Essay on Migrant Workers Exploitation

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Migrant workers, have the same rights and protections as any other worker under the law. However, the sad fact is that migrant workers often face abuse, job insecurity, discrimination, and even violence at rates much higher than workers who do not have to migrate from one country to another to find employment. In recent years, wage exploitation and human trafficking have become serious issues that the United Nations and other governmental organizations and nonprofits have tried to address with uneven success (Harkins 103). There are many factors contributing to this alarming trend in migrant worker exploitation; while it is a complex international problem, there are some efforts underway which show promise in protecting this vulnerable global demographic.

According to a 2017 International Labour Organization report, there are an estimated 164 million migrant workers around the world, who have emigrated from their native countries – at least temporarily – to find work elsewhere (ILO). In the United States alone an estimated 1.3 temporary foreign workers find work here each year, although since those statistics do not include undocumented immigrants, it could likely be much higher (Costa and Rosenbaum 25). According to ILO, men continue to comprise the majority of migrant workers, with women’s share of the migrant workforce declining in recent years (ILO). While migrant workers are often critical to the operation and expansion of national economies, the migrant and at times illegal status of this workforce often leaves it subject to exploitation.

Migrant workers are exploited by their employers in many different ways; in some cases, this exploitation appears to occur due to governments of work nations ignoring the plight of migrant workers, or at times even tacitly enabling it. The most common form of abuse of migrant workforces is wage exploitation (Stringer and Snejina 64). Since many migrant workers seek work in other countries due to dire economic circumstances in their homelands, they are often less willing to demand better wages; moreover, due to their migrant status they often have less capacity to bargain collectively; this is especially the case for undocumented workers, who fear they may be subject to legal action if they confront employers about low wages.

Additionally, many migrant workers often experience debt bondage as well. Nefarious employment agencies or employers themselves at times charge exorbitant fees for connecting migrant workers with employment opportunities, arranging for travel and entry into a country, etc. As a result of debt bondage, many migrant workers are compelled to work for an employer longer than desired, and often have to hand over significant portions of their earnings in order to pay off their “debt;” In some cases debt bondage leads to migrant workers owing their employers or employment agencies more than they can ever make in their jobs.

Travel Status exploitation is a further type of exploitation migrant workers have been subject to in some countries. Migrant workers who travel from one country to another to work may have their passports or other documents confiscated by employers or other entities. Lacking the ability to leave the work country or even travel freely within It, workers often feel compelled to continue working. This form of exploitation may also make it more likely for the migrant workers to be victimized in other ways, such as through wage exploitation.

Finally, migrant workers, due to their status, often face threats to their health and safety as well. Unscrupulous employers expose migrant workers to unsafe working conditions at higher rates than native workers, often failing to provide them proper safety and protective equipment. As a result, these workers are more prone to injuries or health issues on the job, and often are not provided or do not have access to the healthcare required to mitigate these risks. Migrant workers, especially women or children, can be at high risk for sexual exploitation in some particularly heinous work arrangements as well (Various Authors 33).

Overall, it is clear that while migrant workers are critical to the global economy and provide clear opportunities for many of the workers involved, greater protection of these at-risk workers is absolutely necessary.

Efforts to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers have achieved mixed results. The United Nations has long recognized the plight of the migrant worker, and its Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has established a Committee on Migrant Workers that is dedicated to protecting the rights of these workers and their families. The Committee uses independent experts to monitor global adherence to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which the UN Assembly adopted by resolution on December 18, 1990 . Still despite all of the international consensus on the importance of protecting them, exploitation of migrant workers remains a global problem.

In the United States, there are considerable Federal and State laws that provide protections for migrant workers. For example, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA), passed in 1983, provides protections to migrant workers by establishing standards for compensation, work conditions and how employers must account for these types of workers; the overall Intent of this act was to ensure that migrant workers were treated fairly, and would be less susceptible to mistreatment and exploitation (Department of Labor, 2021). However, while the MSPA and other laws and policies do afford migrant workers some critical support, most policies do little to protect undocumented migrant workers, whose legal status often leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.

While there are more laws and policies across the world to protect them than ever before, migrant workers remain highly vulnerable to exploitation. The migrant worker population accounted for more than one in twenty workers in 2019 and is expected to continue growing in the future, failure to enforce existing laws or enact new ones to protect these workers could put more people at risk and damage a vital resource of human capital that is essential to the global economy (United Nations, 2021).

Works Cited

Author Unknown, ILO Global Estimate on Migrant Workers, ILO Labour Migration Branch & ILO Department of Statistics, 2018.

Author Unknown, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, December 18, 1990,

Author Unknown, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed November 9, 2021,

Costa, Daniel and Rosenbaum, Jennifer, Temporary Foreign Workers by the Numbers, Economic Policy Institute, March 7, 2017,

Harkins, Benjamin, Wage Theft: The Missing Middle in Exploitation of Migrant Workers, Open Democracy, January 21, 2021,

Stringer, Christine and Snejina, Michailova, Understanding the Exploitation of Temporary Migrant Workers: A Comparison of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, Report prepared for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, July 2019.

Various Authors, I Already Bought You": Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates, New York, Human Rights Watch, 2014.