Migration's Middlemen: Regulating Recruitment Agencies in the Philippines-United Arab Emirates Corridor
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the world's third-largest destination for Filipino migrants, with private recruitment agencies in both countries managing the flow of the 200,000 Filipino workers who head there annually. While many recruitment agencies provide information, logistical support, and other critical services, others abuse their clients by charging exorbitant fees or violating basic human rights.
This report, based on extensive interviews with government officials in the UAE and the Philippines as well as focus groups with migrant workers, examines recruiters’ practices as well as their regulation by the Philippine and UAE governments, offering recommendations to strengthen oversight and worker protections. Although the Philippine and UAE governments regulate recruitment agencies’ operations, a policy mismatch between the two systems—exacerbated by enforcement difficulties—has led to a three-tier labor migration system. At the surface is a documented and organized labor migration flow based on written contracts following strict regulatory guidelines. Next is a labor movement based on informal agreements typically characterized by a lower wage, a different job, and reduced or foregone benefits. The bottom tier includes those who bypass the recruitment system and migrate with a visitor visa.
Both countries are considering adopting more stringent regulations; however unless the UAE and the Philippines first commit to creating effective institutions to jointly harmonize, enforce, and monitor the impact of regulations, they could open the door to unintended effects, such as increasing the appeal of illegal channels.
II. The Recruitment Marketplace: Value versus Cost
A. The Recruitment Marketplace: Value
B. The Recruitment Marketplace: Costs
III. Addressing Policy Mismatch
A. Requirements for Workers
B. Requirements for UAE Employers
C. Allowable Fees
D. Standardized Contracts
E. Different Rules for Different Priorities?
IV. Ensuring Compliance within and across Borders
A. Monitoring and Inspecting Agency Operations
B. Monitoring and Protecting Workers
C. Hearing and Adjudicating Complaints
D. Dealing with Illegal Recruitment
V. Streamlining a Three-Tiered Labor Migration System via Control
A. Keeping Low-Skilled Migration Low
B. Keeping Visitors in Check
C. Keeping Unqualified Recruiters out of the Process
VI. Changing Rules and Changing Ways: Finding Viable Options for Reform
A. Changing Rules
B. Changing Rules While Also Changing Ways