for many people to migrate to other EU countries for work. For both the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, existing states were given the rights to impose various transitional arrangements to limit access to their labour markets. After the Second World War, Germany did not have enough workers so laborers from other European states were invited to work in Germany. This invitation ended in 1973 and these workers were known as Gastarbeiter.
1 March has become a symbolic day for transnational migrants' strike. This day unites all migrants to give them a common voice to speak up against racism, discrimination and exclusion on all levels of social life. The transnational protests on 1 March were originally initiated in the US in 2006 and have encouraged migrants in other countries to organise and take action on that day. In Austria the first transnational migrants' strike (Transnationaler Migrant innenstreik) took place in March 2011, in the form of common actions, e.g. a manifestation, but also in form of numerous decentralised actions.
According to the Finnish trade union organizations SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions) and PAM Finnish Service Union United PAM foreign workers were increasingly abused in the construction and transportation sectors in Finland in 2012, in some cases reporting hourly wages as low as two euros. Bulgarians, Kosovars and Estonians were the most likely victimised in the building trade.
In Nazi Germany, from 1940–42, Organization Todt began its reliance on guest workers, military internees, Zivilarbeiter (civilian workers), Ostarbeiter (Eastern workers) and Hilfswillige ("volunteer") POW workers.
The great migration phase of labor migrants in the 20th century began in Germany during the 1950s, as the sovereign Germany since 1955 due to repeated pressure from NATO partners yielded to the request for closure of the so-called 'Anwerbe' Agreement (German: Anwerbeabkommen). The initial plan was a rotation principle: a temporary stay (usually two to three years), followed by a return to their homeland. The rotation principle proved inefficient for the industry, because the experienced workers were constantly replaced by inexperienced ones. The companies asked for legislation to extend the residence permits. Many of these foreign workers were followed by their families in the following period and stayed forever. Until the 1970s, more than four million migrant workers and their families came to Germany like this, mainly from the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey. Since about 1990, came for the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the enlargement of the European Union and guest workers from Eastern Europe to Western Europe Sometimes, a host country sets up a program in order to invite guest workers, as did the Federal Republic of Germany from 1955 until 1973, when over one million guest workers (German: Gastarbeiter) arrived, mostly from Italy, Spain and Turkey.
The main destination for Armenian seasonal workers is Russia. Until the end of the 1990s, there was an act of a third huge wave of Armenian emigrants, which accounted for about one million people. The main destination was the Russian Federation (620,000) ․ When Armenia became Independent (1991), the number of people who leave the country permanently slowed down, whereas, the number of seasonal labor migrants mainly to Russia increased. According to a study conducted by the Ministry of Territorial Development and Administration, 95% of seasonal migrants and 75% of long-term migrants work in Russia as of the end of the year 2018, and the reason is supposed to be the membership with the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The First Deputy Minister of Territorial Administration and Development of Armenia, Vache Terteryan, once said:
“We must ensure that our labor force feels comfortable both at home and in EAEU countries,” said Mr. Terteryan, speaking at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Migration Policy under the UNECE (UN Economic Commission for Europe). “They must also feel comfortable in third countries. The principles of reciprocity in terms of length of service, pay, pensions, medical care and so on should be respected.”
Since December 2008, Sweden has more liberal rules for labor immigration from 'third countries' – countries outside the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) – than any other country in OECD. The introduction of employer-driven labor immigration, motivated by the need to address labor shortages, resulted in large inflows of migrants also in low-skilled occupations in labor surplus sectors, for example the restaurant and cleaning sectors.
The underestimation of the required integration services by the state and the society of the host countries, but also by the migrants themselves. Switzerland's transformation into a country of immigration was not until after the accelerated industrialization in the second half of the 19th century. Switzerland was no longer a purely rural Alpine area but became a European vanguard in various industries at that time, first of textile, later also the mechanical and chemical industries. Since the middle of the 19th century especially German academics, self-employed and craftsmen, but also Italians, who found a job in science, industry, construction and infrastructure construction migrated to Switzerland.
In the United Kingdom migrant workers are denied National Health Service treatment unless they can afford to pay. Untreated illnesses can worsen and migrant workers can die from treatable illnesses that remain untreated.
