Rapid development in the Gulf coupled with high demand for employment in sending countries has meant that the GCC states receive some of the largest flows of temporary labor migration in the world. In this context, migrant labor recruitment processes often appear opaque and unfair. Yet, despite calls for reform and regulation, we have limited empirical understanding of the causal mechanisms involved in recruitment — and particularly of the processes that occur in migrant sending countries.
Migration and Kerala’s Gender Paradox (Kerala, India) — Hannah Brückner (PI) and Swethaa Ballakrishnen (co-PI), New York University Abu Dhabi
This ethnographic project is designed to help generate hypotheses about the way in which migration to the Gulf affects gender hierarchies in Malappuram, Kerala. Families of labor migrants, especially migrants’ spouses who remain in the sending country, are generally conceptualized as “left behind” — often in situations that might not be conducive to their well-being, without the protection their absent husbands may afford them. The project seeks to answer following questions:
What is the impact of global migration from Kerala on transnational families, and, particularly, the gendered identities of these women? Specifically, how do they shape the lived experience of women in Kerala who do not migrate themselves but are still significantly impacted by the process?
How do these effects vary between religious and social groups?
What are the possible effects of intergenerational migration experiences?
While the project focuses on the outcomes for the women “left behind,” we believe that the research will provide valuable information about the motivation and decision making processes of Keralite migrants to the Gulf, in keeping with the sociological insight that families and kinship networks are involved in most migration events.
Disaggregating Recruitment: Uncovering the Expectations, Obligations and Hidden Pathways of Labor Migration (Pakistan) — Daniel Karell, New York University Abu Dhabi
This methodologically innovative project focuses on the pathways that aspiring migrants take in order to engage with sending country recruitment agencies. These pathways comprise complex, informal networks of sub-agents working at the local and regional levels on behalf of larger, national-level recruitment agencies. Along these pathways, aspiring migrants acquire and develop expectations, plans, and a range of obligations from different sub-agents. However, it is unclear how much they understand about these expectations and commitments because of possible misinformation from sub-agents.
The goal of this pilot project, situated in Pakistan, is to make a methodological contribution to the study of labor migration processes that is scalable and transferable across sending countries. The project combines in-depth interviews with aspiring migrants and their household members with the deployment of a mobile phone application to collect data at micro spatiotemporal intervals during their recruitment journey. This mixed method data collection technology can be used to study various highly mobile populations navigating the multiplex, opaque social landscape of labor migration over time.
Recruiting International Migrant Labor: Theory and Evidence (UAE) — Yaw Nyarko (PI), New York University Abu Dhabi, Suresh Naidu (co-PI) and Shin-Yi Wang (co-PI), Columbia University
This project undertakes several novel strategies for examining the distribution of gains in the context of workers from Asia seeking work opportunities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In particular, the investigators focus on how the recruitment process for workers and the labor supply chain affects the distribution of gains across workers, firms and labor brokers (middlemen). The project collects data through two field experiments and an audit study. The first experiment studies a large number of workers screened by big UAE firms — some qualify but do not go to the UAE, others qualify and go to the UAE, and yet others do not qualify. By studying and surveying these three groups the project is are able to get insight into a wide range of questions including the impact of migration, the heterogeneity of recruitment fees paid by different people, the interaction with skills, information asymmetries and beliefs, and perceptions on costs and benefits of migration.
Building on a large recent literature that has found that direct cash grants are among the most effective development and anti-poverty programs, the investigators intend to pilot a second randomized experiment, crossed with the first over the same sample, to offer partial debt relief for the loans that pay the middlemen for a subset of workers. The different types of conditional and unconditional cash transfers we implement will provide invaluable information on the assertion that workers are bound to their jobs in part because of the huge debts they have to pay off. Finally, the project intends to conduct audit studies that will provide information on the recruitment process at a different stage of the migration process: when brokers are first contacting potential migrants, for example in their villages. This provides information on both the level of recruitment fees as well as social networks in the source and destination countries.
Reviews, Ratings, and Resilience: The Promises and Perils of Revealing Labor Migrant, Job Agent, and Recruitment Firm Networks (Pakistan) — Daniel Karell and Rabia Malik, New York University Abu Dhabi
This project builds on the methodological innovations and substantive findings of the REALM-funded pilot project by PI Karell conducted in the first round of funding. It aims to understand the intended and unintended consequences of providing information to migrants and agents in the labor recruitment context. Specifically, how does an information shock affect a market of clientelistic relationships. The PIs utilize novel foundational data about how migrants and their family members view agents, and deploy a mobile phone questionnaire application to to uncover the structure of the migrant-agent-recruiter network; measure agents’ pricing structures; implement a novel survey experiment while measuring network change; and explore a method for delivering information to migrants and agents. The project is conducted with migrants and agents in Pakistan, using both interviews and the phone application. The project’s findings will contribute to the scholarship on labor migration by identifying the relationships between agents and migrants and agents and recruitment firms, as well as how these relationships work. It will also offer direct insight into how REALM can help reform migration practices by indicating how to develop and deploy a tool to identify, review, and rate actors in the migrant-agent-recruiter network — and then share this information while mitigating negative unintended consequences. The final months of this project are devoted towards developing this application, which will help REALM efficiently and effectively provide information to migrants and agents about the recruitment relationships they may be entering into.
Gendered Differences in the Causes and Consequences of Migration: Experimental Evidence from India and the United Arab Emirates — Nikhar Gaikwad, Columbia University and Rachel Brule, New York University Abu Dhabi
This pilot project designs and evaluates the impact of skills training and certification on recruitment of low-skilled labor migrants from a virtually untapped international migration corridor — North-Eastern India to the United Arab Emirates — focusing particularly on women. The researchers seek to understand whether the act of migrating and the capital that follows has the potential of altering migrants and their communities' welfare in terms of their economic behavior, policy preference, socio-political engagement, intra-household bargaining, and tolerance levels. They hypothesize that women will be more likely than men to invest the resources they accrue from labor migration into long-term development resources for their children, households, and local social communities. If resource access constrained women's prior political participation, we also expect to see greater political engagement as a result of women's labor migration relative to men's migration. This project seeks to create a scalable model for interventions that can be applied to an expanded sample size, in a larger geographical area.
Disaggregating Recruitment: Uncovering the Expectations, Obligations and Hidden Pathways of Labor Migration (Pakistan); Reviews, Ratings, and Resilience: The Promises and Perils of Revealing Labor Migrant, Job Agent, and Recruitment Firm Networks (Pakistan)
Daniel Karell, an associate professor of sociology, travels a few times a year to places like Afghanistan and Pakistan to visit historical archives and interview local people about their life experiences.