Monday, 18 December 2017

International Migrants Day: Stories from our team

Today is International Migrants Day. To celebrate, we thought we would introduce you to some of the migrants that work in our programme so you can get to know us better.


Where did you migrate to/from?
Born London > to India with parents > to USA with parents > back after four years > back to the UK > India again for 12 years > back to the UK again!

What prompted your move? 
Parents’ work and education; my higher education

Tell us something you miss about home
Food, colour, chaos, warmth, sentimentality 

Tell us something you love about your host country
Civic sense, transparency, intellectual life

Would you do it again?
I have been, again and again and I feel I belong to both places

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
I am tuned into different lifeworlds and moralities and can bring a southern perspective to migration research

Where did you migrate to/from?
From Ada-Foah to Tema, then back to Ada-Foah and to Accra, all in the Greater Accra region in Ghana

What prompted your move? 
Relocation for education and new lifestyle

Tell us something you miss about home
Family, Granny’s pampering, local healthy food, the sea breeze

Tell us something you love about your host city
Higher dimension of opportunities available

Would you do it again?

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
It made me understand why most migrant households have certain perceptions and how that informs their expectations of migrants


Where did you migrate to/from?
Zimbabwe to South Africa

What prompted your move?   
Education, work

Tell us something you miss about home
Family, sadza and beef stew, music

Tell us something you love about your host country
South African culture, the weather, opportunities

Would you do it again? 
Yes I would

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
Yes. I have learnt to value the experiences of immigrants and hosts as this is key in formulating mutually beneficial solutions

Where did you migrate to/from?
From the UK to Barcelona

What prompted your move? 
Frustration with the UK

Tell us something you miss about home
British humour, rain, family, fashion

Tell us something you love about your host city
Its hustle-bustle

Would you do it again?

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
It made me question prevailing beliefs about what integration is and why it matters

Where did you migrate to/from?
NY, Costa Rica, NY, Ecuador and Peru and Bolivia, NY, Portland, NY, UK, ... tbc

What prompted your move? 
Education, adventure, politics, healthcare, love

Tell us something you miss about home
Family, seasons, Halloween, everything bagels

Tell us something you love about your host country
British humour, grey skies, tea

Would you do it again?
I will

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
How where you’re born (uncontrolled by you) is the greatest factor on how easily you can move. And how informal and clandestine routes sometimes make things much easier

Where did you migrate to/from?
From Aflao to Accra, Somanya, Accra

What prompted your move? 
Education and family

Tell us something you miss about home
French language education, fun with childhood pals, Sundays jogging across the border to Togo

Tell us something you love about your host country
They are good at multi-tasking

Would you do it again?
Yes I will

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
No matter where you were born, you can live anywhere in the world and feel comfortable just like home


Where did you migrate to/from?
From the UK to Paris, France for two years and back again

What prompted your move? 
I got stranded there once and loved it

Tell us something you miss about home
Being easily understood, bars with proper loos

Tell us something you love about your host country
Cool bars – horrendous loos excepting

Would you do it again?
I’m not sure, it’s more complicated when you are older and have a family

Has it made you think differently about migration research, and if so, in what ways?
That there are other barriers to flourishing in a foreign country than the legality of your residency

Monday, 11 December 2017

Migration, Security and Development: Lessons from the Centre for Migration Studies’ International Conference

By Emmanuel Quarshie, Nana Essilfie Arhin, and Gloria Makafui Dovoh

Migration, security, and development cannot be examined separately due to the inextricable link that exists between them. To discuss these issues the Centre for Migration Studies, as part of its 10th anniversary, organised a two-day international conference which brought together scholars, researchers, experts, policy makers, civil society organisations, the media, and the general public. The theme of the conference was Migration, Security and Sustainable Development. An important and timely theme given the increased securitisation of borders in Europe and North America.

Dr. Joseph Kofi Teye, research coordinator of Migrating Out of Poverty, highlighted that the negative impacts of migration, such as brain drain in migrant-sending areas and pressure on social amenities in migrant-receiving areas, have historically dominated the academic literature. However, recent scholarship has shown that, if properly managed, migration can contribute to the socio-economic transformation of the economies of both migrant receiving and sending countries. In view of the potential of migration to promote socio-economic development, migration management has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although the benefits of migration are widely acknowledged, the phenomenon is being increasingly securitized, especially by developed countries in the wake of what is perceived as growing threats of terrorism.

In Africa, the link between migration and security manifests in identity, nationalism, and citizenship crises. Despite the potential undesirable outcomes of migration, there are unique windows of opportunity to make migration profitable for both the country of origin and receiving country, as well as the migrant. This requires intensification of lesson drawing, knowledge sharing, and purposive interactions among researchers, policy makers, state organisations, social partners and other stakeholders. The minister of the interior, Hon. Ambrose Dery acknowledged the instrumental role of the Centre for Migration Studies in the development of the National Migration Policy. It is no doubt that the Centre has been very vibrant and has made credible contribution to the entire Ghanaian economy by serving as a resource and knowledge centre.

Prof. Takyiwah Manuh, presented on the relevance of quality research and its impact on society and policy formulation. She stated that a better understanding of migration and security could go a long way to aid in the achievement of the SDGs. Access to migration avenues and migrants' rights remain differentiated with migrants seen and characterized as either desirable or undesirable. In this context, desirables are migrants who are given permits and visas and are also welcomed into the destination countries with skills and social and cultural capital. As she explained, desirables such as investors, doctors, and nurses are encouraged to even live in host countries and are even given dual citizenship, while the undesirables find it difficult in entering and they are either deported, persecuted, or used as cheap labor during their stay. There are perceptions that African migrants are coming in to host countries with primitive ideologies and ‘backward’ thinking so they must be avoided, also Muslims are perceived to be terrorists. Western countries are investing heavily in border security. She stated that migration must not be ethnocentric and that, “Until we restructure the economy regionally and continentally, we are not going to make any head way there are many myths associated with migration which was partly highlighted by the keynote speaker. The speaker highlighted the fact intra-regional migration is even prevalent and needed attention from both policy makers and researchers.