In 1973, an oil boom in the Persian Gulf region (UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, which comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council), created an unprecedented demand for labor in the oil, construction and industrial sectors. Development demanded a labor force. This demand was met by foreign workers, primarily those from the Arab states, with a later shift to those from Asian countries. A rise in the standards of living for citizens of Middle Eastern countries also created a demand for domestic workers in the home.
Since the 1970s, foreign workers have become a large percentage of the population in most nations in the Persian Gulf region. Growing competition with nationals in the job sector, along with complaints regarding treatment of foreign workers, have led to rising tensions between the national and foreign populations in these nations.
Remittances are becoming a prominent source of external funding for countries that contribute foreign workers to the countries of the GCC. On average, the top recipients globally are India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. In 2001, $72.3 billion was returned as remittances to the countries of origin of foreign workers, equivalent to 1.3% of the world GDP. The source of income remains beneficial as remittances are often more stable that private capital flows. Despite fluctuations in the economy of GCC countries, the amount of dollars in remittances is usually stable.
The spending of remittances is seen in two ways. Principally, remittances are sent to the families of guest workers. Though often put towards consumption, remittances are also directed to investment. Investment is seen to lead to the strengthening of infrastructure and facilitating international travel.
With this jump in earnings, one benefit that has been seen is the nutritional improvement in households of migrant workers. Other benefits are the lessening of underemployment and unemployment.
In detailed studies of Pakistani migrants to the Middle East in the early 1980s, the average foreign worker was of age 25–40 years. 70 percent were married, while only 4 percent were accompanied by families. Two thirds hailed from rural areas, and 83 percent were production workers. At the time, 40 percent of Pakistan's foreign exchange earnings came from its migrant workers.
Domestic work is the single most important category of employment among women migrants to the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, as well as to Lebanon and Jordan. The increase of Arab women in the labour force, and changing conceptions of women's responsibilities, have resulted in a shift in household responsibilities to hired domestic workers. Domestic workers perform an array of work in the home: cleaning, cooking, child care, and elder care. Common traits of the work include an average 100-hour work week and virtually non-existent overtime pay. Remuneration differs greatly according to nationality, oftentimes depending on language skills and education level. This is seen with Filipina domestic workers receiving a higher remuneration than Sri Lankan and Ethiopian nationals.
Saudi Arabia is the largest source of remittance payments in the world. Remittance payments from Saudi Arabia, similar to other GCC countries, rose during the oil boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s, but declined in the mid-1980s. As oil prices fell, budget deficits mounted, and most governments of GCC countries put limits on hiring foreign workers. Weaknesses in the financial sector and in government administration impose substantial transaction costs on migrant workers who send them. Costs, although difficult to estimate, consist of salaries and the increased spending required to expand educational and health services, housing, roads, communications, and other infrastructure to accommodate the basic needs of the newcomers. The foreign labor force is a substantial drain of the GCC states' hard currency earnings, with remittances to migrants' home countries in the early 2000s amounting to $27 billion per year, including $16 billion from Saudi Arabia alone. It has been shown that the percentage of the GDP that foreign labor generates is roughly equal to what the state has to spend on them.
The main concerns of developed countries regarding immigration centers are: (1) the local job seekers' fear of competition from migrant workers, (2) the fiscal burden that may result on native taxpayers for providing health and social services to migrants, (3) fears of erosion of cultural identity and problems of assimilation of immigrants, and (4) national security.
In immigrant-producing countries, individuals with less than a high school education continue to be a fiscal burden into the next generation. Skilled workers, however, pay more in taxes than what they receive in social spending from the state. Emigration of highly skilled workers has been linked to skill shortages, reductions in output, and tax shortfalls in many developing countries. These burdens are even more apparent in countries where educated workers emigrated in large numbers after receiving a highly subsidized technical education.
