Policies banning women domestic workers from migrating overseas have long been imposed by labour-sending states in the Indo-Pacific region. This article presents the complexities surrounding such bans by developing an overarching model of a migration ban policy cycle, which provides a theoretical framework for understanding the circumstances under which migration bans arise and play out. It examines the history of migration bans for four prominent labour-sending states – Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka - to assess the causes, outcomes and extent of regional convergence of these policies. In doing so, we uncover two prominent policy narratives. The first involves labour diplomacy, where countries employ bans to negotiate superior working conditions and rights for migrant workers. The second concerns paternalist states as ‘protector’, where states are primarily motivated to reaffirm traditional gender norms. We conclude that migration bans have been most effective, both in curbing departures and achieving desired outcomes, when they are primarily motivated by labour issues and not gender politics. Nevertheless, even when used as a form of diplomatic negotiation, migration bans heighten the vulnerability of domestic workers to exploitation by pushing them into irregular pathways fraught with risk.
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- Migrant domestic workers
- Migration ban
- Migration policy