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migrant workers

When competition forces the market to serve the poorest

Dilip Ratha's picture

Poor people are not used to receiving customized services from businesses that are usually vying to serve rich customers. Every now and then, however, one comes across an example that defies convention. The example I have in mind is the story of Esterelle, a remittance agent who goes to the migrant camps in Abu Dhabi to provide remittance services to poor migrant workers from Bangladesh and the Philippines and other countries. In a story published today - Bringing it all back home - John Gravois describes how Esterelle provides not just a standard remittance service, but actually deposit and loan services customized to the needs of the poor individuals. And she does it for profit, not charity (even though the story hints at this motive). Charity is not sustainable; profit motive is.

This example is also an exception to the notion that services for the poor must rely on state subsidies and earmarks. When small numbers add up to create large profit opportunities, market competition can pressure businesses to provide customized services for the poor at market prices. Such services are likely to be more sustainable over time than those relying on public or private subsidies.

New Jobs Program: More or less opportunities for immigrants in USA?

Sonia Plaza's picture

On December 08, 2009, President Obama outlined a proposal to encourage small business to hire workers in 2010 by opening lines of credit and offering tax breaks.  The impact of this proposed measure will be different for foreign-born low-tech entrepreneurs and foreign-born high-tech entrepreneurs. Prior to the crisis, self-employment was spreading among foreign workers in USA and in Europe. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (2007) “the self-employment rate for foreign-born residents of the Unites States has grown faster that of native born residents over the past ten years”. Lack of access to employment opportunities commensurate with immigrants’ human capital may encourage them to look for self employment, business alternatives.

High-skill and low-skill immigrant entrepreneurs tend to concentrate in certain niches. For example, Salvadorian, Colombian and Dominican firms are concentrated in retail sales and business services (Robinson, 2005). Immigrant-owned firms are mainly retail, wholesale, personal and professional service enterprises and are typically operated by family members. The management structure is comprised of the immigrant owner and his/her close family members and relatives (Page and Plaza, 2006). Foreign-born founders of “high-impact” companies in high tech sectors are concentrated in business services and engineering services and located in the states with large foreign-born residents such as California and Texas. (Hart, Zoltan and Spencer, 2009).

Managing Emigration: A Growing Priority for Migrant-Sending Governments

Neil Ruiz's picture

When I recently traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I spoke with several government officials in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs who told me about the many problems encountered by their migrant workers in the Middle East.  As more Ethiopians, especially women, have been migrating to the Middle East as domestic workers, the embassies and consulates have received many complaints about false contracts being issued, passports of their nationals being taken away by their employers, and abuses in the work place.  In order to tackle these problems, the government created the Overseas Employment Service, which is modeled after the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration.

Similar to the Philippines, the office regulates the private recruitment agencies to ensure that the migrants are not signing false contracts.  All private recruitment agencies are required to obtain a 300 Birr (USD$30) license from the Ministry to recruit workers for one year (renewable), report the status of their workers, and are subject to auditing by the office to ensure that the workers are not being cheated by the agencies or their employers abroad.  The office also provides pre-departure orientation seminars to educate Ethiopians about the rules of their employment contracts, how to send remittances, and the culture and work conditions in the destination country.  This three hour orientation is conducted in the Ministry offices in Addis Ababa and the government has started 3 years ago to make it mandatory for those departing the country on overseas contracts. 

Dubious Dubai

Dilip Ratha's picture

I was in Dubai two weeks ago to attend a meeting of the World Economic Forum. Our hosts, the Government of Dubai, told us that Dubai had turned the corner – hotel occupancy was up, airline traffic had recovered, and Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world was complete. And then the story broke – Dubai World was having difficulty repaying creditors. 

  Photo ©
I have been to Dubai twice this year. In early 2009, I learnt that migrants were not returning en masse as reported in the media at the time. They have stayed on instead, even at the cost of losing legal status in many cases.  This time conversations with some Bangladeshi construction workers at a labor camp brought out some interesting facts: Because new construction is slowing, maintenance is doing well. Migrant workers in maintenance and hospitality are doing better than those in new construction and finance. Many migrants are moving on to Abu Dhabi and other oil-rich Emirates and neighboring countries where huge infrastructure investments are going on. Many are coping with the crisis by cutting consumption and sharing accommodation. Many have sent their families back home, so the funds spent in Dubai are now remitted home.

