Some 150 million migrants now participating in global workforce – new UN labour agency report

A migrant worker on his bicycle in Tianjin, China. Photo: World Bank/Yang Aijun

16 December 2015 – A new statistical study conducted by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) has revealed that migrant workers account for 150.3 million of the world’s approximately 232 million international migrants, which amounts to a total of 72.7 per cent of working age migrant population.

The report, ILO Global Estimates on Migrant Workers, provides estimates on labour migration, including regions and industries where international migrant workers are established and a special focus on migrants in domestic work.

The study, released ahead of International Migrants Day, shows that among the 206.6 million migrant population of 15 years and over, the majority are men, totalling 83.7 million of the population, as compared to the 66.6 million women migrant workers.

According to the ILO, labour migration is a phenomenon that concerns all regions of the world, however almost half or 48.5 per cent of migrant workers are concentrated in two broad regions: Northern America, and Northern, Southern and Western Europe, whereas the Arab States have the highest proportion of migrant workers as a share of all workers, with 36.5 per cent.

“This analysis represents a significant contribution by the ILO in supporting member States to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly in respect to targets within Goal 8, on protecting all workers, including migrant workers, and Goal 10, on the implementation of well managed migration policies,” said International Labour Organization (ILO) Director-General, Guy Ryder, adding that “decision-makers will now have real data on which to base their policies.”

The report also examined the distribution of the migrant workforce in broad industry groupings and found that the vast majority of migrant workers are in the services sectors, with 106.8 million accounting for 71.1 per cent of the total, followed by industry, including manufacturing and construction, with 26.7 million (17.8 per cent) and agriculture with 16.7 million (11.1 per cent). Among all migrant workers, 7.7 per cent are domestic workers.

“This estimate study shows that the vast majority of migrants migrate in search of better job opportunities. By applying a robust methodology we believe it will add significantly to our knowledge base on migration and provide a strong foundation for the development of effective migration policies,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

ILO said that in general, migrants are more likely to be in the workforce than their national counterparts and added that these higher labour force participation rates are essentially associated with the higher proportion of migrant women in the workforce.

According to ILO, the date used to calculate estimates in the report refer to migrant workers in the country of destination and measure the migrant numbers in 2013, and a total data of 176 countries and territories representing 99.8 per cent of the world working age population (15 years old and over) have been included in the study.

The agency expressed concerns after that the report found gender disparities among the significantly high global numbers of migrant domestic workers, which is one the least regulated sectors of the economy. ILO said that due to the concentration of migrant women workers and relatively low visibility of the workforce in this sector multiple forms of discrimination often intersect.

Further, the report found that of the estimated 67.1 million domestic workers in the world, 11.5 million, or 17.2 per cent are international migrants and about 73.4 per cent or around 8.5 million of all migrant domestic workers are women.

The study also revealed that South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific host the largest share, with 24.0 per cent of the global number of female migrant domestic workers, followed by Northern, Southern and Western Europe, with 22.1 per cent of the total, and the Arab States with 19 per cent.

Based on its evaluations, the report anticipates that migrant domestic workers are likely to continue moving internationally in great numbers to fill in care and household services’ needs, especially with the aging of societies and other demographic and socioeconomic changes.

“In many ways the migration issue is centre stage in the 2030 Development Agenda for Sustainable Development. Migrants need work but it’s equally certain that in coming years, many destination economies will need new workers. The world will need more and better data and indicators to track these flows and this report sets a new standard in the quest to have sound global figures to guide policy makers,” concluded Rafael Diez de Medina, Director of the ILO Department of Statistics.

The report comes as ILO marks the 40th anniversary of Convention 143, the Convention concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers adopted by the International Labour Conference of 1975.

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