Every year, millions of migrant workers leave their homes to pursue jobs and economic opportunity in the booming global construction industry.
With limited employment alternatives in their home countries, migrant workers seek opportunities abroad that allow them and their families to move out of poverty. But these workers often operate in a gray zone between home and host country protections that leave them vulnerable to exploitation, especially in the recruitment process. Some recruitment agencies charge workers exorbitant fees – in some cases an amount equal to a year's salary – to place them in construction jobs abroad. After they migrate, workers can encounter poor working conditions, unpaid or underpaid wages, or the inability to leave the country or change jobs without their employer's permission.
In April 2017, the Center published Making Workers Pay: Recruitment of the Migrant Labor Force in the Gulf Construction Industry. It finds that construction companies operating in the Arabian Gulf are able to recruit millions of low-wage migrant workers without incurring the costs of the recruitment process. Instead, in this highly irregular system, most workers themselves are paying for their own recruitment – and much more – before they depart their home countries.