South Asian migrants powering the construction boom in oil-rich Gulf countries are often illegally made to pay for their own recruitment, adding to hardships of poor working conditions and wages, according to an investigation released Tuesday.
Millions of migrants seeking a way out of poverty by working in Gulf nations from Qatar to the United Arab Emirates must routinely pay fees that can equal a year's salary, U.S. researchers said in a report.
"Recruitment is not free," said report co-author David Segall of New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. "Somebody does have to bear these costs, but that of course should be the employing company."
The findings came as conditions for construction workers from India, Nepal and Bangladesh in the 2022 FIFA World Cup host, Qatar, have drawn scrutiny from rights groups who say migrants live in squalor and work without proper access to water and shelter.
In five fact-finding missions to the Gulf and South Asia, the researchers found workers are typically made to pay for their airfare from South Asia and their work visa, often at inflated prices.
Selling visas for profit is illegal in the six Gulf countries the researchers investigated — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. But violations rarely lead to prosecution and punishment, the report said.
Fees highest for Bangladeshis
Bangladeshi workers paid as much as $5,200 in recruitment fees, according to the study, the highest price among other South Asian construction workers, who number some 10 million people in the Gulf.
In rare cases, construction companies took on expenditures to recruit their workers, the study found. The fees had the effect of pushing already destitute migrants further into poverty by tying them to high-interest loans.
"These are people who are already desperate enough that they feel that they need to undertake this journey, leave their families in order to just achieve the possibility of economic success," Segall told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "For them to be in debt before they even start this journey is really an injustice."
Reports of abuse of migrant domestic workers have prompted countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Indonesia to ban their citizens in recent years from seeking jobs in the Middle East.
The New York University report expanded on the findings of an investigation conducted in Qatar and released last week, which concluded hundreds of Asian workers had paid recruitment fees.