Working paper

Deficiencies in Conditions of Work as a Cost to Labor Migration: Concepts, Extent, and Implications


Mariya Aleksynska, Samia Kazi Aoul, Veronica Petrencu (Preotu)


This paper sets out three goals. First, it provides a conceptual framework for analyzing migration costs associated with deficiencies in the conditions of work abroad, which is an insufficiently explored aspect of the existing theoretical frameworks on migration decision making. Second, using a novel data set, the KNOMAD migration surveys, it examines the nature and extent of the losses that migrant workers experience due to deficiencies in working conditions. Specifically, the paper shows that working conditions, such as contractual status, level of wages and periodicity of wage payments, hours worked, occupational safety and health issues, as well as trade union involvement and discrimination are areas in which migrant workers report substantial short-falls compared with decent work. Expressing these deficits in monetary terms, the analysis finds that the aggregate losses due to deficiencies in the conditions of work abroad represent 27 percent of total actual wages, and are twice as high as the recruitment and travel costs incurred to migrate. These costs vary across migration corridors as well as across migrants’ age, gender, and sector of activity. For example, female domestic workers have some of the highest costs due to prohibitively excessive hours, while men in construction have high costs due to unexpected wage deductions, long hours, exposure to adverse climate conditions, and particularly high incidence of work-related traumatic injuries. Although the data show a relatively low incidence of occupational safety and health problems among domestic workers, this is likely because migrants who suffered from fatal injuries, including as a result of violence or unsafe work, were not captured by the survey. Lastly, the paper empirically shows that deficiencies in working conditions can negatively affect the amount of remittances, and tend to shorten migration duration, warranting policy attention to tackle the migration and development inefficiencies created by poor working conditions.