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.
This paper on return migration is the first in a series from the Scalabrini Migration Study Centers, a worldwide network of think-tanks on international migration, on different migration issues and policy ideas that should inform the development and implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration. This paper is authored by Graziano Batistella, c.s., who directs the Scalabrini Migration Center in the Philippines. It offers a conceptual framework for analyzing return migration and developing appropriate policies in response. It identifies a continuum of types of return based on the time of return and the decision to return. These are: “return of achievement,” “return of completion,” “return of setback,” and “return of crisis (forced return).” The paper recommends particular policies – which would benefit migrants and their communities of origin – in response to each of these types of return. It urges that the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration and the Global Compact for Refugees not treat return as “an act that simply concludes migration,” but one that requires effective policies to protect and ensure the well-being of migrants, to facilitate their reintegration, and to maximize their contributions.