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.

We began by convening experts on recruitment dynamics in sending countries at three workshops in Abu Dhabi, London and New York City. These conversations formed the basis for our first Request for Applications in March 2016, and the selection of funded projects. REALM is designed on a PO1 model, with an administrative and data core supporting a series of substantively interlinked projects. We have continued to grow this structure in subsequent funding rounds in 2017 and 2018, strengthening the linkages between projects through annual workshops and collaborative research. Our ultimate goal is to create a lasting database and research core for future researchers and policymakers to draw on, and to build the foundation for the policy interventions that will promote fairer labor migration recruitment and better outcomes for individuals and their communities.

Project Leadership

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


New York University Abu Dhabi



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