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Prepare for challenges in your new place

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 23: Workers who migrate > Prepare for challenges in your new place

One of the reasons workers are encouraged to migrate is that employers find that migrants, who may not understand local languages or customs, or may not be protected by national laws, are easier to control than local workers. So migrant workers face more social dangers than other workers.

Sharing our stories

The Rural Development Foundation (RDF), an NGO in Indonesia, holds workshops for people interested in migrating. They learn about migrant worker rights and explore some of the dangers of migrating. If a person decides to migrate for work, they prepare him or her for life in the new place, focusing on family relationships, learning to resolve problems during long separations, and how to manage money.

When and if workers return, the RDF encourages them to share their stories with others who want to migrate, so that they too can prepare for the challenges of migration.

Returned workers can also receive trainings on managing businesses, credit unions, cooperatives, learning to invest, and using money wisely so they do not have to leave again.

Violence against immigrants

Moving to a new country without legal papers puts workers at the mercy of smugglers and other people who want to take advantage of them. Workers are often alone, afraid of being caught by the police, and in unfamiliar places or situations. For reasons that have nothing to do with the immigrants themselves, local groups often stir up anger, fear, and hatred against migrants. See Chapter 21: Discrimination.

Women who migrate are most at risk for violence, not only because they are doing something risky — migrating — but also because recruiters, smugglers, labor contractors, employers, and even law enforcement think they can get away with hurting women. Sometimes women are told they will be given factory jobs but are instead forced into sex work. Women’s organizations often provide help and shelter to migrant women in danger. See Chapter 22: Violence.

Deportation or forced repatriation

Many countries have built their economies on the labor of migrant workers. Bosses try to get away with paying very low wages, following few or no safety regulations, and providing no protections or benefits. If workers complain or demand better conditions or pay, bosses threaten them with deportation.

Even workers who have legal documents to work in a new region or country are sometimes threatened with deportation. Usually, legal aid groups or clinics offer services in places where there are a large numbers of migrants. Ask around to find out which do the most affordable and responsible work.

Language and culture

If you do not speak the local language, it may be hard to make friends and fit into the community. Learning the local language and customs makes it easier to protect yourself, talk to other workers, and get and give support. But it is also important to have spaces to celebrate your own culture and language.

Ask the union and worker organizations to translate written materials into the different languages that workers in your factory speak, so that all workers can participate. Having interpreters in your meetings can help migrant workers participate more actively.

2 women putting a sign on the door to a building.
In Bangladesh, workers have formed hostels that are cheaper and safer than factory dorms.

Housing and transportation

Factories that offer housing make it easy to find a place to live, but factory dormitories can have many disadvantages. See Chapter 32: A decent place to live for ideas on how to organize for better housing.

Access to health care

Some factories have medical services, but they are often very basic and the company-paid doctors often refuse to recognize work-related health problems. But using medical services outside of the factory can be difficult for migrant workers. Workers without documents might fear that by going to a health facility they will be reported to immigration authorities.

Even when health services are run by the government, that does not mean that they will report you. Low-cost or free medical services for migrant workers, regardless of legal status, in your language and respectful of your cultural and religious beliefs may be available. Ask other migrant workers and unions, social services, and churches about where to get care.

Some health programs offer migrant workers particular services, such as reproductive and sexual health information. Other organizations that work with migrant workers may not generally offer health services but do provide free tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, as well as free condoms and medicines. Do not be afraid to ask.

Meaningful contact back home

Living without the support of the family and community you left behind can be lonely, stressful, and exhausting. The pressure to send money home can create tension and sometimes make family relationships more difficult. Finding ways of connecting to family back home can help reduce stress and other mental health problems. See Chapter 27: Stress and mental health.

a woman speaking.
We offer many free workshops for migrant workers. A popular one shows them how to use the computers in internet cafes to connect with their families. It is very cheap and easy to set a regular call schedule with their families. We also help them set up money transfer accounts. That way they can send the same amount of money at the same time each month. If they have more money, they save it for the times when they have less. Their family knows how much to expect so it is a little less stressful.
Life in your new place

Tips to protect yourself in your new community:

  • Keep originals and copies of important documents. Always keep your passport, work permit, and other personal papers. Do not turn them over to your employer or recruiter. Leave a copy of your ID and other information in your home country and have an extra copy with you as well, in case the employer takes your documents.
  • Do not sign a document you do not understand or do not agree with.
a woman standing at the front of a classroom next to a sign that reads, "Our English Class."
  • Learn basics of the local language and if you can, teach other workers the basics of your language.
  • Make sure the employer tells you the duties and conditions of the work.
  • Keep track of your hours, payments, and deductions.
  • If you are told you owe money, ask why and check if the information is correct. Seek help from groups that support workers if you feel the amount is wrong.
  • Do not sign for pay you have not received.
  • Do not let your employer "save" your wages or transfer your pay to your home country for you. Ask to be paid in cash or with checks you can cash or deposit at a local bank.
  • If you are abused or attacked, write down the place, time, who was involved, and anyone who saw the abuse. The important thing is not to be alone: go to a church, a community organization, the union, or any network that you feel can help you and accompany you if you decide to go to the police.
  • Make new friends to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
  • Keep your money safe and learn to manage it: save some for your future or an emergency, do not send it all home, and teach family back home to manage money.

Remember: You have the right to return home permanently and take your income, savings, property, and family members back to your country of origin.