Reflections on migration and diversity – New ILO research

The ILO has published new research on “The future of diversity”. In an edited volume, scholars and practitioners from various disciplines and backgrounds reflect on the most appropriate interventions to create a more inclusive labour market for all. The authors offer new perspectives on the concept of diversity and the role diversity can play in the world of work of the future.

Article | 14 December 2021

Three chapters deal specifically with labour migration

To be labelled a “migrant” obviously has major consequences for the so-labelled.”"

Christiane Kuptsch and Fabiola Mieres pose the question Who is a “migrant” in diverse societies? and reveal how complex labelling exercises bring conceptual blurriness with consequences for migrants and refugees, as well as the nature of policy-making itself. They analyse perspectives on migrants as mobile people or settlers and underline that semantics matter by reflecting on the notion of “migration/refugee crisis”. The Chapter shows how populist discourse often operates with calculated ambiguity and treats migrants as an undifferentiated group to create fear of being overwhelmed by “Others”. Where people are forever treated as “migrants”, through the use of concepts such as “second and third generation migrants”, social cohesion may suffer. “Classifying people” for statistical and policy purposes can become a tedious enterprise, and a concern for integration policies. The authors reflect on the question of targeted vs mainstream integration policies, and propose that in future migration and integration research might have to move towards new units of analysis. To reduce societal and labour market exclusion, they suggest “whole of the population” approaches by treating integration and diversity issues as labour market institution subjects.

Research on the economic contribution of immigrants has expanded in line with the growing importance of migration flows, and often supports the economic case for diversity."

Theo Sparreboom, Sarah Kups, Jesse Mertens and Sandra Berger examine the economic case for diversity from a macro perspective, looking at economies as a whole (as opposed to the enterprise level), by discussing the economic contribution of immigration in a Chapter entitled Diversity, migration and the economy. The Chapter reviews available evidence regarding both developed and developing economies and analyses issues such as immigration and per capita income; labour productivity, including in contexts with considerable low-skilled immigration; and immigration and entrepreneurship. The authors find among other things that the relatively high share of employed persons among migrants tends to have a positive effect on income per capita in host economies. In terms of productivity, they show that efficiency gains are possible through task specialization, competition, and the adoption of new techniques. However, they warn that some of the alleged gains in productivity could come at the expense of decent working conditions for migrant workers.

By tying workers to specific employers, employer-tying policies have indeed been shown to negatively impact (im)migrant workers’ fundamental right to physical liberty or mobility in the country."

In a Chapter on State restriction of workers’ rights to equality, liberty, security and access to justice through employer-tied labour (im)migration programmes, Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier, Hannah Deegan and Marie-Eveline Touma describe migrants’ exclusion via programme design and suggest ways to overcome this. Temporary foreign worker programmes that have become a worldwide phenomenon usually rely on a variety of State-implemented obstacles to workers’ ability to exit their employment relationship, by associating the act of quitting or losing one’s job with risks of one or several State sanctions, such as nullifying the authorization to work or reside in the country. The authors show how these schemes have led to worker segregation in Canada and how particularly low-skilled migrants, often from developing countries, have no possibility to integrate. Among the key elements for better designed temporary labour migration they list: the criminalization of offering employer-tying work arrangements; independent access to legal status renewal and consolidation procedures; government-run national inspection and (re-)placement services; and government-funded unbiased community integration services.

Diversity and inclusion: Two sides of the same coin

One message that clearly emerges in this research is that diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Inclusive policies are needed to bring about diversity at the organizational (meso) and societal (macro) levels, and to respect individuals with all their “diverse” characteristics and traits (micro level).