As of 2007, 10 million workers from Southeast Asia, South Asia, or Africa live and work in the countries of the Persian Gulf region. Xenophobia in receiving nations is often rampant, as menial work is often allocated only to foreign workers. Expatriate labor is treated with prejudice in host countries despite government attempts to eradicate malpractice and exploitation of workers. Emigrants are offered substandard wages and living conditions and are compelled to work overtime without extra payment. With regards to injuries and death, workers or their dependents are not paid due compensation. Citizenship is rarely offered and labor can oftentimes be acquired below the legal minimum wage. Foreign workers often lack access to local labor markets. Oftentimes these workers are legally attached to a sponsor/employer until completion of their employment contract, after which a worker must either renew a permit or leave the country.
Racism is prevalent towards migrant workers. With an increasing number of unskilled workers from Asia and Africa, the market for foreign workers became increasingly racialized, and dangerous or "dirty" jobs became associated with Asian and African workers noted by the term "Abed", meaning dark skin.
Foreign workers migrate to the Middle East as contract workers by means of the kafala, or "sponsorship" system. Migrant work is typically for a period of two years. Recruitment agencies in sending countries are the main contributors of labor to GCC countries. Through these agencies, sponsors must pay a fee to the recruiter and pay for the worker's round-trip airfare, visas, permits, and wages. Recruiters charge high fees to prospective employees to obtain employment visas, averaging between $2,000 and $2,500 in such countries as Bangladesh and India. Contract disputes are also common. In Saudi Arabia, foreign workers must have employment contracts written in Arabic and have them signed by both the sponsor and themselves in order to be issued a work permit. With other GCC countries, such as Kuwait, contracts may be written or oral.
Dependence on the sponsor (kafeel) naturally creates room for violations of the rights of foreign workers. Debt causes workers to work for a certain period of time without a salary to cover these fees. This bondage encourages the practice of international labour migration as women in situations of poverty are able to find jobs overseas and pay off their debts through work. It is common for the employer or the sponsor to retain the employee's passport and other identity papers as a form of insurance for the amount an employer has paid for the worker's work permit and airfare. Kafeels sell visas to the foreign worker with the unwritten understanding that the foreigner can work for an employer other than the sponsor.
When a two-year work period is over, or with a job loss, workers must find another employer willing to sponsor them, or return to their nation of origin within a short time. Failing to do this entails imprisonment for violation of immigration laws. Protections are nearly non-existent for migrant workers.
The population in the current GCC states has grown more than eight times during 50 years. Foreign workers have become the primary, dominant labor force in most sectors of the economy and the government bureaucracy. With rising unemployment, GCC governments embarked on the formulation of labor market strategies to improve this situation, to create sufficient employment opportunities for nationals, and to limit the dependence on expatriate labor. Restrictions have been imposed: the sponsorship system, the rotational system of expatriate labor to limit the duration of foreigners' stay, curbs on naturalization and the rights of those who have been naturalized, etc. This has also led to efforts to improve the education and training of nationals. Localization remains low among the private sector, however. This is due to the traditionally low income the sector offers. Also included are long working hours, a competitive work environment, and a need to recognize an expatriate supervisor, often difficult to accept.
In 2005, low-paid Asian workers staged protests, some of them violent, in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar for not receiving salaries on time. In March 2006, hundreds of mostly south Asian construction workers stopped work and went on a rampage in Dubai, UAE, to protest their harsh working conditions, low or delayed pay, and general lack of rights. Sexual harassment of Filipina housemaids by local employers, especially in Saudi Arabia, has become a serious matter. In recent years, this has resulted in a ban on migration of females under 21. Such nations as Indonesia have noted the maltreatment of women in the GCC states, with the government calling for an end to the sending of housemaids altogether. In GCC countries, a chief concern with foreign domestic workers is childcare without the desired emphasis on Islamic and Arabic values.
Possible developments in the future include a slowdown in the growth of foreign labor. One contributor to this is a dramatic change in demographic trends. The growing birth rate of nationals in the GCC states will lead to a more competitive workforce in the future. This could also lead to a rise in the numbers of national women in the workforce.
United Arab Emirates
The treatment of migrant workers in the UAE has been likened to "modern-day slavery". Migrant workers are excluded from the UAE's collective labour rights, hence migrants are vulnerable to forced labour. Migrant workers in the UAE are not allowed to join trade unions. Moreover, migrant workers are banned from going on strike. Dozens of workers were deported in 2014 for going on strike. As migrant workers do not have the right to join a trade union or go on strike, they don't have the means to denounce the exploitation they suffer. Those who protest risk prison and deportation. The International Trade Union Confederation has called on the United Nations to investigate evidence that thousands of migrant workers in the UAE are treated as slave labour.
Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to the mistreatment of migrant workers who have been turned into debt-ridden de facto indentured servants following their arrival in the UAE. Confiscation of passports, although illegal, occurs on a large scale, primarily from unskilled or semi-skilled employees. Labourers often toil in intense heat with temperatures reaching 40–50 degrees Celsius in the cities in August. Although attempts have been made since 2009 to enforce a midday break rule, these are frequently flouted. Those labourers who do receive a midday break often have no suitable place to rest and tend to seek relief in bus or taxi stands and gardens. Initiatives taken have brought about a huge impact on the conditions of the laborers. According to Human Rights Watch, migrant workers in Dubai live in "inhumane" conditions. The Reuters reported on 22 July 2020 about the expatriates community in Dubai, which has been affected largely by the economic crisis caused by coronavirus pandemic in the United Arab Emirates. The migrant workers are said to have become a target of the financial shortages and piling debts, forcing many to go days without food. Therefore, more than 200,000 migrant workers from India, Philippines, Pakistan and Nepal have already left the emirate, as a result, according to Reuters.
On 4 August 2020, The Guardian revealed abhorrent condition of migrant workers held in Saudi Arabia’s detention centers, which were terribly overcrowded with insanitary conditions and lack of adequate healthcare. The report also revealed cases of physical abuse inside the immigration detention centers. In a time of increased dangers from COVID-19, the detainees suffered from high risk of infection in crowded institutions.
Women migrant workers
According to the International Labour Organization, 48 per cent of all international migrants are women and they are increasingly migrating for work purposes. In Europe alone there are 3 million women migrant workers. The 1970s and 1980s have seen an increase in women migrant labourers in France and Belgium. In China, as of 2015 a third of their migrant workers were women who had moved from rural towns to bigger cities in search of employment. Female migrants work in domestic occupations which are considered part of the informal sector and lack a degree of government regulation and protection. Minimum wages and work hour requirements are ignored and piece-rates are sometimes also implemented. Women's wages are kept lower than men's because they are not regarded as the primary source of income in the family.
Women migrate in search of work for a number of reasons and the most common reasons are economic: the husband's wage is no longer enough to support the family. In some places, like China, for instance, rapid economic growth has led to an imbalance in the modernization of rural and urban environments, leading women to migrate from rural areas into the city to be a part of the push for modernization. Other reasons include familial pressure, on a daughter, for instance, who is seen as a reliable source of income for the family only through remittances. Young girls and women are singled out in families to be migrant workers because they don't have a viable alternative role to fulfil in the local village. If they go to work in the urban centres as domestic workers they can send home money to help provide for their younger siblings. Many of these women come from developing countries, and are low skilled. Additionally women who are widowed or divorced and have limited economic opportunities in their native country may be forced to leave out of economic necessity. Migration can also substitute for divorce in societies that don't allow or do not condone divorce.
Impact on roles within the family
In terms of migrant labour, many women move from a more oppressive home country to a less oppressive environment where they have actual access to waged work. As such, leaving the home and obtaining increased economic independence and freedom challenges traditional gender roles. This can be seen to strengthen women's position in the family by improving their relative bargaining position. They have more leverage in controlling the household because they have control over a degree of economic assets. However, this can lead to hostility between wives and husbands who feel inadequate or ashamed at their inability to fulfil their traditional role as breadwinner. The hostility and resentment from the husband can also be a source of domestic violence. Studies have also been done which point to changes in family structures as a result of migrant labour. These changes include increased divorce rates and decrease in household stability. Additionally, female migrant labour has been indicated as a source for more egalitarian relationships within the family, decline of extended family patterns, and more nuclear families. There is also a risk for infidelity abroad, which also erodes the family structure.
