Our research is on the networks, organisations and individuals that facilitate migration, collectively known as the migration industry, with a focus on brokerage. Brokerage is widespread, especially in migration that involves poorer people who lack the resources and social networks needed to navigate complex border controls, finance their migration, attain the required papers, establish credibility with employers, and access accommodation and government services at destination. In international migration, brokerage has become more widespread and more institutionalized as a response to tightening migration regulations where some of the functions of vetting and recruitment have been outsourced by governments.
The structure of the migration industry is very much embedded in class, kinship and gender relations in the different contexts and has therefore evolved differently. In Ghana it derives from cultural norms of reciprocity and in the case of children working as domestic workers, the tradition of fosterage; in Bangladesh it derives from traditional patron-client relationships and notions of trust and obligation and in Indonesia too it is based on local and cultural notions of trust and legitimacy.
Brokers have often been blamed for exploitation and forcing migrants into unfree work conditions. Yet informal brokers are important in all three locations and the industry shows a good deal of flexibility in response to the agency of migrants and changes in regulations and market conditions. Migration costs can be extremely high but migrants typically take a long-term view where these are factored in as a cost that is to be paid for a better future. However, risks are uninsured and this can result in losses.