On the second day of the conference, there was a panel discussion on “Leveraging Migration for the development of the Northern Savannah Ecological zone”. This zone consists of the northern, upper east and west regions of Ghana. The Northern Savannah Ecological Zone covers 54.4 per cent of the land space of Ghana, including 63 districts in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West, northern Brong-Ahafo and Volta regions. In this panel there was a discussion about the role of government in managing North-South migration through the establishment of the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority. The panelists were introduced by Professor Mariama Awumbila, the first speaker Professor Joseph A. Yaro gave a historical perspective on the Northern part of Ghana and how previous governments have tried implementing policies to bridge the gap between the north and south, this highlighted some key investment plans that government has drawn to revamp the Northern part of the country. One of the objectives of these plans is to regulate North-South migration. Professor George Owusu, an expert in urban planning, spoke about how spatial analyses and accurate planning with the aid tools like GIS and Remote Sensing can help in making good decisions about future developmental projects.

The relative underdevelopment of the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone compared to the rest of the country has its roots in history and to some extent geography. In terms of history, the colonial authorities saw no immediate interest in investing in the place, failing to build roads, schools, health facilities, and markets. Instead, they extracted its most healthy labour force and exported them to cocoa plantations, to the mines, and to clean the streets in the emerging cities and towns in the South.

Towards the end of the conference, there was a thorough discussion on remittances. One of the key lessons learnt was that non-migrant households have also recorded some remittance incomes demonstrating that the benefits of migration accrue beyond the household of those who travel. A representative from the diaspora unit at the office of the president presented on the Government’s initiative to introduce a diaspora bond. This would serve as a form of commitment from government to Ghanaian’s abroad to invest in Ghana rather than abroad. This scheme is reliant on migrant trust in the government and that they perceive the scheme is credible.  Another important issue was the role of financial institutions in supporting financial inclusion. The high transaction cost of sending remittances is one of the main reasons why migrants do not send money home. To counter this the Government is trying to reduce transaction cost of remittances and reducing transaction costs to 3% by 2030, as per the SDGs. Various investment packages have been introduced to help both the recipient of remittance incomes and senders as well to ensure sustainable financial independence. Other potential ways to invest remittances include the purchasing of health insurance to relieve individuals from any unforeseen health issues.

The conference was a great opportunity to bring together stakeholders from a broad range of backgrounds and to help bridge the gap between research and policy, which is being supported by the inter-ministerial steering committee which helps ensure the formulation of evidence-based policy.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Migrating out of Poverty will attend the Food, Youth and the Future of Farming Conference

The 24th International Conference of the Agri-food Research Network will take place from the 2-5 December 2017 in Bandung, Indonesia. The conference organisers explain:

Today, more than ever, developing and developed nations are sharing closer concerns (albeit with different contexts) when it comes to food and agriculture, depletion of arable land and agricultural resources, intergenerational gaps among farmers, and the changing face of the global food system. What can we do for the future of farming? And what can we learn from each other?

The conference sets out to explore some of these challenges.

We are delighted that Migrating out of Poverty will be involved in two sessions at the conference. On Tuesday 5 December, in a session on Reimagining Rural Myanmar, Julie Litchfield (with co-author Hannah Sam) will present on Migration and food security in Myanmar. This paper explores this primary data from a rural household survey collected in the first quarter of 2017 in four regions of Myanmar. Myanmar presents an interesting case study given both the size and importance of the rural sector and the pace of recent economic and political reform, including relaxation of migration controls. They estimate an econometric model of the impact of migration on food security of migrant-sending households using a dietary diversity score and other, qualitative, measures of food security, and provide insights into the way migration affects access to food. The paper pays particular attention to the methodological challenges in establishing a plausible causal relationship, and they also explore the nuances of the relationship by gender, destination of the migrant and the role of remittances in mediating the loss of family labour.

Later that day Priya Deshingkar (with co-author Wen-Ching Ting) will present their paper Precarity and Opportunity: Rural Livelihoods, Migration and Change in Myanmar. This presentation explores indepth qualitative research in four agro-ecologically and culturally diverse regions of Myanmar and shows that migration within the country and beyond is important for repaying debt, smoothing incomes and investing in housing, education and health in rural areas. At the same time migration brings many new risks that can set the family back. The focus of this paper is the links between migration, livelihoods, and life trajectories in rural areas. In theorising the findings they employ concepts of precarity, constrained agency, and the spatiality of agency. These allow them to undertake a socially embedded and spatial analysis of the decision to migrate into precarious conditions and show how it is linked to material and social aspirations, and outcomes in the village. The evidence is drawn from 95 interviews in four rural regions (Ayeyarwaddy, Mandalay, Shan and Rakhine State) and 30 in two urban destination cities (Yangon and Mandalay) in 2017.

These papers arise out of research conducted under the Capitalizing Human Mobility for Poverty Alleviation and Inclusive Development for Myanmar (CHIME) project of which Priya is the principle investigator and qualitative research lead, Julie is the quantitative research lead, and Ting is the post-doctoral research fellow. The research is coordinated by the International Organisation for Migration, and funded by the LIFT programme. CHIME examines the role of migration in rural livelihoods in four regions of Myanmar using mixed methods containing a longitudinal element to capture seasonality and other dynamics of migration. 

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Talk about 'Migration and Aspirations for Youth' at the University of East Anglia on the 8 November

On Wednesday the 8 November our colleague Dorte Thorsen will be speaking at a seminar at the University of East Anglia in the School of International Development.

In her talk on Migrating out of Poverty? Linkages between Migration and Aspirations for Youth, Dorte will explore the question of whether migration makes migrants and their families better off.
This assessment often focuses on a relatively synchronic assessment of migrants’ living conditions or the remittances they send home. Drawing on research carried out in Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia and Rwanda by partners in the Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium, she will explore the ways in which migration and remittances shape both migrants and non-migrants’ social positions in ways that will have long-term implications on gender and generational relations within families. She will look at how relationships between adults shift over time in order to tease out the ways in which subtle changes may slowly empower women to have more say in decisions concerning family matters. By examining the impact of remittances on the schooling of the next generation, she will explore how women make sense of and influence decisions about their children’s education and how young people seek to assert their own aspirations for the future as sons and daughters of migrants and as migrants. Dorte argues that the size and temporality of migrant earnings create barriers for upward social mobility for the next generation in highly gendered ways.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Paul Clist (

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Seminar at SAPMiC: The Case of Undocumented Migration from Cambodia to Thailand

On the 13 November, from 12.30-13.30 our colleague Robert Nurick will speak at a Sydney Asia Pacific Migration Centre (SAPMiC) event.

Migration from Cambodia is a major livelihood strategy for rural families, with most having at least one member migrating in search of work. Thailand is their number one destination. Most have an undocumented status, putting them at risk of arrest and deportation.