Researchers identified three groups of women to represent the dimensions of gender roles in Singapore. The first group is made up of expatriate wives who are often reduced to dependent spouse status by immigration laws. The second group are housewives who left work in order to take care of the children at home. Although they are from the Singaporean middle class, they are stuck at almost the same level and share status with the third group, foreign domestic workers. Because of global economic restructuring and global city formation, the mobility of female labours is increasing. However, they are controlled through strict enforcement and they are statistically invisible in migration data. The female foreign domestic workers are always gender-stereotyped as maids and generalized as low wages workers in society.
Women Migrant Workers: The Informal Sector
The spread of global neoliberalism has contributed to physically displaced people, which translates to displaced workers, worldwide. Due to the national and transnational economic push and pull of migration, growing numbers of women migrant workers find themselves employed in the underground and informal sector. To be clear, these women tended not to be previously employed in the formal sector, if at all. Frequently, the cheap and flexible labor is sought in more developed areas. Also, these women migrant workers are often considered an asset to employers who think of these individuals as docile, compliant, and disposable.
Work found in the informal economy is defined as being outside the legal regulation of the state. This underground sector includes nontraditional types of employment: intimate care, street vending, community gardening, food selling, sewing and tailoring, laundry service, water selling, car cleaning, home cleaning, and various kinds of artisan production. These positions are frequently precarious and lack the social contracts often found between employee and employer in the formal sector. This unofficial economy is often found in locations that are between home and work and combine personal and private spaces. Because migrant women workers often occupy the lowest economic positions, this leaves them especially vulnerable to exploitation and dangerous working conditions. Incidentally, Guy Standing has termed this kind of vulnerable worker, the Precariat.
Women are frequently at the bottom of the economic hierarchy due to various factors, mainly a lack of opportunity to support themselves and their families and in addition, a lack of adequate education. Despite the United Nations' Girls Education Initiative, there remains high rates of illiteracy among women in the Global South. Commonly, the informal sector is the only place where geographically displaced workers are able to insert themselves into the economy. Thus, women migrant workers perform a high percentage of work found in this sector.
Due in part to complex migration issues which include the restructuring of gendered and familiar relations, women migrant workers frequently care for children without a local family network. The informal sector allows for public and private space to be merged and accommodate their care-taking responsibilities. New immigrants are often concerned with leaving children unattended and the informal sector allows for care-taking alongside of economic activities.
It is important to note, through case studies, it has been determined that men and women migrate for similar reasons. Mainly, they leave places in search of better opportunities, most often financial. In addition to the financial push, women also migrate to escape oppressive environments and/or abusive spouses.
Children of female migrant workers
Migrant labour of women also raises special concerns about children. Female migrant workers may not have enough possibilities to care for their own children whilst being abroad. Their children may learn to regard their relatives at home as their parents and may rarely see their mothers. Frequently, children of migrant workers become migrant workers themselves. There is concern that this may have negative psychological effects on the children who are left behind. Although this has not been proven to be entirely true or false, studies have been done which show that many children of migrant workers manage reasonably well. One theory states that remittances to some degree make up for the lack of care by providing more resources for food and clothing. Additionally, some migrant mothers take great care in attempting to maintain familial relationships while abroad.
See Migrant education.
Children of migrant workers struggle to achieve the same level of educational success as their peers. Relocation, whether it is a singular or regular occurrence, causes discontinuity in education, which causes migrant students to progress slowly through school and drop out at high rates. Additionally, relocation has negative social consequences on students: isolation from peers due to cultural differences and language barriers. Migrant children are also at a disadvantage because the majority live in extreme poverty and must work with their parents to support their families. These barriers to equal educational attainment for children of migrant workers are present in countries all over the world. Although the inequality in education remains pronounced, government policies, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and social movements are working to reverse its effects.
Migrant labour force in economies
The migrant workforce has historically played a vital role nationally and across local communities in recent times. Economic globalization has created more migrant workers than ever before. While developed countries have increased their demand for labour, especially unskilled labour, workers from developing countries are used. As a result, millions of workers and their families travel to other countries to find work. This influx of migrant workers contributes to growth of slums and urban poverty, according to Mike Davis. Some of these workers, usually from rural areas, cannot afford housing in cities and thus live in slums. Some of these unskilled workers living in slums suffer from unemployment and make a living in the informal sector. According to International Labor Organization, as of 2013 there were approximately 175 million migrants around the world.
