The term "migrant worker" has different official meanings and connotations in different parts of the world. The United Nations' definition is broad, many people were working outside of their home country. Some of these are called expatriates. Several countries have millions of foreign workers. Some have millions of illegal immigrants, most of them being workers also.
- United Nations definition
- European Union
- Latin America
- South Korea
- United Arab Emirates
- Women and migrant labour
- Why women participate in migrant labour
- Effect of migrant labour on gender roles
- Migrant labour and children
- Migrant education
- Gender role of migrant workers in global city
- Migrant labour force in economy
- Migrant workers rights
- Effects on migrant workers health
- National vs transnational migration
According to the International Labour Organization, as of 2014 there were an estimated 232 million international migrants in the world (defined as persons outside their country of origin for 12 months or more) and approximately half of them were estimated to be economically active (i.e. being employed or seeking employment).
According to the Panos Network, it is never appropriate to refer to asylum-seekers or refugees as “illegal migrants”. On the one hand, their reasons for moving are different from those of migrants, and on the other, international law recognizes that those fleeing conflict or persecution may need to cross international borders without authorization and should not be penalized for doing so. The term can also be used to describe someone who migrates with in a country, possibly their own, in order to pursue work such as seasonal work.
United Nations' definition
The "United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families" defines migrant worker as follows:
The Convention has been ratified by Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines (amongst many other nations that supply foreign labour) but it has not been ratified by the United States, Germany, and Japan (amongst other nations that receive foreign labor).
Since the 1960s, farmers in Ontario and other provinces have been meeting some of their seasonal labour needs by hiring temporary workers from Caribbean countries and, since 1974, from Mexico under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP). This federal initiative allows for the organized entry into Canada of low- to mid-level skilled farm workers for up to eight months a year to fill labour shortages on Canadian farms during peak periods of planting, cultivating and harvesting of specified farm commodities. The program is run jointly with the governments of Mexico and the participating Caribbean states, which recruit the workers and appoint representatives in Canada to assist in the program's operations.
In Canada, non-agricultural companies are beginning to recruit temporary foreign workers under Service Canada's 2002 expansion of an immigration program for migrant workers.
As of 2002, the federal government introduced the Low Skill Pilot Project. This project allows companies to apply to bring in temporary foreign workers to fill low skill jobs. The classification of "low skill" means that workers require no more than high school or two years of job-specific training to qualify.
In 2006, the federal Conservatives expanded the list of occupations that qualified for the Low Skill Pilot Project and increased the speed of processing applications.
Overall, the Chinese government has tacitly supported migration as means of providing labour for factories and construction sites and for the long-term goals of transforming China from a rural-based economy to an urban-based one. Some inland cities have started providing migrants with social security, including pensions and other insurance. In 2012, there were a reported 167 million migrant workers in China, with trends of working closer to home (within their own or a neighbouring province but with a wage drop of 21%. Because so many migrant works are moving to the city from rural areas, employers can hire them to work in poor working conditions for extremely low wages. Migrant workers in China are notoriously marginalized, especially due to the hukou system of residency permits, which tie one stated residence to all social welfare benefits.
The recent expansions of the European Union have provided opportunities for many people to migrate to other EU countries for work. For both the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, existing states were given the rights to impose various transitional arrangements to limit access to their labour markets. After the Second World War Germany did not have enough workers so the invited people form other European states to work in their country, this invitation ended in 1973, these people were known as Gastarbeiter.
The 1st of March has become a symbolic day for transnational migrants' strike. This day unites all migrants to give them a common voice to speak up against racism, discrimination and exclusion on all levels of social life. The transnational protests on 1 March were originally initiated in the US in 2006 and have encouraged migrants in other countries to organise and take action on that day. In Austria the first transnational migrants' strike (Transnationaler Migrant innenstreik) took place in March 2011, in the form of common actions, e.g. a manifestation, but also in form of numerous decentralised actions.
