E.g., 06/23/2024
E.g., 06/23/2024
Reassessing Recruitment Costs in a Changing World of Labor Migration

Recent years have seen national governments, multilateral organizations, civil society, and private-sector groups take steps to promote the fair and ethical recruitment of migrant workers, including efforts to reduce or eliminate recruitment costs. High recruitment costs can result in workers taking on a financial burden that can only be serviced through high-interest loans or debt bondage, placing them in a more vulnerable position and curtailing the income they can then save or send to loved ones via remittances.

Still, progress to address recruitment costs has been uneven to date, and the pandemic has been a major setback. The public-health crisis has seen some existing costs rise or fluctuate wildly and new ones emerge (e.g., fees associated with COVID-19 testing and quarantine), with particularly pronounced effects in low- and middle-skilled sectors and informal employment. This has put working abroad out of reach for some would-be migrants while exposing others who travel abroad for work to new risks.

This policy brief explores how the pandemic has affected costs for migrant workers at every stage of their journey, with a focus on new public-health measures and other additional expenses. It also reflects on what these developments mean for future efforts to promote fair and ethical recruitment. The brief is the first publication resulting from a multiyear research partnership between MPI and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s Thematic Section Migration and Forced Displacement to support the development of global solutions for migration-related challenges.

Table of Contents 

1  Introduction

2  Unpacking Recruitment Costs for Migrant Workers
A. Quantifying Recruitment Costs
B. Who Should Pay?
C. How Has the Pandemic Affected Recruitment Costs?

3  The Case for a More Encompassing View on Costs
A. Public-Health Measures in Destination Countries
B. Job Losses and Wage Theft

4  Recommendations for A New Approach to Regulating Recruitment
A. Improving Information on Recruitment Costs
B. Addressing Gaps in Protections for Migrant Workers
C. Expanding Access to Contingency Funds
D. A Look Ahead