Exploitation and enslavement of migrant workers
Recruitment of international workers through employment agencies is a common phenomenon in developed countries, such as the United States or the UAE. Especially members of underprivileged communities are attracted by the opportunities of living and working in the US. Some of these agencies make fraudulent promises. But even worse than false promises, some migrants are abused and mistreated by the agencies and their middlemen. Some migrant workers may have their passports and mobile phones confiscated, are imprisoned in the employer's home or at least strictly overseen and disconnected from society, friends and family; some may not receive their full wage and have to work unrestrained long hours without breaks or days off. Migrant workers may also be denied adequate food and living conditions, as well as medical treatment.
In a study done by the Human Rights Watch of 99 domestic workers in the United Arab Emirates, 22 alleged that their sponsors had physically abused them. Workers refuse to report their abuse due to fear of deportation and not being able to find a better job. It is common in some cases for a woman to fall victim to sexual violence and harassment, because the employers and their stories will always be trusted more.
Some migrant workers flee from their abusive employers and seek help at the embassy or consulate of their home country. This however, is difficult to achieve in remote locations.
Indian migrant workers in the USA
A United States company, Signal International, led by an immigration lawyer, Malvern C. Burnett, and an Indian labor recruiter, Sachin Dewan, "lured hundreds of Indian workers to a Mississippi shipyard with false promises of permanent US residency." This was under the H-2B visa guest worker program, to work as welders, pipefitters, and in other positions to repair damaged oil rigs and related facilities. Each worker paid the labor recruiters between $10,000 and $20,000 or more in recruitment fees and other costs after being promised good jobs, green cards, and permanent U.S. residency. Some went deep into debt. "On arrival at Signal shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi, beginning in 2006, they discovered that they wouldn't receive the green cards or permanent residency, and that in fact, each would have to pay $1,050 a month to live in isolated, guarded labor camps where as many as 24 men shared a space the size of a double-wide trailer."
Signal International "had to compensate workers $14.4 million in a jury ruling to five Indian guest workers, one of the largest settlements of its kind in U.S. history. The ruling was based on the finding that the company and its agents engaged in labor trafficking, fraud, racketeering and discrimination, News India Times reported at that time. The jury also found that one of the plaintiffs was a victim of false imprisonment and retaliation."
Philippines migrant workers in the USA
There have been many cases of corruption among brokers who often act as if they have companies, often encouraging migrants to come to the United States. This was the case with broker, Kizzy Kalu was, "a naturalized United States citizen from Nigeria". "He secured government approval to bring in Filipino nurses under a government visa program, claiming they would be paid up to $72,000 as instructors at an Adam University in Colorado, according to a 2012 criminal indictment of the labor broker." Adams State University did exist in Colorado, however Adam University was nonexistent just as much as the jobs that were supposed to be there for migrants. "Kalu promised the nurses, most from the Philippines, jobs as nurse instructors/supervisors." "He arranged with the Departments of Labor and Homeland Security to provide H-1B visas for the workers, saying that Adam University faced a labor shortage and needed foreign labor to serve as nursing instructors/supervisors," as a way to lure workers in.
Kizzy Kalu and "other foreign nationals" received compensation for these visas after they secured and received them for the soon to be workers. "Kalu $6,500 for assistance in obtaining them. Upon arrival in Denver, Colorado, the nurses were told that there was no such place as Adam University. Instead, they were sent to "work in nursing homes. The facilities paid Kalu's company, Foreign Health Care Professionals Group, $35 per hour for one of the nurses. Kalu then pocketed almost half the wage and paid the nurse $20 an hour." He continued to exploit these workers by allowing them to work while he was the one gaining their profit. He had to report to the government about these women and that they were in fact working in the country so that he could continue to receive funds, while they too continued working. And that is what he did. "Documents he submitted to the government didn't indicate that he and his partner, Philip Langerman, were taking a large portion of the visa-holders' wages."
Eventually, this scheme that Kalu and his partner Phillip Langerman created began to become known to the public. Instead of the facilities paying the company they had created together from the work the women were doing, "the nurses were paid directly by the facilities but were required to pay Kalu $1,200 a month or Kalu would send a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and they would lose their visas, prosecutors said." Soon, the nurses realized this kind of unfair treatment and mode of oppression and stopped paying him. Therefore, their visas got revoked because he reported this matter to officials.
