Tuesday, November 22, 2022
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.