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Foreign worker

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Title: Foreign worker  
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Subject: Foreign Worker Visa, H-2B visa, Kaohsiung MRT foreign workers scandal, H-1B visa, International factor movements
Collection: Foreign Workers, Human Migration, Immigration Law, International Factor Movements
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Foreign worker

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 1
    • Canada 1.1
    • United States 1.2
    • Germany 1.3
    • Switzerland 1.4
    • Other countries 1.5
  • Foreign workers in Asia 2
  • Foreign workers in Middle East 3
    • Background 3.1
    • Guest and host populations 3.2
      • Economic conditions of countries of origin 3.2.1
      • Profile of workers 3.2.2
        • Economic conditions of the host country
    • Impact 3.3
      • Xenophobia and racism 3.3.1
      • Legal concerns 3.3.2
    • Backlash 3.4
  • Controversy 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Foreign workers by country


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

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.


The great migration phase of labor migrants in the 20th century began in Germany during the 1950s, as the sovereign Germany since 1955 due to repeated pressure from NATO partners yielded to the request for closure of the so-called 'Anwerbe' Agreement. The initial plan was a rotation principle: a temporary stay (usually two to three years), followed by a return to their homeland. The rotation principle proved inefficient for the industry, because the experienced workers were constantly replaced by inexperienced ones. The companies asked for legislation to extend the residence permits. Many of these foreign workers were followed by their families in the following period and stayed forever. Until the 1970s, more than four million migrant workers and their families came to Germany like this, mainly from the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain, the former Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey. Since about 1990, came for the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the enlargement of the European Union and guest workers from Eastern Europe to Western Europe 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.


The underestimation of the required integration services by the state and the society of the host countries, but also by the migrants themselves. Switzerland's transformation into a country of immigration was not until after the accelerated industrialization in the second half of the 19th century. Switzerland was no longer a purely rural Alpine area but became a European vanguard in various industries at that time, first of textile, later also the mechanical and chemical industries. Since the middle of the 19th century especially German academics, self-employed and craftsmen, but also Italians, who found a job in science, industry, construction and infrastructure construction migrated to Switzerland.[3]

Other countries

Current estimates on the total number of international foreign workers stand at about 25 million , 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 Asia

In Asia, some countries in Southeast Asia offer workers. Their destinations include Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
Foreign workers from selected Asian countries, by destination, 2010-11: Thousands[4]
Source Country
Destination    Nepal  Bangladesh  Indonesia  Sri Lanka  Thailand  India  Pakistan  Philippines  Vietnam
 Brunei 2 11 3 1 66 8
 Taiwan 76 48 37 28
 Hong Kong 50 3 22 101
 Malaysia 106 1 134 4 4 21 2 10 12
 Singapore 39 48 1 11 16 70 0
 Japan 1 0 2 0 9 - 45 6 5
 South Korea 4 3 11 5 11 - 2 12 9

Foreign workers in Middle East


In 1973, an oil boom in the Persian Gulf region (UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain which comprise the Gulf Cooperation Council), created an unprecedented demand for labor in the oil, construction and industrial sectors.[5] Development demanded a labor force. This demand was met by foreign workers, primarily those from the Arab states, with a later shift to those from Asian countries.[6] A rise in the standards of living for citizens of Middle Eastern countries also created a demand for domestic workers in the home.

Since the 1970s, foreign workers have become a large percentage of the population in most nations in the Persian Gulf region. Growing competition with nations in the job sector, along with complaints regarding treatment of foreign workers, have led to rising tensions between the national and foreign populations in these nations.

Guest and host populations

Economic conditions of countries of origin

Remittances are becoming a prominent source of external funding for countries that contribute foreign workers to the countries of the GCC. On average, the top recipients globally are India, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.[7] In 2001, $72.3 billion was returned as remittances to the countries of origin of foreign workers.[7] This contributed to 1.3% of the world GDP.[7] The source of income remains beneficial as remittances are often more stable that private capital flows. Despite fluctuations in the economy of GCC countries, the amount of dollars in remittances is usually stable.

