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Labor Migration to Jordan from the Philippines and Sri Lanka Faces Significant Protection Gaps Despite Comprehensive Regulatory Systems, New MPI Report Concludes

Press Release
Thursday, July 28, 2011

Labor Migration to Jordan from the Philippines and Sri Lanka Faces Significant Protection Gaps Despite Comprehensive Regulatory Systems, New MPI Report Concludes

WASHINGTON — Labor migration from the Philippines and Sri Lanka has played an increasing role in Jordan in recent years, filling a growing share of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs typically held by migrant workers from the Arab region.

As with labor migration elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond, the challenges surrounding the recruitment of foreign workers are complex and the solutions are far from simple.

A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report released today in Amman and Washington, Running in Circles: Progress and Challenges in Regulating Recruitment of Filipino and Sri Lankan Labor Migrants to Jordan, analyzes the regulatory systems that Jordan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka have established to manage the operations of the private recruitment agencies that play an important role in facilitating and driving labor migration.

The findings of the report, by MPI Policy Analyst Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias, suggest that each country has developed a comprehensive set of laws and guidelines to control recruiter operations by operating licensing systems, imposing entry barriers to qualified workers and employers, creating rules and regulations that govern the recruitment process and set minimum employment standards and maintaining a system of monitoring and adjudication to ensure compliance with rules and regulations.

Yet despite this comprehensive set of rules and regulations, Sri Lankan and Filipino workers migrating to Jordan remain vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at the hands of recruitment agents.

Recruitment agencies in all three countries charge migrants excessive placement fees and violate contractual terms and conditions. And migrant workers face a number of problems at the hands of unscrupulous recruiters and employers, including prohibitive deployment costs, underpayment or nonpayment of wages, confiscation of passports once they arrive in Jordan, poor working and living conditions and physical abuse and sexual harassment.

“The vulnerability of Sri Lankan and Filipino migrants in Jordan, many of whom find themselves stripped of their passports by recruiters and subjected to poor working and living conditions for little or no pay, highlights the fact that there remain significant gaps in the system notwithstanding the existence of comprehensive regulations,” said Ms. Agunias. “Improving the situation for these migrant workers requires first identifying exactly where these gaps are and then finding and implementing enforceable solutions that are as effective on the ground as they appear on paper.”

Ms. Agunias, who in 2010 published a report that examined labor migration from the Philippines to the United Arab Emirates and has extensively researched the Philippine labor migration system, conducted focus groups with more than 100 migrant workers in Amman, Manila and Colombo, as well as in-depth interviews with government officials from all three governments and other stakeholders.

Her findings, detailed carefully in Running in Circles, point to six problem areas:

  • An overcrowded marketplace for licensed agents
  • Proliferation of unlicensed subagents and brokers
  • Exploitation and collusion among agents and between agents and employers
  • Insufficient capacity to weed out unqualified employers
  • A broken legal system for migrants
  • The ban that the Philippines imposed in 2008 on sending domestic workers to Jordan amid high rates of abuse and exploitation of those workers, which has resulted in an illegal recruitment pipeline. Responding to the recruitment ban imposed by the Philippines and Indonesia on the deployment of domestic workers to Jordan, the Jordanian government in March announced it would accept legal domestic workers from Vietnam.

The report recommends a range of improvements, including the dissemination of more information to migrants and employers, renewed government focus on effective implementation of laws and regulations and investment in needed resources.

Running in Circles , which was released today during an event at the University of Jordan co-sponsored by MPI and the International Organization for Migration, is available here.

The 2010 report on labor migration from the Philippines to the United Arab Emirates, Migration’s Middlemen: Regulating Recruitment Agencies in the Philippines-United Arab Emirates Corridor, is available here.

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The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.