International Labour Standards on Migrant workers
ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations
Promoting jobs, protecting people

International Labour Standards on Migrant workers

The growing pace of economic globalization has created more migrant workers than ever before. Unemployment and increasing poverty have prompted many workers in developing countries to seek work elsewhere, while developed countries have increased their demand for labour, especially unskilled labour. As a result, millions of workers and their families travel to countries other than their own to find work. At present there are approximately 175 million migrants around the world, roughly half of them workers (of these, around 15% are estimated to have an irregular status). Women make up almost half of migrants. Migrant workers contribute to the economies of their host countries, and the remittances they send home help to boost the economies of their countries of origin. Yet at the same time migrant workers often enjoy little social protection and are vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. Skilled migrant workers are less vulnerable to exploitation, but their departure has deprived some developing countries of valuable labour needed for their own economies. ILO standards on migration provide tools for both migrant sending and receiving countries to manage migration flows and ensure adequate protection for this vulnerable category of workers. (Note 1)

Because of the importance of well-managed migration, the 2004 International Labour Conference called for the implementation of an action plan for migrant workers, which includes a non-binding multilateral framework for migrant workers in the global economy, the wider application of relevant standards, capacity building, and a global knowledge base on the issue.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97) - [ratifications]
    Requires ratifying states to facilitate international migration for employment by establishing and maintaining a free assistance and information service for migrant workers and taking measures against misleading propaganda relating to emigration and immigration. Includes provisions on appropriate medical services for migrant workers and the transfer of earnings and savings. States have to apply treatment no less favourable that that which applies to their own nationals in respect to a number of matters, including conditions of employment, freedom of association and social security.
  • Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143) - [ratifications]
    Provides for measures to combat clandestine and illegal migration while at the same time setting forth the general obligation to respect the basic human rights of all migrant workers. It also extends the scope of equality between legally resident migrant workers and national workers beyond the provisions of the 1949 Convention to ensure equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, social security, trade union and cultural rights, and individual and collective freedoms for persons who as migrant workers or as members of their families are lawfully within a ratifying state's territory. Calls upon ratifying states to facilitate the reunification of families of migrant workers legally residing in their territory.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further information

  • Towards a fair deal for migrant workers in the global economy
    (Report VI, International Labour Conference, 92nd Session, 2004) - [pdf]
  • General Survey on Migrant Workers (1999) - [pdf]
  • ILO International Migration Programme (MIGRANT)

Note 1 - ILO: Towards a fair deal for migrant workers in the global economy, Report VI, International Labour Conference, 92nd Session, Geneva, 2004; P. Stalker: Workers without frontiers: The impact of globalization on international migration (Geneva, ILO, 2000).

© 1996-2014 International Labour Organization (ILO) | Copyright and permissions | Privacy policy | Fraud alert | Disclaimer