Foreign worker

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Foreign farm worker, New York

A foreign worker is a person who works in a country other than the one of which he or she is a citizen. Migrant workers may follow work within their own country or between countries, depending on which definition is used. Some foreign workers are present temporarily and legally through a guest worker program in a country with more preferred job prospects than their home country. Some are illegal aliens. Foreign workers temporarily reside in the country in which they work, and will often send most or all wages earned back to their country of origin.

Foreign workers by country[edit]


In Canada, foreign nationals are accepted into Canada on a temporary basis for a number of reasons, including student visas, refugee claims, or under special permits. The largest category however is called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), under which workers are brought to Canada by their employers for specific jobs.[1] In 2006, there were a total of 265,000 foreign workers in Canada. Amongst those of working age, there was a 118% increase from 1996. By 2008, the intake of non-permanent immigrants (399,523, the majority of whom are TFWs), had overtaken the intake of permanent immigrants (247,243).[2]

United States[edit]

Green card workers are individuals who have requested and received legal permanent residence in the United States and who intend to work in the United States on a permanent basis via a guest worker program.

Other countries[edit]

Sometimes, a host country sets up a program in order to invite guest workers, as did the Federal Republic of Germany from 1955 until 1973, when over one million guest workers (German: Gastarbeiter) arrived, mostly from Italy, Spain and Turkey.

Current estimates on the total number of international foreign workers stand at about 25 million[citation needed], with a comparable number of dependents accompanying them. An estimated 14 million foreign workers live in the United States, which draws most of its immigrants from Mexico, including 4 or 5 million undocumented workers. It is estimated that around 5 million foreign workers live in Northwestern Europe, half a million in Japan, and around 5 million in Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Workers in the Middle East[edit]


Two dominant approaches can be appropriated to migration: the macro-approach and the intermediate level.[3] The macro-approach to migration analyzes the flow of migration and labor market incorporation of migrant to a world-system model.[3] The intermediate level approach in turn analyzes the role of institutions in migration.[3] These approaches can be used to study the systems of migration present globally. When applied to low-skilled laborers in the Middle East, it brings to understanding their plight when interacting in their host environment.

One analysis has surmised the four key dislocation of low-skilled migrant workers in the Middle East. Partial citizenship, pain of family separation, contradictory class mobility, and non-belonging, are often experienced by migrants and influence their communities both in their home and host country.[3]

After the boom in oil price in 1973, there was an influx of unskilled workers from South and Southeast Asia to the Middle East.[4] This was a surge of wealth for Arab States of the Persian Gulf (UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain) which comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council.[5] Persian Gulf countries had funds and had grand development plans with funds to back but did not have an adequate labor force. Before the boom, the Arab states had a combined workforce of only 1.36 million.[5] The funds drawn from this boom allowed the Persian Gulf countries to institute large development plans. Despite the funds for these plans, they did not have a large enough labor force to back them. This was resolved with an initial influx came from other Arab countries (Egypt, Yemen, Sudan) and Asia (Pakistan and India).[4] By the end of the 1980s, half of Asian migration stemmed from Southeast Asia.[4] In the early 1990s however, Southeast Asians were one of the largest represented groups among foreign workers.[4]

In 1975, there were 205,700 Pakistani workers in the nine major oil exporting countries.[5]

In 1985, oil prices fell rapidly.[4] This fallback in infrastructure led to a decrease in Asian migration by a third.[4] This fall was not as severe however with the earlier development of a service economy. This was made up largely by women from South and Southeast Asia. While this was occurring, the number of expatriate migrants from other Arab States was being reduced, oftentimes due to political reasons. Asian governments differed from Arab sending countries as they pursued active policies for overseas employment in order to alleviate unemployment and partly to generate foreign income.[4] This overseas labor force became an export that generated considerable earnings. An example of such could be seen in Sri Lanka in 1999 where remittances from workers totaled $1 billion.[4]

As of the twenty-first century, in Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, non-national workers contribute to seventy percent of total labor force. As for emigrating populations, Pakistan has become a major labor exporter as result of shift in labor importation preferences. Migrant workers constitutes 6-8 percent of total labor force of Pakistan.[5]

The average foreign worker is aged 25–40 years.[5] 70 percent of foreign workers are married, while only 4 percent are accompanied by families.[5] Two thirds of the population hail from rural areas.[5] 83% of migrants are production workers.[5] 40 percent of foreign exchange earnings are seen in migrant countries.[5] With this jump in earnings, one benefit that has been seen is the nutritional improvement in households of migrant workers.[5] Other benefits seen are the lessening of underemployment and unemployment.[5] Simultaneously however, foreign migration has caused a shortage of skills in such countries as Pakistan.[5] This has affected the quality of work and productivity in Pakistan. This has led to a decline in the quality of the labor force. With regards to injuries and death, workers or their dependents are not paid due to compensation.

