October 2014, Volume 21, Number 4
South Asia, Middle East
Bangladesh. Some 409,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers went abroad in 2013, half the number who were deployed in 2008. In September 2014, Bangladesh resumed sending workers to Iraq after a summer 2014 ban.
One reason fewer migrants are going abroad is that private recruiters are no longer allowed to send Bangladeshis to Malaysia, a major destination. Instead, Malaysia and Bangladesh signed an MOU creating a government-to-government program in November 2012 that anticipated sending 100,000 Bangladeshis a year to Malaysia. However, during the agreement's first two years, only 5,000 Bangladeshis were sent to Malaysia at a cost of 40,000 taka each.
Over 1.4 million Bangladeshis registered to go to Malaysia, and 11,500 were selected by lottery to be sent. With fewer than half deployed, there was much frustration in Bangladesh among migrants who expected to earn high wages in Malaysia.
Interviews with over 5,000 Bangladeshi migrants found that migration reduces poverty. Average annual incomes in households with migrants were 143,000 taka ($1,850), compared to $1,165 for households without migrants. Over 90 percent of households that sent migrants abroad for a decade or more had incomes above the poverty line, compared to 40 percent of households without migrants.
The Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit (RMMRU) study released in August 2014 found other benefits from migration, including more spending on education and health care and more use of improved seeds and fertilizers. RMMRU found that 34 percent of migrant households had savings accounts, compared to 19 percent of non-migrant households.
Only 15 percent of Bangladeshis have access to formal banking services, but 70 percent have mobile phones. Bkash is a service that allows money transfers using mobile phones at a cost of one percent of the amount transferred, which is often less than $10. The Gates Foundation says that 2.5 billion people around the world have access to mobile phones but not formal banking services.
Bangladesh's ready-made garment sector employs about four million workers, 80 percent women, to sew garments that are exported. Many work long hours and live near sewing factories, allowing landlords to raise rents for housing near factories.
India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's US visit in September 2014 drew attention to the three million Indian-Americans, who have the highest median income among immigrant groups in the US, a median $88,000 in 2012, when the US median was $50,000. One reason is that 70 percent of Indian-Americans have college degrees or more, compared to 53 percent of Korean-Americans and 51 percent of Chinese-Americans.
Modi was elected in a landslide in May 2014, and many hope that he will make the Indian government and economy more efficient and less bureaucratic. However, the US blocked Modi's entry to the US in 2005 over allegations that he did not do enough to prevent deadly riots against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister.
Nepal. The New York Times on August 15, 2014 highlighted the growing number of Nepalese migrants who die abroad. A decade-long Maoist insurgency ended in 2006, but political leaders have since been unable to agree on a constitution, and the economy remains in shambles. As a result, 1,500 Nepalese a day left for jobs in FY14, and more went abroad via the open Indian-Nepal border.
The Foreign Employment Promotion Board says that 3.4 million Nepalese have foreign work permits and that three million are employed abroad.
Nepal has 27 million people and receives almost $5 billion a year in remittances, making remittances a quarter of GDP. Of large countries, it is the most dependent on remittances. There are many effects of emigration and remittances, from brick homes in rural villages to private schools in cities. Katmandu's population has increased to over 1.7 million with the urbanization that often results after migrants return from abroad.
The Dhanusha District, an agricultural region along the Indian border, has the highest rate of emigration and some of the most visible effects of remittances, including private schools where absentee parents and relatives pay tuition.
There are also negatives. Nepalese migrant workers have one of the highest death rates abroad, and the influx of remittances has strengthened Nepal's currency, which has increased imports and hurt exports.
Most Nepalese work in the Gulf oil-exporting states, but Korea is the desired destination because of $1,000 a month wages, three or four times higher than in the Middle East. Korea gives 15 Asian countries an annual quota of migrant worker slots, and Nepal's quota was 5,234 in 2013 and 5,700 in 2014.
Over 55,000 Nepalese signed up for the Korean language test in summer 2014. In order to be placed on recruitment lists from which Korean employers select migrants, workers must pass the Korean language test.
There are about 450,000 legal Nepalese migrants in Malaysia and another 40,000 who are unauthorized. In August 2014, Malaysia and Nepal discussed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to improve protections for Nepalese migrant workers in Malaysia.