The spending of remittances is seen in two ways. Principally, remittances are sent to the families of guest workers. Though often put towards consumption, remittances are also directed to investment. Investment is seen to lead to the strengthening of infrastructure and facilitating international travel.[7]

With this jump in earnings, one benefit that has been seen is the nutritional improvement in households of migrant workers.[8] Other benefits seen are the lessening of underemployment and unemployment.[8]

Profile of workers

The average foreign worker is of age 25–40 years.[8] 70 percent of foreign workers are married, while only 4 percent are accompanied by families.[8] Two thirds of the population hail from rural areas while 83% of migrants are production workers.[8] 40 percent of foreign exchange earnings are seen in migrant countries.[8]

In 1985, oil prices fell rapidly.[8] 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.[9] Domestic work is the single most important category of employment among women migrants to the Gulf states, as well as to Lebanon and Jordan.[9] The increase of Arab women in the labour force, and changing conceptions of women’s responsibilities, has resulted in a shift in household responsibilities to hired domestic workers. Domestic workers perform an array of work in the home: cleaning, cooking, child care and care of the elderly. Common traits of the work include an average 100 hour work week and a virtually non-existent overtime pay.[9] Remuneration differs greatly according to nationality, oftentimes depending on language skills and education level. This is seen with Filipina domestic workers receiving a higher remuneration than Sri Lankan and Ethiopian nationals.[9]

Economic conditions of the host country

Saudi Arabia is the largest source of remittance payments in the world.[7] Remittance payments from Saudi Arabia, similar to other GCC countries rose during the oil boom years of the 1970s and early 1980s, but declined in the mid-1980s.[7] As oil prices fell, the budget deficit mounted, and most governments of GCC countries put limits on hiring foreign workers. Current weaknesses in the financial sector and in government administration impose substantial transaction costs on migrant workers who send them. Costs,although much more difficult to estimate, consist of salaries, and the increased spending required to expand the educational and health services, housing, and roads, communications and other elements of infrastructure in order to accommodate the needs of the newcomers. The foreign labor force is a substantial drain of the GCC states’ hard currency earnings, with remittances to migrants’ home countries amounting to $27 billion each year; $16 billion coming from the migrant workers in Saudi Arabia alone. It has been shown that the percentage of the GDP that foreign labor generates is roughly equal to what the state has to spend on them.[7]

The main concerns of developed countries regarding immigration centers are: 1) the local job seekers’ fear of competition from migrant workers, 2) the fiscal burden that may result on native taxpayers for providing health and social security to migrants, (3) fears of erosion of cultural identity and problems of assimilation of immigrants, and(4) national security.[7]


In immigrant-producing countries, individuals with less than a high school education continue to be a fiscal burden into the next generations. Skilled immigrants however, pay more in taxes than what they receive in social security from the state.[7] Emigration of highly skilled workers has been linked to skill shortages, reductions in output, and tax shortfalls in many developing countries. These burdens are even more apparent in countries where educated workers emigrated in large numbers after receiving a highly subsidized technical education.[7] Brain Drain refers to the emigration (out-migration) of knowledgeable, well-educated and skilled professionals from their home country to another country. This can take place because of several factors. The most obvious is the availability of better job opportunities in the new country. Other factors...[10]

Xenophobia and racism

As of 2007, 10 million workers from Southeast Asia, South Asia, or Africa live and work in countries of Persian Gulf region.[9] 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 dependants are not paid due 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.[8]

Legal concerns

Foreign workers migrate to the Middle East as contract workers by means of the kafala, or ‘sponsorship’ system.[11] The general migrant population is typically abroad for a period of two years.[6] Recruitment agencies in sending countries are the main contributors of labor to GCC countries. Through these agencies, sponsors must pay a fee to the recruiter and pay for the worker’s airfare, all employment visas, work permits, along with their wages and airfare home. Recruiters charge high fees to prospective employees to obtain employment visas, averaging between $2000 and $2500 in such countries as Bangladesh and India. Issues in contracts are also common. In Saudi Arabia, foreign workers must have employment contracts written in Arabic and have them signed by both the sponsor and themselves in order to be issued a work permit. With other GCC countries, such as Kuwait, contracts may be written or oral.[11]

