UN International Youth Day

Why do young people migrate?

To mark the UN International Youth Day (August 12th), the International Labour Organization (ILO) is focussing on the 27 million international young migrants worldwide, aged 15–24. The ILO answers some key questions on youth migration.

Analysis | 09 August 2013

What motivates a young person to migrate?

Young people are the largest group of individuals migrating each year and they do so mainly in search of decent work and better living conditions, education, family reunification and for humanitarian reasons. In 2010, some 3.6 million young people were enrolled in tertiary education abroad.

What factors affect the decision to migrate for work?

Unemployment, underemployment, low wages and family poverty are major factors, as is the availability of higher-paying jobs abroad. In developing countries, migrants’ remittances help households cope with poverty, financial crises and natural disasters. Pressure to migrate will become even stronger because of differentiated demographic and income trends.

Do educated young migrants find better opportunities abroad?

Yes, more education generally means higher wages abroad, but many young and well-educated migrants are overqualified for the jobs they hold abroad.

What jobs do young migrant workers do?

Most young migrant workers are employed in agriculture or services that range from education and healthcare to food preparation, hotels, catering and tourism.

How did young migrants fare during the economic crisis?

Unemployment rates of migrant workers during the crisis increased, and are often double the rates of all workers. Young migrants were over-represented in sectors that are more sensitive to economic fluctuations and many do not have secure job contracts. Young migrants are often excluded from labour market programmes that can improve employment opportunities or from social protection measures such as income substitution during unemployment spells.

What are the benefits of migration for destination countries?

Immigration can fill vacant jobs, overcome skill shortages and contribute to the survival and expansion of the sectors where firms are hiring migrants. Migrants usually complement rather than compete with similar native workers, and their earnings help boost the economy through consumption and investment. Young migrant workers with decent jobs pay taxes and contribute to social security and to the development of the economy and society of destination countries.

What are the negative effects of migration for destination countries?

Some say that migrant workers may, in some cases, depress the wages of similar local workers, including settled migrants. However, this wage depression may be offset by investment linked to the availability of labour that creates jobs for both migrants and local workers. Research conducted for OECD countries shows that the fiscal impact of immigration over the past fifty years is negligible and young, educated migrants are recognized as a group that consistently contributes to the economic development of these countries.

What are the benefits of migration for origin countries?

Migration may lead to “brain gain” through knowledge transfers from destination countries to countries of origin and higher investments in education in countries of origin through migrants’ remittances.

These remittances increase the income of households, local communities and national economies, particularly in the medium to long term, and can reduce income inequalities.

What are the negative effects of migration for origin countries?

Origin countries may experience a shortage of labour because of migration, which can lead to a “brain drain”, depriving countries of the skilled people needed to sustain the economy. There may also be drops in productivity when high-skilled migrants leave the country.

In the short term, remittances can produce inequalities in the home community. These inequalities lessen as migrant networks expand, making migration more affordable for households with the lowest levels of income.

What can host and origin countries do to maximize the benefits and reduce the risks of international labour migration?

Labour policies should ensure that the migration of a young worker becomes an opportunity for the economic and social development of both the country of origin and destination.

Countries of origin need to put in place efficient and fair recruitment systems and ensure that potential migrants have access to pre-departure information and training and that they have access to adequate protection. Destination countries should base their admissions’ policies on sound labour market analysis and also take into account the protection of migrant workers’ rights, while guaranteeing equal treatment with other workers.

The ILO’s Call for Action to tackle the youth employment crisis, the Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration and the wide range of international labour standards are valuable tools that can guide decision-makers in designing and implementing comprehensive youth employment and migration policies and programmes.

How has the ILO helped young migrant workers worldwide?

The ILO implements a range of programmes and projects targeting young migrant workers worldwide.

It has also partnered with 12 other United Nations agencies in running joint programmes on youth, employment and migration in 15 countries as part of the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDG-F) initiative. These programmes have reached about 15 million young workers and have led to key policy and institutional changes in several countries and the launch of new interventions promoting decent work for youth and safe migration.