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Number of migrant workers rises to 169 million, says ILO

2021-07-05, 12:42pm Migration

Migrant workers crowd for air tickets to Saudi Arabia-2967b1f051857539a549e53db75e9b5b1625467350.jpeg

Migrant workers crowd for air tickets to Saudi Arabia. UNB

Geneva, 5 Jul (Kanaga Raja) – The number of international migrant workers totalled 169 million globally in 2019, an increase of 5 million migrant workers, or 3.0 per cent, since 2017, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has said.
In its latest global estimates of international migrant workers, the ILO said that while globally migrant workers constitute 4.9 per cent of the labour force of destination countries, this figure is highest at 41.4 per cent in the Arab States.
The labour force participation rate of migrants at 69.0 per cent is higher than the labour force participation of non-migrants at 60.4 per cent, it added.
“The [COVID-19] 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,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Department on Conditions of Work and Equality.
The ILO report cites the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) as estimating the stock of international migrants worldwide at 272 million, of which 245 million are of working age (aged 15 and over) in 2019.
The stock of international migrant workers in the same year totals 169 million, up by 5 million (3.0 per cent) from the 2017 estimate and by 19 million (12.7 per cent) as compared to the 2013 estimate.
In 2019, international migrants constituted 4.3 per cent of the working-age population (aged 15 and over) while migrant workers constituted 4.9 per cent of the labour force of destination countries, said the ILO.
Despite the global rise in the number of migrant workers overtime, their share among migrants of working age is decreasing, it noted.
In 2013, migrant workers constituted 72.7 per cent of migrants of working age but 70.0 per cent in 2017, while their share in 2019 is estimated at 69.0 per cent.
The ILO attributed the decreasing share of migrant workers to the continuous rise in the number of migrants of working age and a decline in their labour force participation.
The changes observed in the labour force participation of international migrants is likely to be generated by forces that have also been affecting non-migrant populations, it said.
The ILO projects that the general decline in participation rates observed since 1990 will continue until at least 2030.
Likely drivers include demographic trends (e.g. ageing populations in most high-income countries), changes in production technology, labour market and immigration policies, said the ILO.
It said in the case of international migrants, added factors may include labour market discrimination and barriers to obtaining employment, insufficient language skills and limited access to recognition of their skills and qualifications in destination countries.
According to the ILO, the decreasing labour force participation of migrants may have important implications both for origin and destination countries.
It said that for the former, it may translate into lower remittances. Available evidence suggests that remittances received by developing countries can be important in meeting currency shortages, increasing domestic investment and alleviating household poverty.
“For the destination countries, it will mean loss of potential gains in the form of higher macroeconomic output, economic growth, and contribution to social security systems.”
Further, in the case of high-income destination countries, these developments may become a more acute challenge due to the demographic changes, as many non-migrants are transitioning out of the labour force, said the ILO.
According to the ILO report, the majority of international migrant workers are men. The 2019 estimates indicate that there are 99 million men migrant workers and 70 million women migrant workers.
Accordingly, men constituted 58.5 per cent of international migrant workers while women constituted 41.5 per cent.
The number of women migrant workers has actually increased over time from 66.6 million in 2013 to 68.1 million in 2017 and finally to 70 million in 2019, said the ILO.
However, it added, the increase has been faster in the case of men with the result that globally men continue to be over-represented among international migrants and migrant workers.
The lower representation of women among international migrant workers is likely due to two reasons: (1) women are under-represented among international migrants of working age; and (2) women migrants have lower labour force participation than men migrants, said the ILO.
In 2019, there were 128 million men migrants compared to 117 million women migrants of working age, it added.
Furthermore, in 2019, the labour force participation rate of men migrants at 77.5 per cent was substantially higher than the corresponding rate estimated for women at 59.8 per cent, a pattern observed in previous years as well, said the ILO.
The higher likelihood for women to migrate as accompanying family members for reasons other than to work may, in part, explain these observations, it added.
According to the ILO, prime-age adults (aged 25-64) constitute the overwhelming majority of international migrant workers.
The size of this group was estimated at 146.2 million in 2019, youth workers (aged 15-24) at 16.8 million, and older workers (aged 65 and over) at 6 million. The share of prime-age adults among migrant workers was estimated at 86.5 per cent in 2019.
In 2019, youth constituted 12.9 per cent, prime-age adults 74.7 per cent and older workers 12.4 per cent of the working-age migrant population.
The share of youth among international migrant workers showed an increase over time, from 8.3 per cent in 2017 to 10.0 per cent in 2019.
In contrast, the share of older migrant workers reduced from 5.2 per cent to 3.6 per cent over the same period, leaving the share of prime-age adults constant.
