Labour migration in China and Mongolia

Construction site employing internal migrant workers from the countryside. China.

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Today, most countries are affected by labour migration, either as origin, transit or destination countries – and in many cases all of these capacities. Each year, millions of men and women leave their homes and cross national borders in search of better livelihoods for themselves and their families. Most are motivated by the desire for higher wages and better opportunities, but some are forced to leave their homes due to poverty, natural disaster, environmental degradation, violent conflict or persecution. Migrant workers are at risk of exploitation before they leave their home, as they often lack accurate information about the jobs and the working and living conditions at their destination. They also suffer poor working and living conditions in receiving countries/cities. For these and other reasons, migration presents a major challenge everywhere to social and economic policy.

The ILO’s mandate in the world of work as well as its competencies and unique tripartite structure entrust it with special responsibilities regarding migrant workers. Decent work is at the heart of this. The ILO promotes decent work for migrant workers, which means that they should be entitled to: fundamental human rights at work, including the right to be protected against discrimination; productive work as the basis of a livelihood; protection against accidents, injuries and diseases at work, and social security, social inclusion and participation in social dialogue.


The most populous nation of the world, China experiences the most extensive internal migration today. Internal migration in China is characterized by two important features: first, most migrants leave their farmlands for urban areas and/or for non-agricultural activities; second, such labour flows are basically directed from the interior to coastal areas, and/or from central and western regions to eastern areas. These two features overlap, and are closely interrelated with the macro socio-economic structure.

According to national statistics, by the end of 2009, China had a total of 229.8 million rural migrant workers. Among them, 145.3 million rural migrant workers worked outside of their hometowns for a period over six months and almost 84.5 million worked within their hometowns for a period over six months. Around 70 per cent of migrant workers are employed in China’s eastern areas with two thirds of them working in large or medium cities and half of them moving between different provinces. Approximately 60 per cent of migrant workers are mainly concentrated in manufacturing and construction. Rural migrant workers in China have become an important and integral part of industrial workers. They have created wealth for the society, increased income for rural residents, made great contribution to the development of urban and rural areas, and the modernization of the country.

Priority 1 of the ILO Decent Work Country Programme for China is to promote employment and employability and to reduce inequalities with focus on the unemployed and internal rural migrants. One major outcome is to improve rights, protection and employability of migrants and to strengthen legal assistance for them. The ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia has carried out policy consultations, programmes and technical cooperation on migration issues with Chinese tripartite constituents and other social partners.


Labour migration is one of the country’s areas of focus, where both internal and external movements are increasing.

Internal migration towards cities and urban settlements has increased since 1999, mainly caused by a harsh winter result in the loss of millions of animals, the main income source of many herding families. The majority of migrants settle in Ulaanbaatar, where, as of today, almost half of the population lives. Internal migrants usually lack education and skills. On the other hand, Mongolian migrants to foreign countries are mostly young people who are educated and have skills and are looking for better jobs and opportunities in foreign countries.

ILO action on labour migration includes technical support and advisory services to the Government as well as workers’ and employers’ organizations for the development of laws and regulations, including the law on labour migration.