Millions more migrant workers, means countries lose ‘most productive part’ of workforce

ILO/Marcel Crozet Visa applicants at the Migration Resource Center in Nepal wishing go abroad.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

A new study launched on Wednesday by the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals that the number of migrant workers has jumped by millions, leaving some countries without “the most productive part of their workforce.”

According to the second edition of ILO’s Global Estimates on International Migrant Workers, approximately 164 million people left home in search of work between 2013 and 2017 – a nine per cent increase since 2013, when that number stood at 150 million.

Breaking down the figures, 96 million are men, a rise of two per cent, while 68 million are women, a fall of 2 per cent compared to 2013.

“While growing numbers of women have been migrating autonomously in search of employment in the past two decades, the discrimination they often face because of their gender and nationality, reduces their employment opportunities in destination countries compared to their male peers,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department. Nearly 87 per cent of migrant workers are between the ages of 25 and 64, suggesting that some countries of origin are losing the most productive segment of their workforce, which could negatively impact their economic growth.

A sample group of nearly two-thirds of migrant workers shows that 23 per cent are in North America; 23.9 per cent in Northern, Southern and Western Europe; and 13.9 per cent in Arab countries.

Other regions that host more than five per cent of migrant workers include Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific, and Central and Western Asia. In contrast, North Africa hosts less than one per cent.

The authors also highlight the importance of gathering more comprehensive and statistical data on migration at all levels.ILO is planning to produce global estimates on international migrant workers regularly, to better inform decision-making and contribute to the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Where do migrants live?

Of the 164 million migrant workers worldwide, approximately:

  • 111.2 million, or 67.9 per cent, live in high-income countries.
  • 30.5 million, or 18.6 per cent, in upper middle-income countries.
  • 16.6 million, or 10.1 per cent, in lower middle-income countries,
  • 5.6 million, or 3.4 per cent, in low-income countries.

Noting that international labour migration is a rising policy priority, Rafael Diez de Medina, Chief Statistician and Director of the ILO Department of Statistics said: “The 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians  recently endorsed specific guidelines on how to better measure international labour migration worldwide.”

“We are confident that through that, countries will produce better data and therefore there will be increasingly accurate global estimations,” he added.

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