Underrepresented and most vulnerable, migrant workers are one of the most vital workers around the globe, occupying many essential jobs. The increased global industrialization, as well as the ongoing pandemic, have increased the necessity for leaving one’s country in search of employment. Thus, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the number of global migrant workers has reached up to almost 169 million workers, marking a five million increase.
“We have seen that in a number of regions migrant workers represent a sizeable share of the workforce; they are contributing of course to the economies and societies of their host countries, but also to their home countries through remittances,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department.
Though COVID-19 increased the necessity of the migrant workforce, it has also decreased their sense of work stability. Despite playing major roles in healthcare, transportation, services, agriculture, and food processing sectors, they are always under the threat of uncertainty. The first to lay off and to pay less, they are often the most vulnerable in the face of the world’s unfairness. Moreover, most of the migrant workers are forced to undertake temporary, informal, or unprotected jobs to survive, worsening their job conditions.
Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department, informed, “The pandemic has exposed the precariousness of their situation. Migrant workers are often first to be laid-off, they experience difficulties in accessing treatment and they are often excluded from national COVID-19 policy responses”.
According to an ILO report studying data from 189 countries, the saturation was even more difficult for women migrant workers. “The COVID-19 crisis has intensified these vulnerabilities, particularly for women migrant workers, as they are over-represented in low-paid and low-skilled jobs and have limited access to social protection and fewer options for support services,” the report stated. Women make 48% of the global migrant workforce, accounting for 70 million female workers.
Global distribution patterns
While women mainly take health and domestic work, men usually find work in service, farming, and manufacturing industries. Therefore, 99 million of the overall migrant workforce are essential labor workforce in their host country.
Furthermore, almost two in three migrant workers seek employment in first-world countries, bewildered by the rich country pull. While Europe and central Asia host the market for 63.8 million international workers, 43.3 million others seek America in hopes of fulfilling the “American Dream.”
On the other hand, Arab States, Asia, and the Pacific each are hosts for about 24 million migrant workers. Furthermore, Africa accounts for 8.1 percent of the overall international workforce populace, hosting almost 13.7 million workers.
As for age distributions, 15 to 24-year-old workers make ten percent of the migrant workforce population. The number of youth migrants is highly attributed to the high unemployment rates in many developing countries, along with the increasing demographic trend. This percentage also increased by almost two percent since the last report in 2017. Nevertheless, the majority of the international workforce is composed of adults aged 25 to 64 seeking a better living in another country.
Alarming Discriminatory Patterns
Migrant workers have always suffered under the scrutiny of racist and discriminatory policies, people, and laws. Moreover, history has marked countless past and present incidents around the globe where migrant workers always paid the price in times of uncertainty. Take for example the attacks on migrant workers in South Africa in 2008 after the decrease in the demand for gold. Another example is the attacks on migrant workers in Rosarno, Italy in 2010.
“In times of economic insecurity migrants always seem to be among the first to be blamed,” says Patrick Taran, Senior Migration Specialist at the ILO International Migration Programme. Thus, experts are drawing an alarming pattern between crises and the safety of immigrant workers, and the current pandemic is no exception. A prominent example is domestic migrant workers left homeless in Lebanon during the pandemic and the county’s economic crisis.
“We are seeing behavior that is threatening coherence,” he says. “It is threatening democratic rule, it is threatening individual livelihoods and well-being – all of this makes it an extremely urgent issue to address.”