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New Policy Brief Explores Pandemic’s Lingering Impacts on Recruitment Costs Borne by Migrant Workers
 
Press Release
Tuesday, November 22, 2022

New Policy Brief Explores Pandemic’s Lingering Impacts on Recruitment Costs Borne by Migrant Workers

WASHINGTON — National governments, multilateral organizations, private-sector interests and others have devoted significant attention in recent years to promoting the fair and ethical recruitment of migrant workers. Their efforts include finding ways to reduce or eliminate migrant-borne recruitment costs, which can result in increased vulnerability and reduced income for workers who finance these expenses through high-interest loans or debt bondage. The COVID-19 pandemic represented a major setback for this cause, however, by driving up some recruitment costs and other expenses for workers. Even as the public-health crisis recedes, these costs may long continue to shape workers’ future migration decisions and the conditions they accept.

A new policy brief from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) explores how the pandemic has affected costs for migrant workers at every stage of their journey and reflects on what these developments mean for future efforts to promote fair and ethical recruitment.

The brief, Reassessing Recruitment Costs in a Changing World of Labor Migration, contends that the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic suggest the need to revisit how these costs are defined and regulated. Focusing only on the costs associated with the recruitment and relocation process misses the full range of debts that individuals may incur when seeking to take up work abroad, particularly in turbulent times. As job offers vanished early in the pandemic, some migrant workers found themselves on the hook for upfront expenses yet with no means to pay down this debt. Those already working abroad had to contend with job losses, cuts to their hours or pay, or wage theft. And yet others had to pay for masks and other protective equipment, COVID-19 testing or quarantine during their period of employment or in preparation to return home.

“Policymakers and practitioners should consider taking a more holistic approach to reducing costs for workers, which could link up efforts to regulate recruitment costs with efforts to enforce labor standards and prevent wage theft in destination countries, as well as initiatives to help migrant workers access emergency funding,” MPI Policy Analyst Kate Hooper writes.

The pandemic exposed the lack of clarity over who is responsible for shouldering unexpected recruitment costs, but also illustrated the urgent need to tackle broader issues of working conditions and access to services for migrant workers. For example, continuing restrictions on access to health care and unemployment insurance systems suggest that policymakers should urgently explore options to expand migrants’ access to contingency funds for return travel, emergency expenses or even up-front recruitment costs.

The brief is the first publication resulting from a multi-year research partnership between MPI and the SDC’s Thematic Section Migration and Forced Displacement to support the development of global solutions for migration-related challenges. An upcoming publication will review recent policy interventions and future priorities to promote fair and ethical recruitment.

Read the brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/reassessing-recruitment-costs.