Robert will share the findings of interviews with Cambodian migrants and members of their families exploring their motivations and decision-making. The involuntary return of undocumented migrants from Thailand in June 2014 provides the lens through which the significance of migration strategies and the impact of return on family livelihoods are studied. The second part of the talk reviews the experience of sharing the findings in comic form with migrants and their families. Their reflections have helped to frame a follow-up research agenda that addresses their priorities. He will conclude by proposing that the production and sharing of knowledge in an accessible and innovative form has transformed a ‘standard’ piece of qualitative research into a participatory action research process.

The comic, Precarious Migration, is available online in EnglishKhmer, and Thai.

If you would like to attend please contact Matt Withers (

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Migrant remittances and gender in Zimbabwe: Under-estimating the contribution of women migrants to rural and household economies

By Julie Litchfield

“I have observed that the sending patterns of men and women are influenced by the social obligations that society places on them. Women are more organised and send food and clothes regularly. My son does not remit any goods during the year; he sends us money and groceries during the Christmas holiday as he argues that life is also difficult for him. I have interpreted this behaviour as rather being irresponsible and forgetting his African roots” 
Fieldwork participant, Zimbabwe, 2013

This provocative statement was made by one of our fieldwork participants during research led by our partners at CASS in 2013. The sentiment was echoed in similar statements that suggested that “women are the saviours of the family”, less likely to forget their families at home, and more likely to send a range of cash and goods, food, clothes, books and medicine, than male migrants. These observations run contrary to a widely held view that migrant women tend to remit less than men – that is fewer of them remit and when they do, they send less than men.

In a paper that explores remittances of international migrants from eighteen low- and middle-income countries, Orozco et al find that women remit lower amounts than men and they argue on this basis that this reflects the broader global pattern of remittances by women. This is usually explained by the poorer economic opportunities facing women migrants, that women earn less at destination than men and therefore have less money left over after covering essential expenditure. In a more recent study, Niimi and Reilly find little evidence that gender differences in remittances are attributable to behavioural differences between men and women in Vietnam. Instead, they argue that gender differences in labour market earnings are more important in explaining the overall gender gap in the remittance levels.

This apparent paradox between what our research participants are telling us and what the academic and policy community believe led us to take a closer look at remittances received by households from their migrant members.

Firstly, it’s important to consider what we mean by remittances. Remittances are usually defined as the small monetary transfers that international migrants send home. But of course, migrants send more than money home, as the quote from our Zimbabwean household shows. And as this entertaining video by Mikey Bustos shows about the Filipino “Balikbayan Box”.  The African Migration Surveys collected by the World Bank widen the remittance definition to include goods sent or taken home by the migrant and ask households to value good received as well as report of the value of cash received.

Our analysis of this data reveals that not only is the value of goods sent home substantial but that women migrants appear to have a stronger preference for sending goods rather than cash compared to men. What appears as a gender gap in remittances when only monetary transfers are measured, diminishes or even disappears in some countries when in-kind remittances are measured. 

These two graphs below illustrate the case of Kenya (Burkina Faso shows a very similar pattern). We can see that women are less likely to send cash than men, and send smaller amounts of cash. But when we take into account the value of in-kind remittances the gap all but disappears. 

The gender remittance gap, Kenya 2009
Kenyan Shillings in 2009 values

Graph on remittance sending behaviour in Kenya

While this more inclusive definition of remittances adopted in the African Migration Surveys reveals that perhaps women do not after all send less home than men; it may still yet underestimate remittance flows because of what is included in the list of goods that might be sent home. Rather than food and clothing, highlighted in our fieldwork, the surveys focus on relatively large and costly goods, covering household appliances, business equipment and transport. Another survey, of remittances sent home from the Netherlands by migrants from Surinam, shows that the most frequent items sent home were food and clothing, and that large items were relatively rare.

Our Migrating out of Poverty household surveys provide rich detail on the remittance sending behaviour of migrants and for Zimbabwe we have data on over a thousand migrants. Our definition of remittances includes not just cash but a wide range of goods, from food and clothing, medicine and school supplies, to larger consumer goods, farm inputs and business equipment, received by the household over the twelve months prior to the survey in 2015.

Almost 75% of goods sent home are food, with clothing representing around 15% of the type of items migrants are sending home. When we compare the value of cash and goods sent home by gender we see that the initial gap in cash remittances is reduced when we include goods. In fact, it appears that women migrants from Zimbabwe send almost as much in goods as they do in cash while men have a stronger preference for cash.

The gender remittance gap, Zimbabwe 2015
US Dollars in 2015 values

Our econometric modelling of remittances suggests that once we control for characteristics of migrants such as their age and education, women remit home with the same probability as men and that the total amount they send home is the same as for men. That means, once we control for factors that might determine economic opportunities at destination, then there is no behavioural difference between men and women. Moreover, our analysis shows that this stronger preference by women for sending goods compared to men is significant: women send a greater share of their remittances in the form of goods than do men.

How might we explain this? One possible explanation is cost. Women in our sample are slightly more likely to be outside of Zimbabwe than men, and transactions costs in sending cash across borders are high. The World Bank estimates that remittances costs along many African corridors are above 10 percent, due to a combination of low volumes and slow uptake of technology in fairly under-developed financial markets. But the difference in migrant destinations is too small to provide a complete explanation. More likely we believe is that there are gendered norms and customs which govern remittance behaviour and that women seek to navigate these norms by sending home goods as a form of controlling how remittances are used and by whom. In a relatively patriarchal society such as Zimbabwe, where land ownership and inheritance practices generally favour sons over daughters, incentives to send cash for investing in the family asset base may be weaker for women, while exerting strong pressures on men to send cash.

We will continue to investigate these questions with a re-survey of our Zimbabwean households in 2018 along with more qualitative work to tease out the nuances of why migrants remit and the decision-making processes involved in how remittances are used.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Farai Jena and Pierfrancesco Rolla at the University of Sussex and Vupenyu Dzingirai, Patience Mutopo, and Kefasi Nyikahadzoi at CASS.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Southern perspectives on development: the missing link in discussions on modern slavery

by Priya Deshingkar

Isn’t it strange that so few people who are assumed to be ‘modern slaves’ see themselves as such?