According to the Finnish trade union organizations SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions) and PAM Finnish Service Union United PAM foreign workers were increasingly abused in the construction and transportation sectors in Finland in 2012, in some cases reporting hourly wages as low as two euros. Bulgarians, Kosovars and Estonians were the most likely victimised in the building trade.
There has been a substantial flow of people from Bangladesh and Nepal to India over recent decades in search of better work. Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute found that these migrant workers are often subject to harassment, violence, and discrimination during their journeys at their destinations and when they return home. Bangladeshi women appear to be particularly vulnerable. These findings highlight the need to promote migrants' rights with, amongst others, health staff, police and employers at destination.
The population of Indonesia, as the world's fourth largest, has contributed to the surplus of work forces. Combined with a scarcity of jobs at home, this has led numbers of Indonesians to seek job abroad. It is estimated around 4.5 million Indonesians work abroad, 70% of them are women, most are employed in domestic sector as maid and in manufacture sector. Most of them aged between 18 and 35 years old. Around 30% are men, mostly work in plantation, construction, transportation and service sector. Currently Malaysia employs the largest numbers of Indonesian migrant workers, followed by Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It is important to note that these are official numbers, the actual numbers might be far larger contributed by unrecorded illegal entry of Indonesian workers into foreign countries. They are prone to exploitation, extortion, physical and sexual abuses, suffered by those enduring human trafficking. Several cases of abuses upon Indonesian migrant worker has been reported and some has gained worldwide attention.
Immigrants often take any job is available and often they find employment in the fields. When they finally do find jobs they usually consist of hard manual labour along with unfair pay. In the article "Migrant Farmworkers: Is government doing enough to protect them?” by William Triplett, Triplett describes that the “median annual income was $7,500, and 61 percent had income below the poverty level” (Triplett). After losing their cultural identity immigrants try to find the way to feed their families and end up being exploited. The study by William Triplett describes the annual income to be about 7,500 dollars, or about 625 dollars a month. Triplett also mentions that since 1989, “their average real hourly wages (in 1998 dollars) had dropped from $6.89 to $6.18” One cannot expect to live a healthy life making this kind of money. The pursuit of happiness must not apply to all humans as stated in the constitution. Without help immigrants will constantly be forced to work horrible labour jobs for little to no money. Although battles have been fought for betting the wages researchers found that they have actually decreased. As the cost of living has increased the average pay for a migrant farm worker has actually decreased. Along with economic exploitation in the work place immigrants also suffer from physical exploitation in the work place.
In Seventh Malaysia Plan (1995 – 2000), Malaysia’s total population increased by 2.3 percent a year, while foreign residents (non-citizens) covers 7.6 percent of the total working-age population in Malaysia, not including illegal foreign residents. In 2008 majority of migrant workers (1,085,658 : 52.6%) come from their country of origin Indonesia and followed by Bangladesh (316,401), Philippine (26,713), Thailand (21,065) and Pakistan (21,278). Meanwhile, number of migrant workers from other countries is (591,481). Their arrival, if not controlled, will decrease the local population’s employment opportunities. However, the arrival of migrant workers was able to increase the country’s output and reduce the rate of wages in the local labor market. Despite the benefits received by both the sending and receiving countries, many problems arise in the receiving country, Malaysia. The actual number of how many migrant workers in Malaysia right now is very difficult to identify. The number of legally to work with a passport and work permit certain can be identified. However, the number who came in informal or "illegal" or also called "illegal immigrants" is very difficult to estimate their numbers.
In 2013, the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that approximately 10.2 million Filipinos worked or resided abroad. In the census year of 2010, about 9.3 percent of Filipinos worked or resided abroad.
More than a million Filipinos every year leave to work abroad through overseas employment agencies, and other programs, including government-sponsored initiatives. Overseas Filipinos often work as doctors, physical therapists, nurses, accountants, IT professionals, engineers, architects, entertainers, technicians, teachers, military servicemen, seafarers, students and fast food workers. Also, many overseas workers are women applying as domestic helpers and caregivers. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration is an agency of the Government of the Philippines responsible for opening the benefits of the overseas employment program of the Philippines. It is the main government agency assigned to monitor and supervise recruitment agencies in the Philippines.
