Labour migration at the time of COVID-19

Labour migration at the time of COVID-19

Protecting the vulnerable means protecting all

worker tools
COVID-19's forgotten victims

Migrant workers rarely benefit from equal treatment in employment and often struggle to access to social rights in the countries of destination. Migrant workers are mostly employed in informal, low-skilled, precarious employment in areas such as agriculture, construction and domestic work. and are often subject to many forms of discrimination and engaging.

Against this background, it is expected that international migrants, regardless of their migratory status, will be more exposed to the immediate and long-term harms of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since January 2020, thousands of people have been stranded on their journeys as over 170 countries have put in place some sort of mobility restrictions. As stated by the Global Humanitarian Response Plan COVID-19 launched by the United Nations, the current pandemic is also fast becoming a mobility crisis.

Additionally, the economic impact of COVID-19 will also have significant bearing on vulnerable groups including refugees, migrants, Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and host communities due to the loss of income, restricted movement, reduced access to markets, inflation and a spike in prices.

The International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF) published a statement on Protecting Domestic Workers Rights and Fighting the Coronavirus Pandemic and calls upon governments to take immediate steps to protect the rights of domestic workers:

Domestic workers, same as other workers in the care economy, are on the frontlines of keeping families and communities healthy. However they are also most vulnerable as their own health and safety are ignored and even violated.

In this context, practitioners and policymakers have to address a number of questions related to the yet unknown impacts of the current health crisis on the mobility of human beings:

  • How will the economic outcomes of the health crisis re-structure the global labour market and how will it affect the future labour migration policies?
  • How will the global increase of unemployment impact human mobility?
  • How will the lack of seasonal migrant workers impact certain sectors such as agriculture?
migrant worker
Needed now more than ever

Inspiring and uplifting reactions towards migrants have emerged from the health crisis in many parts of the world. As the majority of countries are implementing social distancing measures in order to mitigate the outbreak of the COVID-19, the current debate on the impact of essential workers on the economies is actually shedding light to the situation of an important portion of migrant workers.

Studies have shown that migrant workers are highly represented in the critical occupations in the front line of war against this pandemic, such as health care (physicians and nurses), seasonal agricultural workers, caregivers and cleaners.

  • As an immediate response, Canada exempted essential categories of migrant workers from their travel restrictions when theirs borders were closed to foreigners.
  • The government of Portugal has decided to grant express regularization of all immigrants who had their residence authorization pending. The decision accompanies other social and economic measures to alleviate the consequences of the epidemic, which has forced the declaration of a state of emergency in the country
  • The United Kingdom has extended visas for around 2,800 migrant health professionals. This includes doctors, nurses and paramedics. The changes will also apply to their family members.
construction worker
Toward effective labour migration governance

Migration and the world of work are very closely linked, be it because people mostly migrate in search of better living and economic conditions or even for those escaping from conflict as finding employment inevitably becomes important also for this group.

Recognizing that all States have the sovereign right to develop their own policies to manage labour migration and that opportunities and risks may vary nationally and within migration corridors, it is necessary to develop tailored and effective policy responses.

Effective labour migration governance must also respond to the changing needs of business and workers, including addressing skills, education and training gaps, with particular attention to women and youth, and persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

The ILO approach to labour migration consists of balancing labour market efficiency and equity concerns by facilitating labour migration governance: informed policy debate; strengthening of institutional mechanisms; promotion policy coherence; and active social dialogue that brings together governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations.

Labour migration can yield many positive benefits for all, when it is well-governed. This is not illusion, this is not utopia, this is entirely possible. But at the same time, policies which are not firmly grounded in respect of human rights, including labour standards, present high risks and costs for migrant workers, for businesses and for the countries concerned. They also run the risk of reducing the status of migrant labour to that of a commodity.

— Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, April 2020

Sharing knowledge on labour migration

The International Training Centre of the ILO has stepped up to the countless challenges posed by the current global health crisis by designing and making available, as a fast response to the emergency, a new online course on Labour Migration Governance and Coherence with Employment Policies.

The new e-learning course will allow participants from all over the world to engage with a global network of professionals flexibly and without the need to travel.

The growing need to better coordinate migration policies with those of employment, education and training requires cooperation between national education and labour ministries and other ministries that have responsibility for migration policy, as well as their counterparts across borders.

In addition to an introductory module highlighting the key concepts and dynamics of labour migration, the training revolves around the means required to ensure fair and effective governance and methods for promoting coherence between employment and labour migration policies.

This course, designed for policy makers and practitioners in the field of labour migration, will build and strengthen your capacity to design, implement and advocate adequate policies, through access to effective tools and instruments for evidence-based policy making.

Apply now

Click here to learn more about the online course on Labour Migration Governance and Coherence with Employment Policies, which will run from 18 May to 21 June 2020.