No quotas exist on the number of migrants allowed in Middle Eastern countries.[4] Most oftentimes local labor law and regulations do not specifically cover temporary contract migrants. This is especially detrimental to domestic workers who do not experience any legal protections. Because many domestic workers are live-in, they often experience a further violation of rights in their relationship with their employers. Freedom of choice is often limited for workers as most workers often require permission from the government or an employer, to migrate within a country to another job. While staying in a host country, it is known that workers do not have an option of citizenship nor do the rights of a citizen apply to them. Those who run away or do not renew their visas are seen as illegal and are then subject to arrest and deportation.[4] While most migrants workers are unskilled, migrants in high-skilled positions are in demand. As seen as such states as Bahrain, certain economic factors along with residence in the state for an allotted period of time, opens up citizenship to workers in these positions.[4]

Xenophobia and Racism[edit]

Xenophobia in receiving nations is often rampant as menial work is often allocated only to foreign workers. Expatriate labor is treated with prejudice in host countries despite attempt of government to eradicate malpractice and exploitation of workers. Emigrants are offered substandard wages and living conditions and are compelled to work overtime without extra payment.[5] With regards to injuries and death, workers or their dependents are not paid due to compensation.[5] Citizenship is rarely offered and labor can oftentimes be acquired at a below minimum wage rate. Foreign workers often lack access local labor markets. Oftentimes these workers are legally attached to a sponsor/employer until the completion of their employment contract. After the completion of a contract, a worker must either renew a permit or leave the country.[5]

Racism is seen prevalently towards migrant workers. With an increasing number of unskilled workers from Asia and Africa, the market for foreign workers became increasingly racialized. This could be seen with the notion that dangerous or “dirty” jobs became associated with Asian and African workers. Dark-skinned workers are noted by the given term "Abed", meaning dark skin.[4]

Domestic Workers[edit]

Women often make up the majority of the domestic labor force in the Middle East. Globalization and social norms of women are the major contributors to this. Globalization typically demands the low-wage labor of women from traditionally third world countries in export-processing zones of developing countries in secondary tiers of manufacturing and service sectors in capitalist countries.[3] Since the 1980s, the number of women migrating internationally in the eastern hemisphere has increased continuously.[6] Most jobs available in the eastern hemisphere fall into the category of domestic work or entertainment.[6] With this, there has been an increasing trend with the feminization of the labor force overseas with the growing demand for domestic workers.

Domestic workers, in the past, were typically Arab women and girls.[4] With the arrival of South and Southeast Asian women, the dynamic of domestic work was changed. An honor code type system in the past regulated the treatment of Arab women in an employer’s household.[4] This ensured safety on the end of a domestic worker. With the families of current domestic workers being in remote nations, this protection is not necessarily ensured. A cultural barrier is also seen between an employer and a domestic worker as most Filipinas and Sri Lankans are not Muslim.

With the booming economies seen in Arab States of the Persian Gulf, domestic service present in the household has become seen as a status symbol.[6] Though these countries have had a long tradition of domestic help, it has come to be seen as a luxury to have domestic help. This can be seen with the large number of women that migrate to these states each year. Saudi Arabia draws around 30,000 South and Southeast Asian women annually.[6] Since the 1980s, the major exporters of domestic workers have been the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand.[6] By 1987, 2,000,000-2,500,000 Filipinos were working abroad in Persian Gulf states as domestic helpers.[6] This large number of migrants has typically been propelled by the governments of exporting nations. In 1985, the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment began to train and recruit female workers as domestic helpers.[6] The direct effect of this was seen in 1990 where out of the 65% of 75,000 workers that Sri Lanka exported were women.[6] Bangladesh attempted to counteract the increasing number of migrants with a ban on the migration of domestic workers in 1983,[6] but migration persisted, oftentimes, illegally. For every two legal workers in the Persian Gulf states, one is illegal.[6] This adds to the dependency most workers find with their employers as an illegal status can lead to punitive measures in these states.

Dependency on employers is often tied by domestic work not being protected by labor laws in the Persian Gulf states.[6] In the households that domestic workers are employed in, the most common head has a professional occupation.[7] The heads of households control the allotment of wages for these workers and it is a common complaint from domestic workers to receive nonpayment.[7] Other common abuses are abuse in contract along with sexual and physical violence.[6] In the 1980s, the Embassy of the Philippines and Sri Lanka received 40 and 25-30 complaints a day respectively.[6] A high incidence of death is seen with domestic workers. From 1988 to 1989, of the 48 deaths seen among Sri Lankan maids, 30 were deemed accidental, 8 suicides, 6 murders, and 4 were “natural calamities”.[6] This occurrence can be tied to the common complaints reported by domestic workers: beats, inadequate amounts of food, long work hours, sexual harassment, and rape.[7]

