Skip to main content

Migrant workers – Call to redouble efforts to ensure decent work for migrant workers


Migrant workers – Call to redouble efforts to ensure decent work for migrant workers

العربية 中文 Français Русский Español

Migrant workers contribute significantly to societies of origin and destination around the world, in health systems and the care economy, agriculture, construction and other sectors vital to sustainable development. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, migrant workers continue to provide communities with essential services, putting themselves at risk to help save other people’s lives. Foreign-born and foreign-trained doctors make up over a quarter of doctors in countries around the world.

Yet, the pandemic has exposed the shortfalls of current migration governance systems that fail to realize the human rights of migrant workers and their families, leaving them unprotected and entrenching discrimination, stigma and xenophobia.

On this International Workers’ Day, the United Nations Migration Network calls on States to work with businesses, employers’ and workers’ organizations, migrant workers and all relevant stakeholders to:

  • Respect, protect and fulfil the human and labour rights of all migrant workers, regardless of status and without discrimination. These rights include freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, freedom from forced labour or child labour, freedom from discrimination and xenophobia, equal pay for work of equal value, the right to decent conditions of work, including access to wage and income protection mechanisms, adequate conditions of housing, the right to social protection, and access to justice mechanisms.
  • Improve the coverage, accessibility and quality of occupational and primary health care services and social protection system to prevent work-related diseases and injuries, and ensure positive health outcomes among migrant workers and their families, independent of their legal status. Provision of healthcare services should address epidemiological factors, and any impediments to access, including cultural, linguistic, legal, administrative and financial barriers.
  • Ensure that migrant workers, regardless of their nationality and legal status, are included in national immunization schemes, including the COVID-19 deployment and vaccination plans, and can seek vaccination services in a secure environment without fear or risk of immigration control or deportation.
  • Ratify international human rights and labour standards, and implement fundamental principles and rights at work, including by adopting rights-based and gender-responsive national labour migration frameworks, social protection systems and governance mechanisms;
  • Promote coherence between migration and employment policies, including through the further development and recognition of migrant workers’ skills to meet real labour market needs;
  • Ensure fair and ethical recruitment of migrant workers through the implementation of the ILO General Principles and Operational Guidelines on Fair Recruitment and action on the International Recruitment Integrity System, notably by prohibiting recruitment agencies, employers and labour brokers from charging or shifting recruitment fees or related costs to migrant workers, and investing in data collection, such as on fees paid by workers;
  • Develop employment policies and programmes to ensure that they include considerations of the specific needs of migrant workers in vulnerable situations, especially women, youth, domestic and low-wage migrant workers. Specific measures should be adopted to prevent, report, address and provide effective remedies for all forms of exploitation and abuse;
  • Ensure decent work opportunities and the employability of migrants in the formal economy in countries of destination and in countries of origin upon return, and their effective reintegration into labour markets in the context of the post-COVID-19 recovery;
  • Provide access to information and participation of all stakeholders in shaping the response to COVID-19, while dismantling discrimination, xenophobia and stigma against migrant workers
  • Conclude or update bilateral, regional labour migration agreements to ensure they are human-centred, rights-based and gender-responsive. Bilateral and multilateral social security agreements must ensure access to and portability of social protection rights and benefits for migrant workers and their families, in line with international labour standards.

Migrant workers’ often-inadequate living and working conditions increase their likelihood of contracting COVID-19 at a higher rate than nationals, forcing some to choose between their health and being able to feed their families. Meanwhile, lockdowns and curfews have had serious implications, particularly for migrant domestic workers – mainly women. These include additional work demands and caretaking responsibilities, greater exposure to COVID-19 and increased exposure to trafficking in persons, gender based violence and harassment.

Our attention and support must put those in the most vulnerable situations at the centre of our immediate protection efforts. Migrant workers must be included in COVID-19 response and recovery measures, in recognition of their rights, and to protect global public health This includes equal access to testing, treatment and essential health services, including access to free COVID-19 national vaccination schemes, regardless of their legal immigration status.

The pandemic also highlighted that many migrant workers are unprotected as workers, including millions working in temporary jobs and in the informal economy. Migrant workers were among the first to be laid off, often unable to reclaim wages due to them and forced into irregular status. They were further excluded from social protection and economic stimulus measures, access to health services, and financial protection in ill-health. Tragically, as a result, many migrant workers face destitution and food insecurity, and either remain stranded without jobs, shelter or means to travel home, or have been forcibly returned.

Even before the pandemic, the fragmentation of migration policies and violations of human and labour rights were everyday realities for many migrant workers and their families. Pay discrimination and non-recognition of skills persist for too many, preventing their upward mobility and worsening inequalities. Evidence shows that women migrant workers still earn less than men, whether migrants or national workers, with the gender pay gap above 20 per cent in some countries.

It is commendable that during the past year many countries have taken positive steps to protect migrant workers through visa extensions, regularization, and labour mobility schemes. These measures have prevented some migrant workers from falling into irregular status and helped protect their rights and dignity. Several countries recognised their duties to protect, respect and fulfil migrant workers’ right to health and other essential services, regardless of status.

The UN Network on Migration encourages these positive and inclusive measures, and urges States to build on them in order to establish fair, effective, safe and regular labour migration systems and governance, in line with international law, human rights and labour standards, including fundamental principles and rights at work. These measures can be a step towards meeting the commitments States made in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to promote decent working conditions and protect the rights of migrant workers and their families. Fulfilling these commitments will empower migrant workers and social partners, notably employers’ and workers’ organizations, to contribute to migration dialogue, policymaking, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of these commitments.

We are at a turning point. As the world looks to build back better from the global COVID-19 crisis we must redouble our efforts to ensure decent work for migrant workers in a more sustainable, equal, and resilient post-pandemic world.

As we celebrate International Workers’ Day, join us in also celebrating the world`s 164 million migrant workers through commitments to real change.

The United Nations Network on Migration was established to ensure effective, timely and coordinated system-wide support to Member States in their implementation, follow-up and review of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. While the Network’s mandate is focused on migration, States are called to also implement these recommendations to refugees and asylum-seekers and to protect the human rights of everyone equally, regardless of migration status.


For more information, please contact:

Adam Bowers
+41 (0)22 799 63 48

UN Network on Migration (secretariat)
Florence Kim +41797480395


*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).