In August 2014, the Nepal government announced that it was creating a Labor Bank to make loans to migrants to cover their migration costs. Most of the capital for the new bank will come from the 1,000 rupees ($10) that all workers must contribute to the Migrant Workers' Welfare Fund (MWWF) before departing. The government says that Nepalese pay an average 200,000 rupees or $2,050 to go abroad.
Nepal's Foreign Employment Promotion Board said in September 2014 that it wants to send more workers to Europe. Nepalese today are concentrated in GCC countries and Malaysia, and the FEPB said it wants to send more Nepalese migrants to Europe to fill low-skilled jobs.
Sri Lanka. Remittances to Sri Lanka have been rising, from $4.2 billion in to 2010 to $5.2 billion in 2011 and $6 billion in 2012. In 2013, remittances were $6.4 billion, and they are projected to approach $7 billion in 2014. About 55 percent of remittances to Sri Lanka are from GCC countries, where many Sri Lankan women are domestic workers.
GCC. So-called "first-generation" labor-nationalization policies aimed to restrict certain jobs to natives. They had mixed results, since Gulf nationals proved reluctant to work in occupations where, after decades of reliance on migrant workers, wages were low and expectations high.
Second-generation labor nationalization policies rely on carrots and sticks, including subsidies or other benefits for employers who hire native workers and taxes on employers who continue to hire foreigners. But migrants are cheaper and better workers than natives, and closing the cost and performance gap to the satisfaction of employers between natives who want high salaries and little work and foreigners accustomed to lower salaries and hard work has proven to be difficult.
Qatar. Qatar, the smallest of the GCC countries, is preparing to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The government has been criticized for failing to protect the migrant workers building stadiums and infrastructure, with unions demanding that FIFA withdraw its December 2010 decision to hold the contest in Qatar.
The government in July 2014 announced reforms that include a ban on outdoor work between 11:30am and 3pm from mid-June through August, electronic payment of wages with seven days of their due date, six square meters of space per worker in dorms, and more workplace inspectors to detect violations.
Qatar plans to change its sponsorship system before the end of 2014, ending the requirement that foreigners receive permission from sponsors to leave the country and allowing foreign workers to change employers while in Qatar.
Qatar gained independence in 1971. A 1970 census reported 45,000 Qataris and 66,000 foreigners.
Qatar's total population rose from less than 400,000 in 1986 to two million in 2013. The share of Qatar citizens is 14 percent of residents, about 275,000, and Qataris are six percent of workers.
Among foreigners, there are five men for every woman, reflecting the large number of male construction workers who live in labor camps (920,000 in 2013). Most foreigners in Qatar (60 percent) have not graduated from secondary school and three-fourths of those living in labor camps have a primary school education or less.
The major countries of origin of foreigners in Qatar are India, 31 percent in 2013; Nepal, 24 percent; Philippines, 11 percent; and Bangladesh, nine percent.
The Nepalese embassy in Qatar banned 55 Nepalese recruitment companies from sending migrants to Qatar after finding that they overcharged workers. There are an estimated 450,000 Nepalese working in Qatar.
Israel. About 10,000 Thai migrants are employed in Israeli agriculture, often in fields near Gaza. Some complained that they were required to work in open fields even as Hamas fired rockets into Israel in summer 2014.
Most of the farm workers on Israel's 270 kibbutzim are foreign guest workers, mostly Thais who earn an average of $1,500 a month while they stay in Israel up to five years. Farm workers in Israel include applicants for asylum from Sudan and Eritrea, and they report that working conditions on the kibbutz are better than on private farms. Most migrants live on the kibbutz, cook and eat together, and do not socialize with kibbutz residents.
Until high inflation in the early 1990s, most workers on kibbutzim were Zionists. Rising interest rates, fewer subsidies, and the availability of guest workers shifted the labor force from kibbutz residents to migrants. One kibbutz leader noted that Israelis tried to find better ways to do farm tasks while migrants were willing to perform repetitive tasks.
In 2010, the Israeli government offered farmers and kibbutzim incentives of up to $550 a month to hire Israeli workers, fearing that the shift toward migrant workers would leave Israel with a mostly foreign farm work force.