Costs of Private Recruitment Agencies for Migrant Labor Sometimes Outweigh Benefits, MPI Study of Philippines-UAE Corridor Finds
WASHINGTON —Private recruitment agencies manage much of the flow of the 200,000 Filipino workers who head annually to the United Arab Emirates, which is the third-largest destination for Filipino migrants after the United States and Saudi Arabia.
While the recruitment agencies, which are located in the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates, provide critical services such as logistical support and information about visa policies and living and working conditions, some abuse their clients by charging exorbitant fees or violating basic human rights.
In a new report, Migration’s Middlemen: Regulating Recruitment Agencies in the Philippines-United Arab Emirates Corridor, the Migration Policy Institute examines the recruiters’ practices as well as their regulation by the Philippine and UAE governments, finding room for significant improvement.
“While the two governments have regulated recruitment agencies’ operations for nearly three decades, there is a policy mismatch between the two regulatory systems that, coupled with difficulties in enforcing regulations, has led to inadequate protections for migrant workers as well as a continuing flow of unauthorized workers,” said the report’s author, MPI Policy Analyst Dovelyn Rannveig Agunias.
The result is a three-tier labor migration system for the nearly 600,000 Filipinos working in the United Arab Emirates (and comprising close to 12 percent of the UAE population):
- A documented and organized labor migration based on written contracts following strict regulatory guidelines of both countries.
- A labor flow based on shifting arrangements that typically result in a lower wage, a different job, and reduced benefits compared to those originally promised to migrant workers by recruiters.
- An unregulated, unauthorized flow of workers who bypass the recruitment system altogether and migrate to the United Arab Emirates with a visitor visa.
The report was informed by 44 in-depth interviews with government, recruitment agency, employer, and NGO officials in the United Arab Emirates and the Philippines, as well as focus group discussions with 86 Filipino migrant workers in Dubai and Manila.
While both countries are considering more stringent regulations for recruitment agencies, the report cautions that both governments must first commit to fully funding and creating capable and effective institutions to jointly harmonize, enforce, and closely monitor the impact of current and new regulations. “Otherwise, regulatory changes could open the door to unintended effects, including increasing abuse and corruption and making illegal channels more attractive for prospective migrants,” Agunias said.
Kathleen Newland, who directs MPI’s Migrants, Migration, and Development Program, said: “The findings of this study are relevant beyond the Philippines-UAE corridor. They serve as a vital point of reference for other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere as they attempt to balance the need to create a flexible and dynamic labor migration system with the obligation to protect workers’ welfare in an increasingly transnational and interconnected global economy.”
The report also makes the case for new initiatives to empower migrants – who fill jobs as domestic workers, engineers, office assistants, and nurses, among other occupations – including a core set of rights and meaningful mechanisms for representation.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC 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.