These developments suggest an increasing migration tendency among youth workers and a decreasing one (or perhaps a return migration tendency) among older workers, said the ILO.
High youth unemployment rates in many developing countries and the phenomenon of “youth bulge” in some of them may help explain the increasing number and share of youth migrant workers, it added.
The ILO said from the perspective of destination countries, the compositional shift towards younger workers is likely to be positive – increasing the likelihood of a higher participation rate and lower dependency ratio among migrant populations.
However, for origin countries, the effect would be reversed, and would be particularly challenging if youth workers move permanently to foreign countries, which could result in a shrinking labour force, brain drain and resulting impacts on economic growth and development prospective, it added.
The ILO report also found that most international migrant workers are engaged in services, with the 2019 estimates indicating that 66.2 per cent are in services, 26.7 per cent in industry and 7.1 per cent in agriculture.
In 2019, 79.9 per cent of women migrant workers were in services, 14.2 per cent were in industry and 5.9 per cent in agriculture.
Compared to women, the distribution of men migrant workers between industry and services was relatively more balanced, with 35.6 per cent of men employed in industry in 2019 and 56.4 per cent in services, while the remaining men migrant workers (7.9 per cent) were in agriculture.
“A higher representation of women migrant workers in services may, in part, be explained by a growing labour demand in the care economy, including in health and domestic work,” said the ILO.
On the other hand, it added, men migrant workers are relatively more present in industry, including construction, a sub-sector dominated by migrant workers in many countries, as well as in manufacturing.
The ILO also provided estimates in terms of country income groups. Countries are divided into four income groups following the World Bank’s classification as low-income, lower-middle-income, upper-middle-income and high-income.
In 2019, the number of workers worldwide totalled 3.5 billion, said the ILO. The distribution of workers according to country income groups in 2019 was as follows: 7.5 per cent were in low-income countries, 31.9 per cent in lower-middle-income countries, 42.6 per cent in upper-middle-income countries and 18.0 per cent in high-income countries.
Of the estimated 169 million international migrant workers, 67.4 per cent (113.9 million) were in high-income countries in 2019, said the ILO.
Another 33 million (or 19.5 per cent) were in upper-middle-income countries so that a total of 86.9 per cent of international migrant workers were concentrated in upper-middle-income and high-income countries. The rest were in lower-middle-income (9.5 per cent) and low-income countries (3.6 per cent).
“More job opportunities and higher standards of living are likely factors that attract migrants to high-income countries,” said the ILO.
High-income countries are home to 18.0 per cent of workers but 67.4 per cent of international migrant workers globally, it added.
All other income groups have a considerably lower proportion of international migrant workers compared to their proportion of workers.
According to the ILO, in all country income groups, the labour force participation rate of international migrants is higher than non-migrants, the gap being particularly large in high-income countries estimated at 11.5 percentage points.
Due to a large number of migrants in high-income countries and their relatively high labour force participation rate as compared to non-migrants, migrant workers constitute 18.2 per cent of the labour force in high-income countries, it said.
In upper-middle-income countries, migrant worker’s share in the labour force is relatively smaller at 2.2 per cent.
The ILO made a similar observation for lower-middle-income and low-income countries, where migrant workers make up 1.4 per cent and 2.3 per cent of the labour force, respectively.
In 2019, 88.6 per cent of women international migrant workers were either in high-income or in upper-middle-income countries, with the corresponding figure for men being 85.7 per cent.
The ILO noted that a larger proportion of women workers (66.7 per cent) than men workers (56.7 per cent) are found in high-income and upper-middle-income countries.
Highlighting some regional trends, the ILO said that of the 169 million international migrant workers, 63.8 million or 37.7 per cent are in Europe and Central Asia, while another 43.3 million (25.6 per cent) are in the Americas.
Hence, collectively, Europe and Central Asia and the Americas host 63.3 per cent of all migrant workers.
The Arab States, and Asia and the Pacific each host about 24 million migrant workers, which, in total, correspond to 28.5 per cent of all migrant workers.
On the other hand, Africa has the smallest number of migrant workers (13.7 million) representing only 8.1 per cent of all migrant workers.
As regards the origin of international migrants, the ILO said that the Asia and Pacific region ranks first (being the region of origin for one-third of international migrants), followed by Europe and Central Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Arab States.
In total, 60.8 per cent of men migrant workers and 60.3 per cent of women migrant workers are found in Northern America, Northern, Southern and Western Europe and in the Arab States.
While within these three sub-regions, men migrant workers are evenly distributed, women migrant workers are heavily concentrated in Northern America (24.9 per cent) and Northern, Southern and Western Europe (29.4 per cent).
Only 6.0 per cent of women migrant workers were in the Arab States in 2019, which can be explained by the relatively more limited job opportunities available for them in this region outside of the care economy (including domestic work), said the ILO. – Third World Network
Published in SUNS #9380 dated 5 July 2021