Peter Bearman, Principal Investigator
Charlotte Wang, Project Manager
Esraa Bani, Coordinator, NYU Abu Dhabi


Rapid development in the Gulf coupled with high demand for employment in sending countries has meant that the GCC states receive some of the largest flows of temporary labor migration in the world. In this context, migrant labor recruitment processes often appear opaque and unfair. Observers have pointed to the combination of low wages and high recruitment fees, which lead to debts and unfulfilled obligations that may bind migrants to unfavorable working conditions. Yet, despite calls for reform and regulation, we have limited empirical understanding of the causal mechanisms involved in recruitment—and particularly of the processes that occur in migrant sending countries.

REALM aims to shed light on the processes that sustain unfair migrant labor by improving our empirical understanding of the structures and dynamics implicated in recruitment for temporary work in the Gulf region (and, where relevant, elsewhere). While the focus is on sending countries, our analytical scope is expansive, ranging from individual motivations and expectations to meso-level processes of job matching and recruitment, and to the broader dynamics of labor supply and demand. Our goals are to review and collate existing knowledge, identify key empirical questions for further study, and support collaborative research that will advance our understanding of labor migration processes. In particular, we look to innovative ways to build data structures that can provide the foundation for robust, substantive and empirically grounded insights.

To do this, we convened experts on recruitment dynamics in sending countries at three workshops in Abu Dhabi, London and New York City. These workshops informed our Request for Applications, which we issued in March 2016, and the selection of research proposals funded. REALM is designed on a PO1 model, with an administrative and data core supporting a series of substantively interlinked projects. Our ultimate goal is to form the basis for an effective "fair labor" certification system, in the same manner that one can confidently certify "fair trade" or organic production.

Current projects

Application Submission Guidelines

Request for Applications, second round of funding, issued December 2016


February 15, 2017: Letter of Intent due at 17:00 EST
April 12, 2017: Full Applications due at 17:00 EST
July 1, 2017: Awards for Applications are announced
September 1, 2017: Start date for awarded projects


Abu Dhabi
November 2, 2015
hosted by NYU Abu Dhabi

January 12, 2016
hosted by London School of Economics

New York
February 25, 2016
hosted by Columbia University