Eliminating modern slavery, trafficking, and other forms of extreme exploitation is a declared priority of the current UK government. Its strategy to do so is inextricably linked to Western views and policies on migration, and, given its leading role in high-level consultations on a ‘global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration’, as well as in discussions around the UN’s sustainable development goals, it is well positioned to influence the way in which migration is discussed in these important forums.

This has come at a time when irregular migration has become especially visible and politically sensitive. This has resulted in an unhelpful bundling together and criminalisation of different kinds of migration, with calls for border control, police, and immigration to jointly defeat, as Theresa May puts it, “this vile and systematic international business model at its source and in transit”. It is only by removing labour market intermediaries – it is argued – that they can be saved from the slavers, traffickers, and unscrupulous employers intent on exploiting them.

Such arguments are made with very little evidence that migrants wish to be ‘saved’ in such a manner, or indeed that they view this as a form of ‘saving’ at all. On the contrary, there is substantial evidence to suggest that such policies have the unintended effect of pushing most workers into the least visible end of manufacturing, trade and services where legal protection is hard to deliver. The global policy community is thus trying to find a solution to ‘modern slavery’ without recognising that border controls, bad governance, and unwelcoming cities are all contributing factors to exploitation in the first place.

Be that as it may, the time is ripe to feed in ideas, evidence and opinions in the hope that win-win arrangements can be found for all. For those working on migration and poverty, SDG 8.7 – which aims to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking – is of enormous significance, as it constitutes an important entry point for influencing the direction of current discussions. There have been calls for more evidence, to reduce the costs of migration, and to regulate or eliminate middlemen who are seen as the perpetrators of violence and exploitation. What is missing from these calls, however, is any suggestion that we should begin speaking with and coordinating our responses with the migrants themselves.

The need for more evidence

There can be no doubt that we need more data and information because so much of the discussion is based on assumptions, moral panics, and normative judgements rather than solid evidence. Part of the reason for the lack of data is that migrants in irregular situations are scared to self-report for fear of deportation or, in the case of internal migrants, businesses and brokers keep them hidden to avoid complying with labour laws. Innovative data collection methods need to be designed to open the ‘black box’ of exploitative labour arrangements and the relationships that underpin them, in order for policy makers to better understand what happens before migration, who enters which kind of work, how, and why.

Three very diverse cases drawn from the research we have conducted in the Migrating out of Poverty project illustrate why we need a deeper understanding of these dynamics. These include the relationships that exist within households between genders and generations, as well as cultural norms dictating gender roles and responsibilities at different life stages.

The first example is an adolescent girl in an orthodox family in Ethiopia who is faced with the choice of marrying someone much older than herself or running away and trying her luck in the city so she might make something of her life. She leaves without her parents’ permission and approaches a broker who specialises in helping girls in her situation to find work in the city. She ends up as a domestic maid, working for a pittance and being on call all day, but her employer allows her to attend night school.

By contrast, young unmarried teenagers in Nepal migrate for construction work through agents locally known as “Naike” where the migration is socially accepted and arranged by relatives. They often work for little or no money, accepting food and accommodation as remuneration because the main purpose of their migration is to experience city life, become smarter, and behave in status-enhancing ways as compared to their peers in the village.

A third example is from Bangladesh, where men migrate to the Gulf states or Singapore to work in construction. To access these labour markets, they often pay brokers large sums of money acquired by borrowing from family networks or selling assets. They migrate with long-term ambitions of improving their material and social standard of living, but first they must often face months or even years of uncertainty which pushes them and their families into situations of vulnerability. Those who find work may spend much longer repaying their loans than they had originally planned.

All of these cases contain elements of the types of exploitation that are commonly referred to as ‘modern slavery’; working for little or no pay, being on almost permanent call, and incurring large debts to be paid off through work. But conversations with these migrants show that they do not think of themselves as slaves, and most have a clear sense of where they have come from and where they want to go. The early years are usually the toughest, especially for those without the support of extended social networks. Some may never succeed due to shocks such as injury or ill health. But over time most will begin to save, to send remittances, or to build up enough reserves to attempt a further move. Although many of them will not achieve their highest ambitions, they may decide that wherever they have ended up is nonetheless better than going back home.

In each case, a person’s individual circumstances, experiences, and aspirations, as well as how they use migration to achieve their goals, are very different. We need more evidence on the outcomes of such migration in the longer term. Rather than assuming that everyone in such work will end up poorer or in a worse situation than before, we need concrete evidence on change over time. There is also a far more fundamental question that needs to be asked: how do individuals in the global south – whether they migrate or not – conceive of ‘development’, and what role do they see for migration in achieving it?

Visions of development and migration as a route to development

The present discourse on slavery, trafficking, and other forms of exploitative work, as well as on migration, is underpinned by Western and neoliberal ideas related to freedom and development. These tell us that migrants should be free to choose their occupation, to be able to engage in it without paying, and that the conditions in which they work should be decent. The idea that someone would willingly pay a broker a lot of money for the chance to migrate and work under unfree conditions, while pursuing and hopefully fulfilling their long-term goals, seems to not make sense in such a paradigm.

Recruitment fees have recently come into focus as a primary mechanism through which migrants end up in debt that is impossible to repay. We assume that those trapped in debt are using it mainly to keep body and soul together, and they migrate year after year just for survival. The Indian construction sector is commonly held up as an example of this phenomenon, an area where workers are widely analysed to be on a path to further impoverishment due to their perpetual indebtedness to brokers.

When we speak to construction workers, however, it becomes quickly obvious that they view their own development and the pathways to it rather differently. Interviews with migrant construction workers in Telangana show that they view brokers as an important source of credit and better than traditional moneylenders, who humiliate them. For them, taking out and paying off debt through work allows them to spend on marriages above their social status, to invest in housing and education, and to potentially raise their standing or standard of living in the longer term.

The lesson here is that listening to the voices of migrants and understanding why they enter certain forms of work is critical to understanding where interventions should be made and where they shouldn’t. It is important to hear first-hand what migrants have to say about their own experiences, rather than only relying on civil society organisations that claim to represent workers or advocate on their behalf. These groups are often staffed by educated, urban people who may have world views more closely resembling those of the international development community than those of rural, disadvantaged workers. Without a deeper understanding of these complexities, we run the risk of putting up barriers to forms of work that may have real potential for development for people who otherwise have very limited opportunities for effecting real change in their lives.

This blog was originally published on Open Democracy, 18 October 2017. 