Since the late 1970s Singapore has become one of the major receiving countries of migrant workers in Southeast Asia with 1,340,300 foreign workers constituting 37% of the total workforce in December 2014. It is the highest proportion of foreign labour force in Asia. About 991,300 of these foreign workers fall under the category of unskilled or low-skilled. Currently, there are 322,700 male construction workers and 222,500 are female domestic workers in Singapore. They are from different countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand. In order to control the larger amount of these labours, Singapore implemented clear migration policies with visa categories available for all skill levels. The entry of foreign domestic workers is controlled through strict enforcement of a "guestworker policy of transience". The employers are required to post a S$5,000 bond with the Government to guarantee the worker's repatriation at the end of her two-year work permit. The government controls the entire realm of migrant workers with this law.
Like many nations, South Korea started as a labour exporter in the 1960s before its economic development in the 1980s changed it to a labor importer. In 1993, the Industrial Trainee Program was established to meets the needs of migrant workers. It provided work for foreigners as trainees in small and medium-sized businesses. However, these workers were considered trainees and not official employees, so they could not receive protection under Korean labour laws. On February 14, 1995 Guidelines for the Protection and Management of Foreign Industrial Trainees provided legal and social welfare for migrant workers. The Act on the Employment of Foreign Workers which states that “a foreign worker shall not be given discriminatory treatment on the ground that he/she is a foreigner”, was put into force on August 16, 2003. Later that year the numbers of migrant workers multiplied dramatically.
Even though there has been a drastic rise of migrant workers in Korea and policies are in place for their protection, the lack of cheap labour in Korea has forced the Korean community to condone the maltreatment of illegal migrant workers, and other unsavoury practices. In response, the Korean government has increased the quota for migrant workers by 5,000, to 62,000 individuals in 2013. In addition, on January 31, 2013, the minimum wage for migrant workers increased to 38,880 KRW for eight hours per day or a monthly rate of 1,015,740 KRW. Programs were put into place to protect migrant workers and ease their integration to Korean society. Programs sponsored by the government such as Sejonghakdang (세종학당), Multicultural Center of Gender Equality and Family Program, Foreign Ministry Personnel Center Program, and Ministry of Justice Social Integration Program provide free Korean language lessons for migrant workers. In addition, by fulfilling all the requirements of the Ministry of Justice Social Integration Program, migrant workers can apply for Korean citizenship without taking the Naturalization exams.
As of June 2016, there are more than 600,000 migrant workers in Taiwan which are spread across different sectors of industry, ranging from construction workers, domestic helpers, factory workers and other manual jobs. Most of them come from Southeast Asia.
In Thailand, migrants come from bordering countries such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Many face hardships such as lack of food, abuse, and low wages. Often deportation is their biggest fear. In Bangkok, Thailand many migrant workers attend Dear Burma school where they study subjects such as Thai language, Burmese language, English language, computer skills and photography.
United Arab Emirates
The treatment of migrant workers in the UAE has been likened to "modern-day slavery". Migrant workers are excluded from the UAE's collective labour rights, hence migrants are vulnerable to forced labour. Migrant workers in the UAE are not allowed to join trade unions. Moreover, migrant workers are banned from going on strike. Dozens of workers were deported in 2014 for going on strike. As migrant workers do not have the right to join a trade union or go on strike, they don't have the means to denounce the exploitation they suffer. Those who protest risk prison and deportation. The International Trade Union Confederation has called on the United Nations to investigate evidence that thousands of migrant workers in the UAE are treated as slave labour.
Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to the mistreatment of migrant workers who have been turned into debt-ridden de facto indentured servants following their arrival in the UAE. Confiscation of passports, although illegal, occurs on a large scale, primarily from unskilled or semi-skilled employees. Labourers often toil in intense heat with temperatures reaching 40–50 degrees Celsius in the cities in August. Although attempts have been made since 2009 to enforce a midday break rule, these are frequently flouted. Those labourers who do receive a midday break often have no suitable place to rest and tend to seek relief in bus or taxi stands and gardens. Initiatives taken have brought about a huge impact on the conditions of the laborers. According to Human Rights Watch, migrant workers in Dubai live in "inhumane" conditions.
Women and migrant labour
Economic conditions in developing countries have created the need for a new wave of migrant workers, predominantly young females. Turnover rate in many of these migrant jobs is very high due to harsh working conditions. This occurs on both a national and transnational basis. In Europe alone there are 3 million female migrant workers. The 1970s and 1980s have seen an increase in female migrant labourers in France and Belgium. In China, as of 2015 a third of their migrant workers were women who had moved from rural towns to bigger cities in search of employment. Female migrants work in domestic occupations which are considered part of the informal sector and lack a degree of government regulation and protection. Minimum wages and work hour requirements are ignored and piece-rates are sometimes also implemented. Migrant labour allows large companies to keep up with the changes in the market and fashions but still keep production inexpensive at home. Women's wages are kept lower than men because they are not regarded as the primary source of income in the family.
Why women participate in migrant labour
According to the International Labour Organization, 48 per cent of all international migrants are women, who are increasingly migrating for work. Women become involved in migrant labour for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are economic: the husband's wage is no longer enough to support the family. In some places, like China, for instance, rapid economic growth has led to an imbalance in the modernization of rural and ubran environments, leading women to migrate from rural areas into the city to be a part of the push for modernization. Other reasons include familial pressure, on a daughter, for instance, who is seen as a reliable source of income for the family only through remittances. Young girls and women are singled out in families to be migrant workers because they don't have a viable alternative role to fulfil in the local village. If they go to work in the urban centres as domestic workers they can send home money to help provide for their younger siblings. Many of these women come from developing countries, and are low skilled. Additionally women who are widowed or divorced and have limited economic opportunities in their native country may be forced to leave out of economic necessity. Migration can also substitute for divorce in societies that don't allow or do not condone divorce.
Effect of migrant labour on gender roles
In terms of migrant labour, many women move from a more oppressive home country to a less oppressive environment where they have actual access to waged work. As such, leaving the home and obtaining increased economic independence and freedom challenges traditional gender roles. This can be seen to strengthen women's position in the family by improving their relative bargaining position. They have more leverage in controlling the household because they have control over a degree of economic assets. However, this can lead to hostility between wives and husbands who feel inadequate or ashamed at their inability to fulfil their traditional role as breadwinner. The hostility and resentment from the husband can also be a source of domestic violence. Studies have also been done which point to changes in family structures as a result of migrant labour. These changes include increased divorce rates and decrease in household stability. Additionally, female migrant labour has been indicated as a source for more egalitarian relationships within the family, decline of extended family patterns, and more nuclear families. There is also a risk for infidelity abroad, which also erodes the family structure.
Migrant labour and children
Migrant labour of women also raises special concerns about children. Female migrant workers perform care work abroad while leaving home. These children learn to regard their relatives at home as their own parents. Frequently, children of migrant workers become migrant workers themselves. There is concern that this may have negative psychological effects on the children left behind. Although this has not been proven to be entirely true or false, studies have been done which show that many children of migrant workers manage reasonably well. One theory for why this is states that remittances to some degree make up for the lack of care by providing more resources for food and clothing. Additionally, some migrant mothers take great care in attempting to maintain familial relationships while abroad.
See Migrant education.
Children of migrant workers struggle to achieve the same level of educational success as their peers. Relocation, whether it is a singular or regular occurrence, causes discontinuity in education, which causes migrant students to progress slowly through school and drop out at high rates. Additionally, relocation has negative social consequences on students: isolation from peers due to cultural differences and Language barriers. Migrant children are also at a disadvantage because the majority live in extreme poverty and must work with their parents to support their families. These barriers to equal educational attainment for children of migrant workers are present in countries all over the world. Although the inequality in education remains pronounced, government policies, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and social movements are working to reverse its effects.
Gender role of migrant workers in global city
Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Shirlena Huang, and Katie Willis view gender dimensions from Singapore. They divided three women groups in order to present the dimensions of gender roles in global city. First group is targeting expatriate wives who are often reduced to dependent spouse status by immigration laws. Second group is based on Singapore's wives who left behind the public working access by taking care of the children at home. Although they are from middle class Singaporean, they can't get out from housework which is the same level or share status with foreign domestic workers. Third group is foreign domestic workers who are employed by Singapore to help as a means to resolve the crisis in household reproduction. Because of global economic restructuring and global city formation, the mobility of female labours is becoming increased. However, they are controlled through strict enforcement and they are statistically invisible in migration data. The female foreign domestic workers are always gender-stereotyped as maids and generalized as low wages workers in society.
Migrant labour force in economy
It is critical to note that the migrant workforce has historically played a vital role nationally and across local communities over recent times. The economic globalization has created more migrant workers than ever before. In developing countries, the key factors to promoted many workers is unemployment and increasing poverty. While developed countries have increased their demand for labour, especially unskilled labour, the workers from developing countries are used. As a result, millions of workers and their families travel to countries other than their own to find work. This influx of migrant workers contributes to growth of slum, which is described as "urban poverty" by Davids. These workers, usually from rural areas, cannot afford housing in cities and thus live in slums. Some of these unskilled workers living in slums suffer from unemployment and make a living in informal sector. According to International Labor Organization, at present there are approximately 175 million migrants around the world.
Migrant workers' rights
The "People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)" have composed a list of fourteen rights for migrant workers.
Effects on migrant workers' health
Monica Rosales (a professor from Colorado State University) describes work-related injuries in her journal article titled "Life in the field: Migrant farm workers’ perceptions of work related injuries”. Rosales discusses bone problems, respiratory problems and allergic reactions all in relation to the migrant farm work that immigrants do to make money. Rosales discussed how these working conditions affect the lives of immigrants. Rosales states that “The average life expectancy of migrant and seasonal farm workers is 49 years of age, in comparison to the U.S. average of 75 years of age”. On top of unfair wages, migrant workers often find themselves toiling in dangerous working conditions. The life expectancy compared to average is 26 years less for a migrant worker in the U.S.
A survey by Lien Centre for Social Innovation in Singapore also found that over 60 per cent of lower-skilled South Asian migrant workers who are waiting for salary or injury compensation from employers were predicted to have serious mental illness.
National vs. transnational migration
Like transnational migration, national (internal) migration plays an important role in poverty reduction and economic development. For some countries, internal migrants outnumber those who migrate internationally. For example, 120 million people were estimated to migrate internally in China compared to 458,000 people who migrated internationally for work. Situations of surplus labour in rural areas because of scarcity of arable land is a common "push factor" in the move of individuals to urban-based industries and service jobs. Environmental factors including drought, waterlogging, and river-bank erosion also contribute to internal migration.
There are four spatial patterns of internal migration:
- Rural-rural migration: in many poor countries like Senegal, rural-rural migration occurs when labourers from poorer regions travel to agriculturally-rich and irrigated areas which have more work.
- Rural-urban migration: seen in the urbanizing economies of Asia, migration of poor agricultural workers move to larger cities and manufacturing centers.
- Urban-rural migration: migration that occurs when individuals retire back to their villages. Often, migrants who return bring back skill sets that benefit their home areas tremendously.
- Urban-urban migration: as the predominant form of internal migration, this movement takes place from the centre of towns to the outer areas of the town.
Circular migration, the temporary and repetitive movement of a migrant worker between home and host areas, can occur both internally and transnationally.