A common procedure with complaints, among the embassies in Arab states of the Persian Gulf, it to contact the local police.[7] The role of the police is to then contact the employer of the domestic worker who filed the complaint.[7] What often ensues is dealt with on the part of the employer. If the original employer refuses to transfer the visa to another employer, the maid is given two options: leave right away or seek employment in another house.[7] Seeking employment elsewhere is illegal.[7] It is common for the embassy of the domestic worker’s home country to relocate the victim before her visa expires.[7] If it expires however, she is subject to financing the return to her home country, as seen in cases of deportation.[7]


Kuwait has high percentage of South Asian workers. Over 90 percent of nationals work in the public sector where salaries and benefits are usually higher.[4] Around 300,00 foreign workers are employed as domestic helpers.[4] This includes a third from India and a third from Sri Lanka.[4] In recent years measures have been passed to reduce the foreign presence in Kuwait. This includes freezing access to free medical and educational services and introducing a tax on foreign nationals. This is done to increase the job market for Kuwaiti nationals.


Oman has experienced a great increase in the number of foreign workers, with a 34 percent increase in 2000.[4] The largest population of foreigners include Indians and Pakistanis. Despite being skilled, they often meet jobs with lower wages than Omanis. To target these foreign workers, the Omani government has attempted to regulate the status of foreign workers. This includes determining whether foreign workers are “irregular”. Along with the other Arab States, Oman offer amnesties to those with valid documents to exit the country .

United Arab Emirates[edit]

In the UAE, foreigners compromise over half the expatriate workforce. The majority of the workforce is comprised by South Asians, followed by Southeast Asians and Arabs. 85 percent of the population of UAE is made up of foreign workers.[4]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Saudi Arabia in recent year has instituted a policy of “indigenization”.[4] This is an attempt to reduce foreign labor in favor of Saudi nationals. This was seen in Saudi Arabia’s five-year plan between the years of 2000-2005 in which it was expected that 200,000 jobs occupied by foreign workers would be replaced by nationals.[4]


Although there have been disagreements over immigration in the broader sense (the current system facilitated with green cards). Most controversy in the United States since 1990 has been in regard to "guest workers" both legal and illegal.

In recent years in the United States, there has been much controversy over whether H-1B visas (a particular instance of guest worker), intended to bring highly skilled workers to fill gaps in the domestic labor pool, are instead being used to bring in skilled, but otherwise unexceptional, economic migrants as cheap labor to fill jobs that could readily be filled domestically. There is much controversy over pending legislation that would allow unskilled labor to enter the country for this same reason. On the other hand there are some skilled workers who are paid meagerly compared to their American counterparts who usually absorb the work done by these foreign workers. Once, they have the work absorbed, they are usually laid-off or isolated. A lot of these skilled laborers are abused by restrictions imposed by the immigration process.

Foreign students coming into the US may also be guest workers. They may face large salary differences until obtaining their green card, since their visa is only company-specific. Moreover, they are barred from many high-profile jobs where citizenship is a prerequisite.

Again, specific to the H-1B visas,countries such as India, and the Philippines have long experienced a brain drain of highly skilled workers to more economically stable and competitive countries like the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Spain, Portugal, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, and Australia. While the absolute number of such émigrés are not large, the economic implications of such very skilled workers are significant.

Sometimes, citizens of countries with heavily urbanized areas have migrated to more agrarian countries in order to find jobs as farmers and such. For more on this, see migrant workers.

In certain less tolerant nations, foreign workers may be abused and treated as second-class citizens by the governments and/or lack of unions to assert worker rights, although a counterargument could be made in that foreigners do not deserve to be treated as full citizens as long as they are accorded basic human rights and civil liberties. For instance, in many Asian nations, it is common for employers to withhold passports from their employees, thus preventing the foreign worker from returning home.[citation needed] In conjunction with the withholding of salaries, it is meant to put the foreign workers in very difficult situation (particularly because the laws of these countries are typically not sympathetic to foreigners in practice). In the UK, organisations such as Kalayaan protect the rights of UK migrant domestic workers. (The term "migrant domestic worker" is a standardized term, where the word "domestic" is taken to mean "within the home," rather than its more prevalent meaning of being of or belonging to a particular sovereign state.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sharma, Nandita. Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of 'Migrant Workers' in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006
  2. ^ "Foreign nationals working temporarily in Canada". Retrieved 2014-01-01. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar (2001). Servants of globalization: Women, migration and domestic work. Stanford University Press. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Abella, Manolo I. (1995). "Asian migrant and contract workers in the Middle East". The Cambridge survey of world migration: 418–423. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Shah, Nasra M. (1983). (accessed January 30, 2014) "Pakistani Workers in the Middle East: Volume, Trends and Consequences". International Migration Review 3: 410–424. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Gulati, Leela (1997). Asian women in international migration: With special reference to domestic work and entertainment. Economic and Political Weekly. pp. 3029–3035. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Shah, Nasra M. (1991). Asian women workers in Kuwait. International Migration Review. pp. 464–486. 

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