Labour Mobility and Human Development

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For centuries, migration has been an essential strategy for individuals to improve their lives and create opportunities for themselves and their families. Throughout history, and to the present day, migrants contribute hugely to social and economic development in their countries of destination. They bring new and needed skills to fill labour market gaps and establish businesses that fuel economic growth and employment. At the same time, they contribute to poverty reduction and development in their communities of origin through financial remittances and other forms of support.

In 2016, migrants remitted over US$420 Billion to developing countries, amounting to more than four times the amount of Official Development Aid (ODA) these countries receive. Within the South-Eastern Europe and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SEEECA) region, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the first and third most remittance-dependent countries globally, with remittances representing 37 per cent and 28 per cent of their GDP in 2016, respectively. A number of other countries in the region also demonstrate high levels of remittance-dependence to stimulate and sustain economic growth.

Economic migrants make up the majority of migration we see in our world today and, with the ever-more interconnected nature of the global economy, international labour migration is set to play an increasingly important role. Technological and transportation advances also continue to transform labour migration's characteristics and impacts; workers have become increasingly mobile, engaging in temporary and circular migration as well as onward and return migration. These dynamics can be seen throughout Central Asia in terms of workers' migratory patterns as well as their investment patterns and remittance uses in the country of origin. More recently, temporary and seasonal labour channels, as well as more permanent labour migration, have been established between EU and non-EU Member States in Eastern Europe.

How well labour mobility is governed and how well migrants are protected in the process determines the value that countries, as well as individual migrants and their families, receive from migration. Through its Labour Mobility & Human Development Division (LHD), IOM works to maximize the positive impacts of migration for migrants, their families and the broader community in countries of origin and destination. This work includes:

  1. facilitating labour mobility and enhancing government capacity to effectively manage labour mobility;
  2. strengthening links between migration and development, particularly through diaspora engagement in development initiatives;
  3. supporting migrant integration and social cohesion in communities of destination.

The countries covered by IOM's Regional Office in Vienna reflect the broad spectrum of LHD's work including both established countries of destination, such as Russia, and emerging countries of destination such as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. At the same time, the SEEECA region includes major countries of origin of labour migrants both in Eastern Europe and Central Asia such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Moldova. These regional migration dynamics offer considerable opportunities to leverage migration to support development efforts, but also risks relating to migrant protection and social conflict that LHD's programmes seek to mitigate.

Well-managed labour migration and the establishment of legal migration corridors not only reduce pressures towards irregular migration but can also have significant positive impacts on economic growth in countries of destination by easing labour market pressures and contributing new skills to local economies. LHD works with governments and private sector companies in countries of origin and destination in order to establish effective policies and programmes to govern labour mobility and facilitate linkages between the supply and demand of labour. In the SEEECA region, for example, IOM's project, Temporary Labour Migration of Georgian Workers to Poland and Estonia, works with government and private sector partners in Georgia, Poland and Estonia to facilitate job matching and build opportunities for Georgian workers and employers in Poland and Estonia.

Female empowerment in Bishkek

IOM conducted a female empowerment initiative in Kyrgyz schools to combat drop-outs, early marriages, and job segregation, as well as young women’s low levels of skilled employment. Through the programme, girls were not only taught about the importance of education and skills, but how to combat gender barriers and stereotypes. School girls also participated in a professional orientation day, visiting vocational training facilities.

Another critical component of IOM's work in this field is to mitigate and address the opportunities for abuse of workers within both the recruitment and employment process. At the global level, IOM's International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS) aims to improve practices in recruitment. Within SEEECA , IOM projects in countries of origin aim to raise awareness among prospective migrants of risks, procedures and opportunities, to ensure that workers make educated and informed decisions on their migration process. At the same time, IOM works with governments and other stakeholders, building capacity to regulate and monitor recruitment and employment of labour migrants.

IOM recognizes the unique challenges and opportunities that arise for women migrants, mainstreaming a gender-sensitive approach throughout its labour migration programming. While the share of female migrants has remained relatively steady at 49 per cent over the past few decades, the nature of this migration has changed. Whereas previously many women either traveled with their partners or families or traveled to reunite with their partners, today, women are increasingly migrating independently with the purpose of seeking employment themselves. Such migration flows can have positive and transformative impacts both for the empowerment of women migrants as well as for the role they play both in the country of origin and destination. However, women migrants are also prone to certain vulnerabilities in the migration process, including cases of trafficking and exploitation. Women are also over-represented in occupations that are more prone to abusive conditions such as domestic cleaning and caregiving professions. Upon return, women can also face social stigmas and ostracism from the community, especially if their migration challenges traditional norms of women's role and responsibilities in society.

Interlinkages between migration and development are complex and multifaceted. IOM works with governments and other stakeholders at national and local levels in order to build awareness of these linkages and build the capacity of governments to better harness migration for development purposes. This includes: 

  1. supporting local development and youth employment initiatives to reduce negative drivers of irregular and unsafe migration;
  2. harnessing remittances to support sustainable local development and investment both for families receiving remittances and broader communities;
  3. engaging diaspora communities to contribute to socio-economic development in their communities of origin through trade, skills transfer, philanthropy and investments.

From the SEEECA region, Moldova, Serbia and Kyrgyzstan participate in the Mainstreaming Migration Into Development programme which builds the capacity of national and local governments to engage diaspora in development initiatives. IOM's offices in Moldova and Ukraine have also been engaged in diaspora and remittance mapping studies to build understanding of the diaspora and engagement of diaspora communities in development programmes, including investment.

Effective integration strategies – including both social and economic integration of migrants – are critical to the success of the migration process for migrants and the communities they call home. IOM recognizes integration as a two-way process requiring the initiative and goodwill of both migrants and their hosts. LHD supports governments at national and local level to develop programmes that respond to migrants' integration needs and deliver migrant-friendly services.

At the same time, IOM recognizes the importance of social cohesion and the risks of tensions between host and migrant communities including incidents of violence and xenophobia. In order to address these challenges, IOM works with media and government services in order to promote a positive and fact-based public perception of migration and of migrants. IOM further supports and organizes community-wide programmes that aim to facilitate positive interaction between members of host and migrant communities.

Within the SEEECA region, IOM's offices in Turkey have been at the forefront of integration and social cohesion programming. Across Turkey, IOM works with national and local governments to improve social and economic integration services for migrant communities and enhance social cohesion between migrant and host communities.

LHD's work relates directly to the following SDG goals: