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Covid-19 & Labour Migration

Searching for work is a key driver of migration. The ILO estimates that in 2017, migrant workers accounted for 164 million of the world’s approximately 258 million international migrants - more than 60 %. Women migrants account for 44% of the migrant workers and are therefore crucial contributors to both the economies of the destination country as well as the country of origin. In 2018 officially recorded annual remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries reached USD 529 billion, which means a 9.6 % increase over last year’s record high. The main remittances sending corridors are the USA to Asia and Latin America, the Gulf Cooperation Countries to Asia, Europe to East-Central Europe and Africa, and the Russian Federation to Central Asia. This represents more than three times the official development assistance (ODA) and more than the total of foreign direct investment (FDI) to almost every low and middle-income country. Remittance sending grew between 9 and 11 % in most of these corridors in 2018 and correspondingly remittances as a share of GDP increased too. 

The COVID crisis is hence a critical threat to migrant workers and their families on many levels.

Migrant workers in countries of destination are either stranded or facing multiple challenges. On many occasions, they are employed in informal, low-skilled or poorly protected sectors and positions in the destination countries and are the first ones to lose their jobs when companies shut down because of COVID-19. With no income, they cannot afford to buy basic goods such as food, water and pay for accommodation etc. The lack of work during COVID lockdowns also significantly lowers the amount of remittances sent to families back home. Migrant workers often lack insurances for unemployment and health. Many migrant workers are confirmed positive for COVID-19, especially those who are living in crowded and unsanitary dormitories and labour camps. Access to health services remains however, a challenge because of language and cultural barriers, associated cost, the lack of migrant-inclusive health policies and more. And even if labour migrants are better protected in industrialized countries, they are often employed in critical front-line occupations combatting pandemic. 

The situation in the countries of origin is also quite precarious. Different sources indicate that more workers will be deported or repatriated to their country of origin once the lockdowns are lifted.  However, countries of origin are not prepared yet for massive repatriation movements. This process would entail compensations for workers, arrangements for quarantine and health screening and checks as well as ensuring social and economic reintegration efforts of returning workers. 

[Guidance] IOM - COVID-19 Guidance for Employers and Labour Recruiters

[Policy Brief]: ILO Protecting migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recommendations for Policy-makers and Constituents

[Guidance] IOM - Tips for employers of domestic work during COVID-19 

[Policy Brief] Migrant Forum in Asia - Between Peril and a Pandemic: Accountable Actions and Recognizing Responsibility

[Policy Brief] PCNW – Impact of COVID-19 on African Migration

[Statement] Migrant Forum in Asia – Up-holding the rights of migrants in times of crisis

[Statement]: Garment Workers - internal and international migrants and COVID 19

[Statement] International Domestic Workers Federation. Global: IDWF Statement on Protecting Domestic Workers Rights and Fighting the Coronavirus Pandemic