ARI Working Paper Series
WPS 264 What Determines the Cost of Migration? A Perspective from Indian Agents Facilitating Migration to Singapore and the Middle East
Publisher : Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Publication Date : Jan / 2018
Author/Speaker: Michiel BAAS
Keywords : migration industry, brokerage, labour migrants, low skilled migration, India, Singapore

While research on the migration industry has increased in recent years, there continues to be a lack of empirically rich studies that take the existence of the migration industry as a starting point in order to derive at a deeper understanding of its role in facilitating migration. In particular its practical, day-to-day functioning remains understudied. A problem here is the on-going demonization of the migration industry which has a tendency to reduce its functioning to the experience of exploitation while glossing over how especially for low-skilled migrants in Asia migration is often not even possible without the assistance of the ‘industry’. Following Lindquist, Xiang & Yeoh (2012) suggestion to open the ‘black box’ that the migration industry represents, this paper seeks to investigate three interrelated questions: How do agents and brokers based in Tamil Nadu (India) discuss, formulate and eventually fix the rates for their clients seeking to migrate to Singapore? How do various migration destinations compare to each other in terms of their cost structure? And what is the impact of the commercialization of migration on migrant trajectories, the consequences of protective (legislative) measurements, and what precisely fuels the migration desire itself? While the paper argues that there are multiple economic and social factors that contribute to the ‘price’ of migration, it also shows that those who make up the ‘migration industry’ often do not know what migrants eventually end up paying for their route to Singapore.