Gambling on a better future: is international labour migration worth it?

Jessica Hagen-Zanker and Richard Mallett

Type: Briefing Paper

Organisation: ODI

Country: Pakistan

Date: 01/10/2014

Full summary

Drawing on research carried out in Rolpa district in western Nepal and the districts of Swat and Lower Dir in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in north-western Pakistan, this briefing paper asks: is international labour migration actually working for those people gambling vast amounts of money – and, in some cases, their lives – to participate in it?


The findings of our study ultimately speak to the importance of international labour migration as a way of making a living – particularly for those in or from difficult environments, such as regions affected by or recovering from conflict. But there are a number of problems and concerns with the process of migration for people living in these places. The economic returns of foreign employment come at a massive financial cost for migrants and their families – on average, households in Rolpa borrow the equivalent of one year’s entire household expenditure on food, housing, clothing, education and healthcare in order to send a member overseas.


In addition, risks to the migrant are not confined to transit or destination countries. Securing work overseas means having to navigate a complex bureaucratic process and many migrants have no option but to pay a recruitment agent to guide them through the system. But their lack of familiarity with the rules, combined with the desperation to find well-paid work, makes them highly exploitable to these migration middle-men.