Priya Deshingkar is Research Director of the DFID-funded Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium; principal investigator for the ‘Capitalising human mobility for poverty alleviation and inclusive development in Myanmar (CHIME)’ project; and senior research fellow at the School of Global Studies, at the University of Sussex. She has decades of fieldwork experience in Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. Her research focuses on migration and poverty, especially with regard to precarious occupations, migration, labour rights and agency.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Reflections on the UNU-WIDER development conference in Accra, Ghana, October 2017

by Eva-Maria Egger

Last week around 200 migration researchers and representatives of donor agencies and international organisations discussed how research and policy will shape migration over the next decades. The gathering was organised by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) in partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and held in the University of Ghana at Legon, Accra.
The Vice President of Ghana, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, welcomed the participants in person emphasising the relevance of migration research for policy makers in developing countries as well as richer economies. How challenging it can be to make migration policies was documented in the keynote speech by Ingrid Palmary from the African Centre for Migration Studies (ACMS), a Migrating out of Poverty partner. She presented the results of Migrating out of Poverty research in Bangladesh, Singapore and South Africa on "How unpopular policies are made" showcasing the challenges that advocacy groups face to form successful coalitions when it comes to laws that improve immigrants' situations. Such policies often come at economic costs so they can be politically difficult to defend. The research pointed at the important interaction between local and global processes/actors and exposed the mostly passive consumption of evidence by policy makers.

Throughout the conference, the question of policy implications and challenges continued to arise. The conference addressed various aspects of migration and mobility through the lenses of economists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, political scientists and lawyers. The topics comprised forced migration, health and education impacts of migration, social cohesion, migration governance, integration, determinants of migration, environmental causes of migration, impacts of displacement on hosting communities, and remittances. 

Migrating out of Poverty was represented not only in the keynote speech, but also in two parallel sessions. Julie Litchfield from the University of Sussex presented research on gender differences in remittance sending behaviour in Zimbabwe. The results showed that once migrant and household characteristics are controlled for, there is no gender difference in the incidence nor value of remittances sent, but women send relatively larger shares of goods. Questions were raised that could explain these differences and the author suggested to further investigate the use of remittances, for example, by looking at expenditure share of various goods. This could reveal, for example, whether women might remit goods to directly benefit a specific person in the household such as a child left behind. 

I also presented some Migrating out of Poverty research, co-authored with Julie Litchfield, which described the repeated nature of migration within rural households in Ghana and estimates the impact of sending additional migrants on household welfare. We do not find any effect of further engagement in migration on households' asset wealth. The data suggests that households with new migrants use their savings to finance migration so that they might not be able to further invest in other assets. On the other hand, migration costs for new migrants are lower than those of first-time or previous migrants. This raised the question whether households might be learning from their previous migration experience.

Both studies were well received due to their detailed description of the characteristics of migrants, their households and remittance patterns. This drew the attention to the household surveys conducted by Migrating out of Poverty in both countries reflecting an important contribution to the goal to close the migration data gap

Another example of policy-relevant research was the presentation by Eva Dick and Benjamin Schraven of the German Development Institute (DIE) based on a government funded research aiming to better understand migration governance in source countries. They develop a comparative framework to analyse migration governance in the ECOWAS and IGAD region that reflects on the position of migration within the institutional identity, structures specifically addressing migration, the normative reasoning behind migration governance, and finally how this is transmitted into written policies and actually implemented. The discussion revealed the lack of integration regarding mobility within these two regions and a lack of commitment to implement policies such as freedom of movement due to priority of national interest.

A special session on the root causes of migration with two presentations by the United Nations' agricultural organizations, FAO and IFAD, looked for evidence of the relationship between rural development and migration. These institutions are interested in the extent that agricultural development might encourage or deter migration from rural areas in developing countries. Migration out of rural areas is high in many of the countries that are agriculture dependent and the question arises to what extent this is part of the structural transformation process and as such could be shaped to result in inclusive economic growth or whether new patterns are emerging. These new patterns include those of the youth bulge in many African countries turning away from agriculture and seeking opportunities in cities or abroad and some destinations failing to offer these opportunities. Especially for the African region another challenge is posed by a structural transformation process with a lack of more productive jobs in the non-farm agricultural or service sector due to increased globalisation pressures.

The second keynote speech by Professor Hillel Rapoport from the Paris School of Economics summarised existing evidence on the impacts of diaspora or international migration on origin countries through economic integration (via trade, financial flows, innovation) or cultural integration (political views, cultural convergence). Evidence shows that migration increases bilateral trade as a larger diaspora reduces transaction costs and raises demand for goods from the country of origin. While there is no evidence on this, a larger diaspora could even influence trade agreements by creating the critical demand. Migration leads to an even larger increase in financial flows than goods trade, especially for high-skilled migration. Also, innovation is positively related to international migration. However, there is no evidence specifically for the innovation in the agricultural sector and whether financial flows reach this sector. Professor Rapoport concluded to "let their people come" because the evidence shows an overall positive effect of international migration for development in origin countries and even on national policies of receiving countries. These impacts are expected to be even higher for South-South migration because there transaction costs etc. are usually higher.

Finally, the conference closed with reflections on the future research and policy agenda. A major goal for research is to produce more evidence on the causes and consequences of migration that can help to inform policy makers. This implies more data collection with a focus on migration, in source regions as well as following the migrants along their way and over time. To finance such costly surveys, policy makers have to be convinced of their potential to improve our knowledge. At the same time researchers have to be more creative in exploiting existing data to produce evidence as the resource mobilisation for new data is likely to be slow and challenging. New forms of research engagement with policy organisations are evolving, such as rapid reaction research immediately when and where events occur. One example is a survey collected at the arrival of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea run by the IOM at arrival points. 

Additional topics that should gain more attention by researchers and policy makers alike were raised. Among them were those of irregular migration and drivers to participate in it despite the risks, impacts of return migration, patterns of labour demand in destination countries to create channels of legal migration, net-benefits of migration, the role of information about migration to make it safer, financial product innovation that can improve the use of remittances, as well as the impact on families left-behind and possible need for support policies in origins. 

Covering a broad spectrum of migration-related topics, this conference provided the platform to share existing knowledge and to identify remaining knowledge gaps. These need to be closed to offer policy makers better understanding of how to positively shape mobility around the world. 

