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The bargaining power of sending countries in influencing the rights of their low skilled migrant workers

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - RIGHTS (The bargaining power of sending countries in influencing the rights of their low skilled migrant workers)

Reporting period: 2021-03-01 to 2022-08-31

Migrants performing low-skilled work are often in a precarious position. They tend to do dirty, dangerous and demeaning work and for a low wage. The rights of low-skilled migrant workers are usually analysed from the destination country perspective, ignoring the role of origin countries in protecting the rights or their citizens abroad. The RIGHTS project examines how the rights of low-skilled migrant workers are shaped by origin and destination states, interstate dialogues, and the involvement of civil society and international organisations. It may seem counterintuitive to study the role of origin countries as they seem to have a weak bargaining position. The perception is that the worldwide ‘supply’ of low-skilled migrants exceeds ‘demand’. Many countries are looking to stop or severely limit the arrival low-skilled migrants. Origin countries furthermore rely on migrant remittances for a substantial share of their GDP and foreign exchange. Pushing for more rights for their migrants could endanger this cash flow. There is however evidence that origin countries do push for more rights for their migrants and are at times successful at doing so. The RIGHTS project seeks to understand why origin countries push for rights and why destination countries respond to these demands. It looks at the role of other aspects of the bilateral relationships such as regional cooperation and trade.
The empirical core of the RIGHTS project is a systematic comparative case study of six origin countries with partly overlapping destination countries and three of these destination countries. By examining a diverse set of countries and looking at migration as part of international relations the project can yield new insights into migration governance and allow us to better understand how the rights of low-skilled migrants are shaped.
In the first year of the project , the team held reading sessions aimed at developing a conceptual framework and determining the focus for the data collection. Building on this work we organised conference panels on “The Migration Industry”, “International Migration Governance” and "Migration Policies of Origin States". The panels offered a platform for team members to present work and to connect with other researchers in the field.

The team also worked on a database of migrant protection policies of origin countries. We developed a policy codebook based on previous studies and reports by IOM and ILO. The codebook covers institutional structure, predeparture policies (e.g. regulation of recruitment firms), services in destination countries (e.g. labour attachés), support of returnees and bilateral agreements on labour migration (incl. MoUs). The database currently covers 49 countries. We selected countries in Asia, Latin-America, Eurasia and Africa receiving substantial remittances (as % GDP) and countries that have comparatively low remittance income but are actively engaging in migration dialogues and are known to have a recruitment industry. For each of these countries, the database documents whether, and since when countries have had a policy. The database also includes context variables that may influence policies such as remittance income as % GDP, GDP, and level of democracy.

The database is an aid in selecting cases for in-depth case study and will also be used to see if the findings from the case studies can be related to wider patterns.

Analysis of this database shows that nearly all countries covered the database have a diaspora institution (a ministry, department or agency). Legislation governing labour migration is most widespread in Asian countries, often dating back to the 1970s and 1980s and least common in Latin-American countries. Bilateral Agreements on labour migration are common in African, Asian and Eurasian countries but comparatively rare in Latin-America. The use of migration bans was only found for Africa and Asian countries, this is probably related to destinations. Migration bans were mostly instituted for countries in the GCC and East-Asia.

Finally, the team undertook fieldwork at multiple locations:
• Scoping interviews with in the Netherlands and Geneva.
• Two team members attended the Migration Week in Marrakesh in December 2018. This offered a good opportunity to meet stakeholders and to observe interactions between different types of actors, such as diplomats, NGOs and IOs.
• Case study data collection in the Philippines and India.

Preliminary findings from the fieldwork suggest that:
- Origin countries may see low-skilled migration as inherently vulnerable. Therefore some of their protection policies are ways of discouraging this type of migration in favour of more mid-skilled migration.
- Origin countries can increase their negotiating power by having agreements with a diverse range of destination countries. This makes them less dependent on any particular destination, allowing them to bargain harder.
- The wider bilateral relation between origin and destination countries influence both the willingness to negotiate and the power balance in negotiations on migration agreements. For example, the destination country’s view of the strategic importance of the bilateral relationship with the origin country and the origin country’s dependence on the destination country in other areas (e.g. recourses).
The database on origin country migrant protection policies goes beyond the state of the art. It offers a solid basis and reference point for the case studies that are the focus of the next phase of RIGHTS. The analyses of the case study data, including comparative and cross-case analysis will be disseminated through a series of working papers, journal articles in peer reviewed journals and a PhD thesis. These outputs will cover 1) overview of state interests in migration and migrant rights policies, 2) overview of approaches used by origin countries to protect their low-skilled migrant workers and the prevalence of these strategies across countries and regions, 3) analyses of when and how negotiations between origin and destination countries on migrant rights lead to results.
We also plan to organise (virtual) stakeholder workshops targeting NGOs from several of the countries covered by the database. The workshops offer stakeholders access to the preliminary results and also provide feedback that can be used to refine the results.
The RIGHTS team aims to disseminate findings through project briefings, guest lectures and presentations at seminars, workshops and conferences.