Dependence on the sponsor (kafeel) naturally creates room for violations of the rights of foreign workers.[11] Debt causes workers to work for a certain period of time without a salary to cover these fees. This bondage encourages the practice of international labour migration as women in situations of poverty are able to find jobs overseas and pay off their debts through work.[9] It is common for the employer or the sponsor to retain the employee’s passport and other identity papers as a form of insurance for the amount an employer has paid for the worker’s work permit and airfare. Kafeels sell visas to the foreign worker with the unwritten understanding that the foreigner can work for an employer other than the sponsor.[11]

When a two-year work period is over, or with a job-loss, workers must find another employer willing to sponsor them, or return to their nation of origin within a short time. Failing to do this entails imprisonment for violation of immigration laws. Protections are nearly non-existent for migrant workers due to structural reasons.[9]


The population in the current GCC states has grown more than eight times during 50 years.[6] Foreign workers have become primary, dominant labor force in most sectors of the economy and the government bureaucracy. With a growth in unemployment, GCC governments embarked on the formulation of labor market strategies to improve this situation, to create sufficient employment opportunities for nationals, and to limit the dependence on the expatriate labor.[6] Restrictions have been imposed: the sponsorship system, the rotational system of expatriate labor to limit the duration of foreigners’ stay, curbs on the naturalization and the citizenship rights of those who have been naturalized, etc. This has also led to efforts being made to improve the education and training of nationals. Localization remains low among the private sector however. This is due to the traditionally low income the sector offers. Also included are long working hours, a competitive work environment, and a need to recognize an expatriate supervisor –often difficult to accept.[6]

In 2005, low-paid Asian workers staged protests, some of them violent, in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar for not receiving salaries on time. In March 2006, hundreds of mostly south Asian construction workers stopped work and went on a rampage in Dubai, UAE, to protest their harsh working conditions, low or delayed pay, and the general lack of rights.[5] Sexual harassment of Filipina housemaids by local employers, especially in Saudi Arabia, has become a serious matter.[5] In recent years this has resulted in a ban on migration of females under 21. Such nations as Indonesia have noted the maltreatment of women in the GCC states with the government calling an end to the sending housemaids altogether.[5] In GCC countries, a chief concern with foreign domestic workers is childcare without a proper attention being given to Islamic and Arabic values.[9]

Possible observations in the future include a slowdown in growth of foreign labor. One contributor to this is the dramatic change in demographic factors. The growing birth rate of nationals in the GCC states will lead to a competitive workforce in the future.[6] This could also lead to the possible rise in the numbers of national women in the workforce.


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, 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 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


  1. ^ Sharma, Nandita. Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of 'Migrant Workers' in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Foreign workers from selected Asian countries, by destination, 2010-11: Thousands. International Migration Outlook 2012
  5. ^ a b c d e f g
  6. ^ a b c d e f
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d
  • Knox, Paul; Agnew, John; McCarthy, Linda (2003). The Geography of the World Economy (4th ed.). London: Hodder Arnold. ISBN 0-340-80712-1.
  • ———. Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience. Web exhibition. Library and Archives Canada.
  • Ness, Immanuel (2011) Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN ISBN 978-0252078170

External links

  • Expatriates Magazine - Printed Publication for Foreign Workers in France
  • The PBS newsmagazine NOW focuses on America's "Guest Workers" including interviews with actual guest workers who work in Montana's forests
  • Migrant labor activism in New York City from Dollars & Sense magazine
  • No One is Illegal
  • Migrant Farmworkers and Their Children
  • A gift from heaven A short film on Thai workers in Israel
  • "Guest Workers" and U.S. Unemployment - essay and video by Dan Rather
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