All presentation slides, papers and video recordings of the conference can be found online

Eva-Maria Egger worked for Migrating out of Poverty while completing her PhD at the University of Sussex. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Migrating out of Poverty, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, nor the UK’s Department for International Development.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Migrating out of Poverty at the UNU WIDER development conference

By Emmanuel Quarshie

The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) in collaboration with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) organized a development conference on migration and mobility on 5-6 October 2017 in Accra, Ghana. The theme of the conference was ‘Migration and mobility - new frontiers for research and policy’. In this blog I will discuss some of the main themes running through the conference and the Migrating out of Poverty contributions.

The issues of migration and mobility have become very topical and find their place at the heart of high-level global economic development debates. They are a feature of the Sustainable Development Goals due to the range of opportunities and challenges they pose globally. For this reason the conference sought to bring together a variety of disciplines ‘to inform policy-relevant debate and action’.

The conference was well attended by a wide range of researchers and scholars in the fields of migration, development economics and anthropology, among others. Favourably, Migrating out of Poverty team members from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Ghana were present. His Excellency, the Vice-President of Ghana, Mahamudu Bawumia gave the opening speech after a warm welcome address by Finn Tarp, Director of UNU-WIDER, and Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary General of ARUA.

The first keynote lecture was delivered by Ingrid Palmary, professor and academic director of the African Centre for Migration & Society at Wits University, South Africa. In her lecture, ‘How unpopular policies are made’, she discussed the following six key factors impacting on policy:

  • The nature of the policy being made
  • Who is the policy for?
  • Who are the role players?
  • Which positions have been taken? i.e. Is it from the moral/ethical or legal/human-right point of view?
  • Contestations over knowledge and
  • The political environment.

In her conclusion, she highlighted the fact that there is the need to attend to the relationship between global and local processes in policy formulation in order to avoid political rhetoric.

Professor Mariama Awumbila and Benjamin Schraven served as conveners for the parallel session on ‘Migration within Africa: defining the governance challenge’. A series of discussions went on after the three presentations, where focus was on the challenges of regional migration, economic integration and marriage migration. Having a keen interest in the presentation on ‘Challenges to regional migration and economic integration in West Africa: the case of Ghana and Nigeria’ I asked the presenter, Stephen Adaawen, if he could clearly explain the major problem impeding the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocol implementation, and if one of the plausible reasons was the conflict that exists between country-specific policies and ECOWAS protocol? He responded that the major challenge hampering the observation of the protocol for nationals from other member states was political will.  Countries within the community of the West Africa states looked to prioritize their citizens over citizens of other ECOWAS countries. Prof Awumbila suggested to improve mobility there was a need for ECOWAS to refine and define some key policies on the acquisition of work permits, residence permits and other such permits, to take into account those nationals residing outside their state that pass the 90 days of allowed stay in the another ECOWAS country. She also added that most of these issues emanate from the paucity in data on job categorisation and a lack of universality in school certificates among member countries.

During an afternoon session which was chaired by Ingrid Palmary, Julie Litchfield presented on
‘Migrant remittances and gender in Zimbabwe’. The presentation shed more light on in-kind remittances, which she stated, are more often sent by female migrants. It was put across, that in order to clearly understand the gendered dynamics of remitting and the overarching motivation to remit, these types of remittances must be acknowledged and explored. She argued that a focus on cash remittances ignores the larger volume of remittances sent by both men and women, but particularly undervalues the contribution of women to rural and household economies and this may have implications for policy around remittances. Looking solely at monetary remittances creates an incomplete picture.  Women are as likely as men to send remittances home and there is no difference in the value of what they send.

Eva-Maria Egger presented on ‘The nature and impact of repeated migration within households in rural Ghana’. The research sought to explore whether new migrants differ from the previous migrants of the same household and how having a new migrant affects the welfare of households who had already engaged in migration. She concluded with these four points:

  • There are repeated migration patterns and different motivations for migration within the same household
  • ‘New’ migrants are often from the younger generation, move more for educational reasons and because of household dynamics. They pay less for their move, remit rarely and when remitting, send smaller amounts
  • There was no impact of having a new migrant on the households of those left-behind who had already engaged in migration. Lower costs and the use of savings could explain this result
  • More longitudinal data and more outcome measures are needed for conclusive analysis

The last session of the conference highlighted an issue that many of us are grappling with. How can research affect policy? This invited a lot of views which highlighted the gap between research and policy; the role of politics in the implementation of key policies; the lack of proper liaison between researchers and policy makers; and the conflicting interests among these various actors. All places where more research can and should be done.

Emmanuel Quarshie is the Communications and Research Uptake officer for Migrating out of Poverty at the Centre for Migration Studies in Ghana

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

We’re attending the ‘Migration and mobility – new frontiers for research and policy’ conference in Ghana

On the 5-6 October delegates from around the world will be gathering in Accra, Ghana for the ‘Migration and mobility – new frontiers for research and policy’ conference hosted by UNU WIDER and the African Research Universities Alliance. The organisers have brought together researchers and policy makers to share new knowledge on migration within the Africa region. They explain:

“Migration and mobility are key facets of our increasingly globalized world, posing challenges but also offering opportunities. For migrants, this may include economic and social mobility, as well as improved physical security and an escape from conflict, violence and persecution. While the impact of migration on both host and sending countries is a topic of considerable contemporary political debate, there is also ample research showing the benefits in terms of labour market outcomes, economic growth, as well as diversity and innovation.”

Migrating out of Poverty is delighted that team members from South Africa, Ghana and the UK will be attending the conference.

On Thursday 5 October:
  • From 09.00-10.30, Ingrid Palmary will provide a keynote on ‘Global and local influences on policy making: An example of the South African anti-trafficking legislation’. She will discuss how global influences shaped the development of South Africa’s anti-trafficking legislation (Prevention and Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Act no. 26715, 2013). She has mapped these influences in terms of how they shaped the passing of the Act as well as the form that it took. In her address she will give attention to the case of migration policy-making which has taken place amidst complex and unequal global relationships.
  • From 10.45-12.30 (Parallel 1.4), Mariama Awumbila will chair the session on ‘Migration within Africa: defining the governance challenge.’
  • From 14.00-15.45 (Parallel 2.3), Ingrid Palmary will chair the session on ‘Gender.’ Julie Litchfield will present work from the counterfactuals study in Zimbabwe, ‘Migrant remittances and gender in Zimbabwe.’ This paper examines remittance sending behaviour of Zimbabwean migrants, both internal and international, exploring the nature of remittances and how remittance behaviour responds to the characteristics of the receiving family. Particular emphasis is placed on exploring gender differences in motivations to remit. The analysis draws on primary data collected by the authors in Zimbabwe in 2015 from a sample of 1200 households. 
  • From 16.15-18.00 (Parallel 3.2), Eva-Maria Egger will present work from the counterfactuals study in Ghana, ‘Migration experience, the migration decision and its impact on household welfare: new evidence from rural Ghana.’ In this paper, she explores repeated migration within a household and consequent welfare outcomes. The paper provides evidence that households often have more than one migrant member and that they have different characteristics depending on who moved first. New migrants are more likely to be from a younger generation, they face lower migration costs, and only few of them remit. She finds no effect of sending a new migrant on the change in the asset index. The different nature of migration of new migrants implies neither an economic gain for the household nor a loss. The reason for the former is that the migrants remit less or not at all and the reason for the latter is that migration becomes less costly with prior experience. 

