BLAs as Sites for the Meso-Level Dynamics of Institutionalization: A Cross-Sectoral Comparison
In this Article we seek to shift the focus from the texts of bilateral labor agreements (BLAs) to the context of their emergence and materialization. We argue that to study BLAs and evaluate their consequences and potential relevance, they must be read from the perspective of processes of institutionalization that shape the paths of different agreements. In Israel, a cross-sectoral comparison of the agricultural and construction sectors reveals that different agreements did not follow the same path and institutionalization process. The Israel- Thailand agreements for the agricultural sector and the agreements regulating migration to the construction sector did not generate similar dynamics of institutionalization. In both sectors, BLAs transformed recruitment practices and led to a sharp decrease of illicit migration costs extracted in the process. Yet due to differences in the structure of the sectors and the expected skill level of workers, significant variations remain, most notably in the effect of BLAs on the permit and quota system and in the rise of paths to import labor outside BLAs. Based on this cross-sectoral comparison, we offer in this Article a grounded analytical perspective for examining and evaluating BLAs in context. In discussing our suggestions, we will project our analysis to the more recent agreement covering the live-in care sector that is currently the largest employing sector of guest-workers in Israel.