Labor

Labor

Is Regular Migration Safer Migration? Insights from Thailand

This paper challenges the assumption within international development programming that regular and orderly migration is also safer for migrants. Based on data collected from Cambodian, Burmese, Laotian, and Vietnamese labor migrants recently returned from Thailand, this paper illustrates the limits of regular migration to provide meaningfully “safer” experiences. It observes that migrant workers who move through legal channels do not systematically experience better outcomes. While regular migrants report better pay and working conditions than irregular migrants, they also systematically report working conditions that do not meet legal standards, and routinely experience contract substitution. Regular migrants also have a higher likelihood of experiencing exploitation, contract breaches, harassment, abuse, and involuntary return. These findings challenge mainstream development discourses seeking to promote safer migration experiences through expanding migration infrastructure. The paper recommends: 1) re-examining the conflation of “safe” with “regular and orderly” migration and advocating for practices that increase migrant safety, 2) focusing on broadening rights offered to migrant workers, and 3) strengthening and expanding oversight of labor standards and migrant regulations.

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