Do come along to our sessions and meet the team.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

My PhD odyssey with Migrating out of Poverty

By Jon Sward,

In August, after five years of hard work, my PhD odyssey – which included a studentship with Migrating out of Poverty – came to a happy conclusion when I submitted the corrections to my thesis, following my viva voce exam in February.

When I started my PhD journey, I knew that I wanted to focus on the relationship between migration, poverty reduction, and the environment at migration destinations in low-income contexts. This was in October 2012, and I had spent a good chunk of the past half-year taking part in follow-up activities with key policy stakeholders in relation to the Foresight Report on Migration and Global Environmental Change. The report provided an overview of the state-of-science on climate migration, drawing on 70 working papers from scholars around the globe. Among the key findings of the report was that in future decades people were likely to be in increasingly moving into areas that are affected by dramatic environmental changes, and yet the nascent body of research evidence at the time on the ‘climate-migration nexus’ was mainly preoccupied with how environmental factors contributed to out-migration in migration ‘origin areas’.

I was interested in looking at how things were panning out for migrants at other end of the migratory chain, and how environmental change was part of this equation. These rather vague origins eventually led me to alight on internal migration to rural agricultural areas in Ghana’s Brong Ahafo region. One of my supervisors, Prof Dominic Kniveton, suggested I consider using ‘complex adaptive systems’ (CAS) theory as a way to frame my research – and I’m glad I did as this framework helped my re-think the ways I saw migration and climate relations, and led me to a set of questions I probably would not have encountered otherwise. CAS theory is based on the notion that human systems and the environment are co-evolving, and that the actions of agents underlie larger patterns and processes. Rather than staying in equilibrium, however, human and environmental relations are continuously being re-formed through feedback processes and non-linear relations. CAS theory invites a thorough analysis of the positioning of social actors within wider structures, and an understanding of the ongoing dialogue between these social actors and the environment.  

As part of my PhD, I conducted qualitative research with three communities in Brong Ahafo, which were mainly comprised of migrant farmers from Northern Ghana. CAS theory gave me a framework to explore the relationships between in-migration, changing land tenure norms under which farmers were acquiring land, and the impact of environmental change (especially rainfall variability and bushfires) on these migrants’ livelihoods. Their  livelihoods were embedded in larger agricultural supply chains that link rural Ghana to global markets, while also being mediated by varying social, monetary and other types of capital on the local level and weather patterns which migrants claimed were becoming increasingly erratic.

I found highly differentiated livelihoods among my interview participants across the three sites. This suggested that those who had arrived in the region when land tenure norms were comparatively good, or who had significant social capital within these ‘stranger’ communities, had sometimes been highly successful since migrating to Brong Ahafo. However, many of their migrant counterparts were – as they put it – ‘farming at a loss’, and were struggling to eke out a living through tenant farming.

One of the things that struck me about the tenant farmers I worked with as part of my PhD research was how invisible they were at the level of national policy, to say nothing of international donors’ agendas. Despite the repeated refrain that development policy should help ‘the poorest’, often those who are truly at the margins are left unheard. In a round-about way, these insights led me to my new post-PhD line of work, which while building on my focus on environmental change, doesn’t have a migration element, at least for now. In August, I started a new job at the Bretton Woods Project, a World Bank and IMF watchdog based in London. As the Environment Project Manager, I am developing a new environmental advocacy focus that will build on the Bretton Woods Project’s historical focus on monitoring the Bank’s role in climate finance and investing in energy infrastructure projects in developing countries. We are entering a pivotal global moment in terms of efforts to deal with the existential threat that anthropogenic climate change poses. Although the Bank has been quick to identify the problem of climate change – probably shouting the loudest about it amongst multilateral development banks – change on its operational side has not been swift, and between 2008-2015 it poured some $25 billion into investment in fossil fuels according to Oil Change International.

Like all big institutions, adapting to climate change for the World Bank will be painful but necessary if it wants to carry out its mission of poverty reduction that will reach the poorest, who are often most at risk of climate change’s impacts. Too often, the solutions to these problems have been linear, technical solutions – we’re entering a tough new world, and we need to understand the complexities that underpin it.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A doctoral student’s journey with Migrating out of Poverty

In the summer five years ago, while I was writing up my Master dissertation, I received an email from the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium offering me a studentship. I accepted gratefully and today I am looking at a completed PhD thesis on internal migration in Brazil and Ghana as well as on a long list of skills and experiences gained during my work with the team.

Migration forms part of life for many people in developing countries, but questions remain about modern patterns of internal migration beyond rural-to-urban movement and the impacts on receiving communities as well as on the households that stay behind. In my dissertation, I investigated these questions through the lens of an economist. The thesis comprises three essays that utilise household data and apply econometric methods for the analysis.

In the first paper, the focus is on Brazilian workers who move out of metropolitan cities to smaller towns. Documenting that as many people move out of the mega cities as into them, I find that high housing costs in the big cities appear to drive the migration decision. Migrants earn relatively more, or at least as much, in the small towns as in the cities once rent prices are accounted for and they prefer smaller destinations close to their origin and within their state of birth.

The high mobility of the Brazilian population raises the question of how the arrival of migrants in a new location affects economic and social factors there. The arrival of internal migrants is associated with an increase in local homicide rates, but only if the destination labour market has a small informal sector and/or if it had very high crime in the past. These findings point at the role that local labour market structures play for the integration of migrants, whether internal or international.

