Every year, millions of people move for work both within and from South Asia to other sub-regions, mainly to countries of Southeast Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These migrations usually take place along Temporary Labour Migration Programmes (TLMPs) which are regulated, time-limited agreements for the provision of labour in identified sectors, on the condition that workers return to their own country at the end of the contract. Many migrant workers undertake repeated migrations via TLMPs in one or more destination country meaning that they work on these programmes for most of their (working) life. Yet, such pathways can offer restricted access to basic services, including overcrowded and unsanitary housing and inadequate healthcare. Migrants are not allowed to sponsor family members and notwithstanding their long-term presence in some countries, they are not entitled to access more durable legal status such as permanent residence or citizenship. TLMPs are also highly gendered. The majority of South Asian migrant workers on TLMPs are men who engage in low-wage work in sectors like construction, agriculture or tourism, while women’s access to TLMPs is often limited to domestic work, hospitality and care work.
While TLMPs are often discussed through the lens of labour rights, their impact on a wider range of human rights of migrant workers and of their families as well as their experiences beyond the workplace have received less attention. This session compares TLMPs and international human rights standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and suggests what alternatives are possible and what human rights-based labour migration pathways look like.