Kizzy Kalu was guilty of "trafficking in forced labor for luring foreign nurses to the United States with promises of high-paying jobs but then demanding they kick back a portion of their wages or face deportation." He was sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison and ordered to pay $3.8 million in restitution. He was convicted of 89 counts of mail fraud, visa fraud, human trafficking and money laundering. Kalu's partner, Philip Langerman, 78, of McDonough, Ga., was sentenced to three years of probation for his role in the criminal scheme. He, too, must pay restitution of $3.8 million." U.S. District Chief Judge Marcia Krueger said in this case unlike many others, "Kalu did not sexually assault, isolate or strike his victims. She describe these cases as "fraud and economic coercion."
Other cases in the USA
There are other fraudulent cases by United States companies that recruit and employ Filipino workers. On 19 March 2013, in an article titled, "Filipino Workers Urge Overhaul of U.S. Guest Worker Policies", information is provided about the corruption in labor. "The shipyard, Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS) in L.A., put the Filipinos to work on an oil production platform owned by Black Elk Energy, a U.S. company that, according to federal regulators, had racked up 315 documented "incidents of safety non-compliance" offshore since 2010.The problems at Black Elk Energy were amplified following an explosion in November on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico that claimed the lives of three Filipino workers, while three others were seriously injured." This problem became known because the work at this company against workers were very dangerous even before they were hired which is why work here was put to a stop. However this did not stop GIS. They needed to make their money and unfortunately the migrant workers were the ones who suffered.
"The main [hazardous condition] is the sleep deprivation that they experience – just long hours of work that the [U.S.] workers don't face. They're forced to work sometimes for two weeks straight, 70 hours a week." They hired and recruited many skillful men from the Philippines who were "welders, pipefitters and scaffolders were trafficked under "fraudulent" contracts that promised high pay and safe working conditions. But many were placed for work on dangerous oil rig platforms."
Mexican migrant workers in the USA
Since the early 1980s, increasing numbers of Mexican women have migrated to the United States in search of jobs. These women usually leave their families, including young children, behind in order to help maintain the family by sending remittances. After arriving in the U.S., many are put to work and live in places that are neither clean nor safe. Companies and traffickers promise legitimate jobs in America because they make money doing so.
An article "Girl Next Door", by Peter Landsman, examines this system, which is said to be brutal and inhumane oppression of migrant workers. "On a tip, the Plainfield police raided the house in February 2002, expecting to find illegal aliens working an underground brothel. What the police found were four girls between the ages of 14 and 17. They were all Mexican nationals without documentation. But they weren't prostitutes; they were sex slaves. The distinction is important: these girls weren't working for profit or a paycheck. They were captives to the traffickers and keepers who controlled their every move." These girls, a large percentage are underaged, are forcefully lured from their homeland in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. This section mainly focused on the exploitation of men and women however, it was very disturbing to even learn that children were also trafficked and stolen from their homelands.
"They had been promised jobs as models and baby sitters in the glamorous United States, and they probably had no idea why they were sitting in a van in a backwater like Tijuana in the early evening."
"The police found a squalid, land-based equivalent of a 19th-century slave ship." There were doorless bathrooms, decaying sinks and mattresses, morning after pills (medications that can induce abortion) and girls were pale, exhausted and malnourished. However, this is just an example of one of the apartments and houses that were affected by this type of abuses. Many other houses or neighborhoods in the U.S that seem to be upscale and upper class are infested with these types of illegal actions.
Migrant workers in Europe
Migrant workers' rights
The "People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)" have composed a list of fourteen rights for migrant workers.
