Inside the Labor-Sending State: The Role of Frontline Welfare Bureaucrats and Informal Migration Governance in Qatar
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Since the 1970s, many labor-sending countries (LSCs) like the Philippines have increasingly faced a policy dilemma between protecting their citizens’ labor rights and maintaining labor market access in the Arab Gulf region. To address such constraint, many LSCs have increasingly developed emigration policies and institutions to protect and promote workers’ rights. This paper examines how and why labor-sending countries influence their emigration policies, particularly in the case of Qatar. Based on 45 in-depth qualitative interviews between 2011 and 2012 with labor diplomats, domestic workers, and labor rights leaders in Qatar, I find that despite the absence of legal protection mechanisms, frontline welfare bureaucrats have influenced Philippine emigration policies and the Kafala Sponsorship program. Three informal governance practices have been identified—labor mediation program, 48 hour ban policy (“burden-sharing” strategies), and informal diplomacy network (“burden-shifting” strategy)—which appeared to have enabled frontline welfare bureaucrats to mitigate domestic workers’ cases within the Qatari labor market. These informal policymaking practices have not only reinforced frontline welfare bureaucrats’ capacity to rule but also their abilities to cultivate relationships, power, and conflicts that determine policy outcomes. These empirical findings particularly contribute to the larger theoretical debates on the role of state in international migration by shifting the discourse to the human agency of the state (mainly of state bureaucrats) to understand how labor-sending countries determine policy outcomes in the host countries.
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Qatar; labor market; labor-sending countries; emigration; welfare; bureaucracy
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