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International Migration

ILO study focuses new attention on adopting a “rights-based approach” to meet the needs of the world’s 105 million migrant workers

Amid growing challenges due to the global economic crisis, a new ILO study highlights the need to adopt a “rights-based approach” to provide a “fair deal” for the world’s 105 million migrant workers.

Press release | 31 March 2010

GENEVA (ILO News) – Amid growing challenges due to the global economic crisis, a new ILO study highlights the need to adopt a “rights-based approach” to provide a “fair deal” for the world’s 105 million migrant workers.

The new study, entitled “International Labour Migration: A rights-based approach” (Note 1), examines trends in international labour migration, its impacts on origin and destination countries, and conditions of work experienced by migrant workers. The study also explores how standards can be used in the formulation and implementation of migration policies and practices.

The study brings out the positive contributions made by migrant workers to both their countries of employment and origin. However, it also highlights the decent work and protection deficits they still experience today, including low wages, non-payment of wages, unsafe working environments, a virtual absence of social protection, denial of freedom of association and workers’ rights, discrimination and xenophobia.

“International migration is primarily a labour market, employment and decent work issue, and less a security and asylum seeker-refugee issue”, says Ibrahim Awad, chief of the ILO’s International Migration Branch. “The challenge is to govern migration in such a way that it can serve as a force for growth and prosperity in both origin and destination countries, while protecting and benefitting migrant workers themselves.”

“The current global financial and economic crisis highlights the role that the ILO should play in the international arena in looking at the integration of employment and financial policies,” Mr. Awad said.

The ILO study also says:

  • International migrants estimated at 214 million in 2010 represent only three per cent of the global population;
  • Women make up almost 50 per cent of international migrants;
  • Migrant workers (economically active among total migrant population) are about 105 million in 2010; and,
  • Migrant workers – who migrate for employment - and their families account for about 90 per cent of total international migrants.

The study concludes that national and international governance of labour migration should recognize that most migration is in search of decent work, and thus provide greater legal opportunities for labour mobility; that policies should be based on recognition of mutual benefits to both origin and destination countries; that protection of migrant rights is central to realizing development benefits of migration for all parties; that comprehensive approaches to irregular migration are needed including addressing its root causes.

The study also calls for bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation between governments, social partners, and other stakeholders concerned with migration to improve the governance of the migration process, ensure protection of migrant workers, and secure development benefits of labour migration for all parties.

The study draws upon recent international debates on the issue of labour migration, as reflected in the 2004 ILO Resolution on a fair deal for migrant workers in the global economy, the related ILO plan of action for migrant workers, and the ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration adopted in 2006. The development of the ILO Multilateral Framework was a major step by the ILO in defining a rights-based approach to labour migration.

Note 1 - International labour migration: A rights-based approach, Geneva, International Labour Office, 2010, ISBN 978-92-2-119120-9.