The third essay turns to repeated patterns of migration and their consequences for origin households. Together with Dr Julie Litchfield, Team Leader of the Quantitative Research in Migrating out of Poverty, we documented different migration patterns in rural Ghana using data collected there in 2013 and 2015 by the Centre for Migration Studies (CMS). Migration is a repeated event within these households, family members move and others move a few years later. We found that new migrants are more likely to be from a younger generation, they face lower migration costs, and only few of them remit. There seems to be no effect on a household’s asset index when a new migrant moves. We concluded that the different nature of migration of new migrants implies neither an economic gain for the household nor a loss. The reason for the former is that the migrants remit less or not at all and the reason for the latter is that migration becomes less costly with prior experience.

Aside the important financial contribution the consortium has made to my PhD, working as part of the Sussex team was an enriching experience filled with great opportunities. I was able to follow the process of collecting a household survey from the design of a questionnaire through the training of enumerators to the verification of the data. I was involved in the data cleaning and further data analysis for several working papers, for example in Bangladesh (RMMRU), Ghana (CMS) and South Africa (ACMS). During this process I grew in confidence thanks to the trust put in me by the team. For example, I was granted the opportunity to travel to the partners of ACMS in South Africa and CMS in Ghana to discuss the data and research results. Most of all, I appreciated to work in a multi-disciplinary team. The quality and diversity of research presented at the final conference this March summarized the importance of looking at the topic of migration through various lenses in order to understand it better. The consortium impressed and excited me to continue to do so.

Today I write this blog from Rome, where I have started a post-doctoral position in the Research and Impact Assessment Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN organisation. The Fund’s projects are geared towards rural development and the topic of migration is recognized as an integral part of this process. I get the chance to contribute the experience gained during these past years of my work with Migrating out of Poverty, and new topics await me, such as seasonal migration within the rural transformation process. Throughout all these new challenging research agendas, I look forward to future collaboration with Migrating out of Poverty and its partners!

Monday, 28 August 2017

Demonised migration brokers can point out where policy is going wrong

In the fight against human trafficking and the rise of modern slavery, a top priority for governments and human rights organisations has been to “break the business model” of migration brokers thought to be the main channel for such exploitation. Those same governments might do well to understand what those brokers do, and why they exist in the first place.

If you want to see brokers in action, then domestic work and construction work are as good a place to start as any. In these sectors people can be exploited thanks to a lack of written contracts, the hidden nature of the work inside private homes (in the case of domestic workers), non-compliance with labour laws.

Migrant workers from poorer countries and communities are heavily represented in both occupations. Often, the only way they can negotiate complex regulations is with the help of migration brokers who have the skills, knowledge and connections needed to move into these different worlds. Brokers are often former migrants or well connected and trusted members of the migrant’s own community.

The other side of the story
Brokers have been demonised as exploiters of migrant labour due to the level of control they can exert over migrants with no other means of support. However, there is another side to this which sheds light on why migrants keep using brokers. Recent research that I have been involved with in Ghana and Bangladesh shows a complex reality where brokers are indeed complicit in perpetuating exploitation and conditions of forced labour, but also help migrants to bargain for better working conditions.

Chapainawabganj in Bangladesh, a high migration district near the border with India, sees large numbers of men from farming families migrate to Qatar for construction work. In the Bangladeshi popular discourse, brokers are called Adam Bepari or “traders in human beings” typifying the view which assumes all the power lies with the broker. Similar ways of describing recruiters are seen in other countries.

The government has attempted to eliminate brokers but with little success. Bangladeshi men continue to use informal brokers for several reasons. Legal migration through the Kafala system, the sponsored visa system in the Gulf, is expensive and difficult because skills may not match available jobs. Migrants also say that they feel more protected by the “moral contract” with the broker, witnessed by family and elders. Many also want “free visas” that don’t tie them to a single employer, so they might have the opportunity to move on to better jobs through social networks in Qatar. This was only possible if brokers guided them down an irregular migration route.

Even when brokers broke promises on wages and contracts, migrants regarded the migration as successful because they had reached Qatar and found work, however exploitative. Migrants factor in hardship and precarity in the short term to achieve long-term goals of improved living standards and prospects for their families. Brokers, however imperfect, are seen as a necessary stepping stone.

Domestic work in Ghana
There are echoes of the same story in west Africa, where there is rural-urban migration for domestic work within Ghana. Here too brokers are widely regarded as unscrupulous traders who exploit vulnerable domestic workers.

However, our interviews with 76 migrants, employers, brokers and officials show the grey area. Brokers do help to maintain the status quo by pressuring workers to accept exploitative terms and behave in subservient ways, but they also help migrants with settling into urban areas, bargaining and job-switching for better working conditions.

Brokers offer a route through which migrants can negotiate with employers, an otherwise thankless task. Unlike formal agencies, informal brokers helped employers with recommendations on character and behaviour, an aspect regarded as very important by women who were recruiting another female to work in their home.

Lessons for policy
These two very different examples show clear similarities. Migrants and employers are reluctant to engage with the formal system and can have a strong preference for informal brokers who they trust. Informal brokers are also cheaper. In Ghana, employers are charged a non-refundable 250 Ghanaian cedis (about US$60) fee and workers 100 cedis in the official system. Informal brokers charge less than half and tailor their fees to each client.

Formal agencies are also not designed to help migrants with the things that they need most. Those seeking work away from home need shepherding through complex procedures, support and financing, and someone who can negotiate on their behalf. Work secured through brokers may pay less than work secured through formal channels, but getting into the labour market at all is a prize for many migrants.

Policy makers in Ghana, Bangladesh and beyond should recognise that brokerage is fuelled by tightening border controls and work permit systems, and by unwelcoming urban areas. Launching an attack on brokerage without easing migration barriers will not work. In fact, the way brokers work should encourage more migrant friendly practices such as cheap loans, flexible repayment and support with integration.

There are strong parallels between the situation we have described in the global South and the experience right now in Europe where governments are trying to eliminate brokers without providing workable alternatives to help migrants manage risk. All migration through brokers is labelled as trafficking. Examples of extreme exploitation are highlighted as governments seek to deter migrants. The role that brokers play in easing the path to economic migration and providing protection through the journey is rarely talked about.
The clear lesson from Ghana and Bangladesh is that a flourishing brokerage industry is a signal that formal channels are failing, or at least fail to meet the nuanced demands of migration and migrants. The demonisation of brokers as exploitative criminals is not entirely unfair, but it falls short if we are to genuinely understand the lives and motivations of migrants while legal and legitimate migration remains a privilege enjoyed by a rich and educated minority.

Acknowledgements: This article was first published in The Conversation.