Gaining Control? Bilateral Labor Agreements and the Shared Interest of Sending and Receiving Countries to Control Migrant Workers and the Illicit Migration Industry

Yuval Livnat, Hila Shamir


Countries increasingly have been entering bilateral labor agreements (BLAs) as a tool for the regulation and governance of short-term temporary labor migration worldwide. However, these are often confidential legal instruments, and consequently we know relatively little about their actual content and impact, and why countries choose to enter them. This Article complements existing explanations in the literature regarding the reasons why countries enter BLAs and their potential to create and improve migrant workers’ rights. Based on a detailed content analysis of 81 recent BLAs signed largely over the last 20 years, and on a wide literature review and interest analysis, we introduce a “control thesis.” According to the control thesis, the popularity, confidentiality and unenforceability of BLAs can be explained, at least partially, by their ability to promote a key shared interest of sending and receiving countries in controlling and policing the mobility and actions of migrant workers and also, at times, aspects of the illicit migration industry that develops around labor migration. We reach this conclusion, and elaborate on its meaning and the potential it may hold for migrant workers and their advocates, in strategically seeking to use BLAs to improve temporary migrant workers’ rights and protections.

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