Thematic brief

Thematic brief: Promoting internal labour market mobility in the Arab States

This thematic brief was developed to further discussions during the Africa – Arab States Interregional Tripartite Meeting on Labour Migration on 15-16 November 2021. It sets out the rationale and promising practices for promoting internal labour market mobility, loosely defined as the ability to terminate employment, switch to a different employer, renew a work permit and/or leave the destination country without the approval of the employer, including during the contract period.

Although immigration sponsorship systems are common in many parts of the world, the types of sponsorship arrangements prevalent in the Middle East place considerable limitations on migrant workers’ opportunity to leave an employer, create a number of risks of human rights violations and labour exploitation, and impede internal labour market mobility for migrant workers.

Removing existing restrictions and enabling more workers to change jobs in the country of destination can bring critical benefits to the effective functioning of labour markets, reduce the cost and time required for recruitment from abroad, and ensure more effective job matching.

Enabling a more dynamic and fluid labour market has become an ever-greater priority as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created a context wherein some employers have had to let go of workers because of financial difficulties, while others have struggled to fill vacancies because of restrictions on international recruitment.

This thematic brief outlines some of the challenges, applicable international labour standards and emerging promising practices with respect to internal labour market mobility for migrant workers, and further outlines some of the examples of reforms to achieve more flexibility while also addressing the potential for exploitation inherent in an unbalanced employment relationship.