The number of people around the world who leave their countries to work in another country is soaring. The total is now well over 200 million, up from 150 million a decade ago, according to United Nations. This week, the U.N. holds a migration summit in New York, calling for policies to protect migrant workers.

Ashley Westerman of member station WRKF traveled to the Philippines, a country largely known for its emigration.


ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: At the offices of Industries and Personnel Management in Manila, some 30 nervous applicants sit in hard plastic chairs watching a video called "A Day in a Life of a Dubai Duty-Free Employee."

As soothing music plays in the background, the video shows workers - in robin's egg-blue jackets - looking almost robotic as they cheerfully assist customers in checkout lanes and count money.


WESTERMAN: The recruitment agency says about 200 people applied for only 30 open spots at the duty-free shop at the International Airport in Dubai, on the Persian Gulf.

Among them is 28-year-old Markco Tuazon, who has a degree in computer science but can't find work in his field.

MARKCO TUAZON: I want to have a better future for my wife; I want to buy my own house. So I want more increased salary so that I want to go in abroad for my better future.

WESTERMAN: Tuazon plans to send money back to the Philippines until he makes enough to return home and open a business.

Tuazon's story is common in the Philippines, where a declining manufacturing sector forces 1.2 million Filipinos to find work abroad every year. And it's not just Filipinos who do that. They're just a fraction of the estimated 200 million migrants worldwide. Because migrants send money to their families back home, the U.N. says nearly one billion people benefit from migrant wages.

Peter Sutherland heads Migration and Development for the U.N. He says migration is win-win for every country. That's because the host country gets the workers it needs to keep its economy going, and the home country gets an economic boost.

PETER SUTHERLAND: Migrants send back to developing countries far more than the total amount of aid that is received by those countries from the richer countries of the world. So remittances is of enormous importance to development at home.

WESTERMAN: Last, year the Philippines collected a whopping 24 billion U.S. dollars in remittances. Only China, India and Mexico collected more.

In the Philippines, some industries train migrant workers before sending them abroad. Some programs even provide veteran migrants with advanced training.


WESTERMAN: At an abandoned expo center in Pampanga, a few hours north of Manila, an Australian company, Site Group International, is training veteran oil and gas workers to navigate great heights at construction zones.

The company sends its workers to jobs in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the Middle East. Being a migrant worker is risky because in many countries they have few rights and protections. The Middle East takes in more migrant workers than any other region. The latest U.N. statistics show almost 17 million work in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, say abuse of migrant workers is rampant in the region. The groups also cite reports of human trafficking among migrant workers in several developed countries. And in the U.S., there's a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Louisiana alleging wide-scale industry abuse of oil and gas workers.

The U.N. is urging countries to pass laws to protect migrant workers. Peter Sutherland argues migrant workers should have the same rights as native workers.

SUTHERLAND: And if you don't do that, you are discriminating in a manner which should be illegal.

WESTERMAN: Markco Tuazon, the job applicant we met at the beginning of this story, says he's aware of the possibility of abuse. In the Philippines, newspapers and TV reporters tend to cover these stories a lot. But Tuazon says he tries not to think about it.

For now, he won't have to worry about these problems. He didn't get the job in Dubai. But he remains hopeful and is still looking.

For NPR News, I'm Ashley Westerman.

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