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How people migrate

Labour brokers

A rapidly growing migration industry has emerged, as labour brokers match demand with supply.

Although many people can take advantage of family contacts or migrant networks, others have to rely on brokers who will find jobs for workers, or workers for jobs, and arrange transport and accommodation and deal with all the bureaucracy of passports, visas and work permits. They operate in source and destination countries  and make their money at both ends. In the past, some goverments in countries of origin, usually socialist, have also organized migration.

For the migrants using private brokers can be expensive even though the charges are often supposed to be regulated. In Bangladesh, unskilled workers can pay up $2,000 for a job in Saudi Arabia, which is more than 80% of what they can expect to earn in the first year - money that they usually have to find by borrowing from other members of their family, or by mortgaging the family house or land.

Once the migrants have arrived, however, they may find that they have been deceived and that the work and conditions are very different from those promised. Brokers can also be fairly ruthless if the migrant is unable to repay them from his or her earnings.

Brokers do not confine their activities to unskilled workers. One of the most lucrative broking activities in the 1990s was to ship Indian computer programmers to the United States. Such workers enter with the 'H-1B' visas for people who have skills that companies are unable to find in the United States. In this case the brokers, called 'body shops', will do most of the work for the company, recruiting the workers and completing the visa formalities. But the workers effectively remain employees of the brokers.

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