Many migrant workers, from Bangladesh in particular, are somewhat stuck in Dubai because they cannot afford to return. It costs about 12,000 dirhams to pay recruitment agencies and travel costs. At a monthly income below 900 dirhams – no overtime these days – a construction worker can easily take three years to save enough to repay recruitment costs. Too bad there is a crisis – they just can’t risk returning home. So many are entering into creative arrangements (e.g., taking unpaid leave) with employers to simply wait it out in Dubai.

First round of seasonal workers finishes in Australia

Tomas Martin Ernst's picture

I've just returned from country Australia evaluating the impact of one of the World Bank's (WB) recent development programs in the region. A WB initiative on the ground in Australia? What is the relationship between country Australia and the Bank's mandate of a world free of poverty?

Photo © Tomas Ernst/World Bank

Following several year's of research and advocacy, the Australian government opened its borders this year to the short-term supply of labour from the Pacific Islands (PIs). Evidence from New Zealand showed that when temporary labour mobility programs are well managed - with the appropriate level of monitoring to prevent worker exploitation and with the right incentives to minimize overstaying - the scheme is win-win for growers and PI workers. Growers enjoy a steady, reliable source of labour and PI workers receive income at least 4-5 times the GDP/capita of their home country.

My colleague Nathan and I travelled to Griffith, New South Wales where six ni-Vanuatu workers were preparing to head home following a six-month assignment picking, pruning and packing fruit. All workers reported a significantly improved financial position, with the majority sending regular remittances to their family members and local villages. In terms of skills acquisition, the training workers received on farms in Australia will benefit them when they return home to agriculture dependant economies of the South Pacific.

Turnaround in migrant employment in the US?

Ani Silwal's picture

We had suggested earlier the bottoming out of remittances to Latin America in response to stabilizing construction activity in the US. The latest employment numbers for June 2009 from the Current Population Survey (CPS) hint at a turnaround in employment levels in the US, particularly for migrants. 

 *3 month moving averages           Source: Current Population Survey


The sectoral breakdown of employment data show that employment in the construction sector is picking up faster than other major occupations. Employment in other major occupations also seems to be stabilizing. 

Dune bashing in Dubai...with a hawaladar!

Dilip Ratha's picture

Dubai is a must for any one working on migration and remittances. One of the seven Emirates, but one that depends more on trade, finance and real estate than oil and gas, Dubai is a wonder in the desert. It has a large – perhaps the largest – migrant population relative to natives (no pun intended) in the world. If you ask me which is the most developed Indian city, I would say Dubai!

   Photo © Curt Carnemark / World Bank

For sure, Dubai has some of the best Indian food. (As an aside, London used to be the city with the best Indian food. I was there a couple of weeks ago, and was a bit disappointed with the Indian (actually Bangladeshi) restaurants. Perhaps the recent visa restriction on hiring cooks from other countries is beginning to have an impact!)

With all the photos in the media of migrants leaving Dubai (abandoning cars on the airport parking lot), I was forced to visit Dubai in April, and once more after that. The level of activity seemed to me as high as the skyscrapers, although the locals reported a slowing down in the pace of construction. I visited a few embassies and remittance service providers. Dubai is slowing, but only for a while, and not all sectors are affected the same way by the crisis. For example construction workers are more affected than hotel workers. Migrants from Kerala (India) and Bangladesh are more affected than those from Nepal and the Philippines. Pakistani drivers are also affected, not the least because rising house prices in Dubai has forced many of them to send their wives and children home. It occurred to me that this could be a reason for the surge in remittance flows to such separated families in South Asia.

Money transfer companies - many of which are also exchange houses and employers of registered hawaladars - were doing brisk business. Remittances to South Asia seemed to be booming.

A highlight of the Dubai trip was a ride to the desert. Sanket and I went dune bashing with a hawaladar/money transmitter friend!