Philippines migrant workers' rights
"The Philippine government has long lauded the fact that, every day, some 4,500 Filipinos are sent abroad to work. The remittances they send back keeps the Philippine economy afloat.The government doesn't seem to provide any protection when these overseas Filipino workers run into distress. This labour export policy is still one of their pillars of development – pushing people to other countries instead of addressing poverty or lack of jobs at home." Instead of sending workers out just because the process helps the economy at their countries of origin, the country needs to examine ways in which they can work with the people to obtain jobs or at least create more jobs. When their skilled workers come to the United States and are often exploited, sexually, physically and mentally it not only affects the worker, but also the country upon their return-or if they are able to return at all due to the conditions they face. These are risky jobs and journeys taken by migrants to ensure themselves better lives and also their families. The governments need to do more. "The exploitative immigration system of the U.S. works hand-in-hand with the corrupt labour export policy of the Philippines to maintain a steadily increasing flow of cheap, temporary migrant labour."
Effects on migrant workers' health
Monica Rosales (a professor from Colorado State University) describes work-related injuries in her journal article titled "Life in the field: Migrant farm workers’ perceptions of work related injuries". Rosales discusses bone problems, respiratory problems and allergic reactions all in relation to the migrant farm work that immigrants do to make money. Rosales discussed how these working conditions affect the lives of immigrants. Rosales states that, "The average life expectancy of migrant and seasonal farm workers is 49 years of age, in comparison to the U.S. average of 75 years of age". On top of unfair[clarification needed] wages, migrant workers often find themselves toiling in dangerous working conditions. The life expectancy compared to average is 26 years less for a migrant worker in the U.S.
A survey by Lien Centre for Social Innovation in Singapore also found that over 60 per cent of lower-skilled South Asian migrant workers who are waiting for salary or injury compensation from employers were predicted to have serious mental illness.
On May 23, 2020, global experts and representatives of NGO's on human rights protection attended the virtual conference to urge policymakers to grant favorable measures for vulnerable groups who have had a more difficult time fighting COVID-19, including the elderly, disabled, and migrant workers.
National vs. transnational migrations
Like transnational migration, national (internal) migration plays an important role in poverty reduction and economic development. For some countries, internal migrants outnumber those who migrate internationally. For example, 120 million people were estimated to migrate internally in China compared to 458,000 people who migrated internationally for work. Situations of surplus labour in rural areas because of scarcity of arable land is a common "push factor" in the move of individuals to urban-based industries and service jobs. Environmental factors including drought, waterlogging, and river-bank erosion also contribute to internal migration.
There are four spatial patterns of internal migration:
- Rural-rural migration: in many poor countries like Senegal, rural-rural migration occurs when labourers from poorer regions travel to agriculturally-rich and irrigated areas which have more work.
- Rural-urban migration: seen in the urbanizing economies of Asia, migration of poor agricultural workers move to larger cities and manufacturing centers.
- Urban-rural migration: migration that occurs when individuals retire back to their villages. Often, migrants who return bring back skill sets that benefit their home areas tremendously.
- Urban-urban migration: as the predominant form of internal migration, this movement takes place from the centre of towns to the outer areas of the town.
Circular migration, the temporary and repetitive movement of a migrant worker between home and host areas, can occur both internally and transnationally.
Migrant workers as theorists
In 2015, scholar Gabriela Raquel Ríos published "Cultivating Land-Based Literacies and Rhetorics," in which she theorizes the phrase "land-based literacies and rhetorics." Her definition is as follows:
These literacies (acts of interpretation and communication) and rhetorics (organizational and community-building practices) ultimately build a theory that 1) recognizes the ways in which land can produce relations and 2) recognizes the value of embodied ways of knowing (60).
Ríos argues that migrant workers' rhetorical practices incorporate their relationship to land and labor in addition to language.
- Body Shops
- Bracero program (historical American guest-worker program)
- Dirty, dangerous and demeaning
- Environmental racism
- Feminization of migration
- Foreign worker
- Gastarbeiter (historical German guest-worker program)
- Global mobility
- Guest worker program (a proposed foreign-worker program in the U.S.)
- Harvest of Shame, 1960 television documentary presented by Edward R. Murrow
- Human Security
- Internal migration
- Labor shortage
- Lavoie v. Canada (a Canadian Supreme Court case ruling on foreign worker status)
- Mercenary (military guest worker)
- Mexican Americans
- Migrant domestic workers
- Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon
- Migrant education
- Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina
- Migrant sex work
- Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975
- Migrant workers in the Gulf region
- Queer Migration
- Schengen Agreement (an EU agreement to open borders)
- Third Country National
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