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The agriculture sector is a key employer of migrant workers. The agriculture sector is a key employer of migrant workers.   (AFP or licensors)

ILO: Nearly 5 percent of world’s workforce are international migrants

The number of international migrant workers increased by 5 million in 2019, an ILO report says.

By Robin Gomes

According to a new report by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO), the number of international migrant workers increased from 164 to 169 million in 2019, making up 1 out of every 20 of the world’s workforce.  The study, ILO Global Estimates on International Migrant Workers, released on Wednesday, also noted a marked increase in the number of young people seeking opportunities abroad.

Key contributors to host countries

Often, these migrant workers carry out key roles in crucial sectors such as healthcare, transportation, services, agriculture and food processing.  “We have seen that in a number of regions, migrant workers represent a sizeable share of the workforce,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department.   “They are contributing of course to the economies and societies of their host countries, but also to their home countries through remittances,” she pointed out.

Despite their value to the global economy, the UN body warned that many migrant workers face uncertainty at work, a situation made worse by the pandemic.  The only opportunities they often find are “temporary, informal or unprotected jobs”, leaving them exposed to a greater risk of insecurity, layoffs and worsening working conditions, said the Geneva-based UN agency. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has intensified these vulnerabilities, particularly for women migrant workers, as they are over-represented in low-paid and low-skilled jobs and have limited access to social protection and fewer options for support services,” according to the ILO study, which collected data from189 countries.

Mainly a male domain

Of the 169 million international migrant workers, 58 per cent are men, i.e. 99 million compared to 70 million women.  Most of these men find work in service industries, followed by manufacturing, which employs almost two in three migrants.  Another seven per cent of foreign workers carry out farming jobs.  

Substantial gender differences exist between the sectors with a higher number of women migrant workers in services including health and domestic work. ILO said that this may be partly explained by a growing labour demand in the care economy, including health and domestic work.

Global distribution patterns

More than two in three international migrant workers are concentrated in high-income countries, with 63.8 million in Europe and Central Asia, and another 43.3 million in the Americas.   The Arab States, Asia and the Pacific each host about 24 million migrant workers, while Africa has 13.7 million migrant workers, representing 8.1 per cent of the total. 

The increased share of 15 to 24-year-old workers - from 8.3 per cent in 2017 to 10.0 per cent in 2019 – likely reflects high unemployment rates in many developing countries, and the rising demographic trend, ILO said.  However, the large majority of migrant workers (86.5 per cent) are adults aged 25 to 64.

Benefits of ILO report

The ILO report points out that labour migration not only benefits the migrant worker, but also the communities they become part of, as well as their origin countries. Yet, the gains of labour migration can be diminished when migration policies are not informed by an evidence-based and insufficiently linked to employment policies. Harnessing the potential of labour migration toward development gains requires well-informed and effective policymaking, based on up to date and sound data.

This is ILO's third edition of Global Estimates on International Migrant Workers.  The UN agency hopes its periodic report will help contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal as well as supporting policymaking at the country, regional and global levels.   Highlighting the value to countries of compiling reliable statistics on their migrant labour workforce, ILO says that this would help them “respond to shifts in labour supply and demand, stimulate innovation and sustainable development, and transfer and update skills”.  (Source: ILO)

02 July 2021, 12:44