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 have made significant contributions to the social and economic development of 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 2019, migrants remitted over US$554 billion to developing countries, amounting to more than three times the amount of Official Development Aid. Within the South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SEEECA) region, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are the fourth and fifth most remittance-dependent countries globally, with remittances representing 29 per cent and 28 per cent of their GDP in 2019, respectively. A number of other countries in the region (Montenegro and Moldova) also demonstrate high levels of remittance-dependence (25 and 16 per cent of their GDP) to stimulate and sustain economic growth.

Remittances have been credited in helping to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty in the past decade, empowering women with a greater role in financial decision-making, and improving health and education among some of the poorer and most vulnerable segments of societies, contributing ultimately to local development in countries of origin. However, due to the economic crisis induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown measures, the World Bank predicts the sharpest decline in remittances in recent history, anticipating a 20 per cent decrease in remittances to developing countries in 2020 and an even greater decline of 27.5 per cent in Europe and Central Asia.

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.  These labour migration corridors have been impacted heavily by the COVID-19 outbreak: border closures and travel restrictions have significantly reduced the regular movement of persons across borders, bringing national economies worldwide to a halt and disrupting international supply chains for essential commodities and services; also, significant numbers of migrants have remained stranded. Disruptions to the economies and labour markets of countries of destination resulting from COVID-19 are likely to impact labour migration trends for several years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the vital contribution that migrant workers make in agrifood systems,  in ensuring continuity of food supply and being on the frontline of COVID-19 response and recovery, representing a high percentage of the health care,  elderly care and domestic care workers, often working in the informal economy with few protections against dismissal and limited access to paid sick leave or social protection.

Migrants provide a source of dynamism globally, and are represented disproportionally in innovation and patents, arts and sciences awards, start-ups and successful companies. However, when insufficient or ineffective efforts are made to ensure integration, migrants can become marginalized, thus more vulnerable to risks of all kinds: lack of educational opportunities, language barriers and the inability to find decent work. Furthermore, levels of hate and discrimination against migrants in many countries globally has risen due to misinformation and fears associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The countries covered by IOM's Regional Office in Vienna reflect the broad spectrum of LHD work including both established countries of destination, such as the Russian Federation, 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, Uzbekistan, 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.

How well labour mobility and human development is governed and how well migrants are supported and protected in the process determines the added value that countries, as well as individual migrants and their families, receive from migration.

IOM´s work includes:

Facilitating safe, regular and orderly labour mobility and enhancing government capacity to effectively manage labour mobility;

strengthening links between migration and development, particularly through diaspora engagement in development initiatives;

supporting migrant integration and social cohesion in communities of destination.

In responding to the challenges brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM is supporting governments and communities highly reliant on labour migration and remittances to adapt and implement policies and programmes that can significantly mitigate the negative socioeconomic impacts of the crisis by promoting economic stimulus as well as protection of migrant workers, addressing rising unemployment and supporting social cohesion.

An overview of our activities is available here

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

Well-managed labour migration and the establishment of legal migration corridors not only reduce pressures towards irregular migration but can also have 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 labour supply and demand. In the SEEECA region IOM has supported Georgia and Moldova to develop and implement bilateral labour agreements with countries in the European Union (Bulgaria, France, Germany) to facilitate regular, safe and orderly labour mobility and build opportunities for workers and employers alike.

IOM mainstreams gender in all its programming and seeks to include gender-sensitive measures into migration policies of countries of origin and destination. It also seeks to include such measures in bilateral and multilateral agreements, enabling environments that provide equality of employment opportunities and access to benefits to migrant men and women.

A 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 migrant workers. Following its gender-mainstreaming approach, IOM supports women migrants who are often prone to multiple vulnerability in the migration process, based on their gender, age, ethnicity, or lack of regularization of the working sectors (domestic cleaning, caregiving, etc.).

IOM undertakes policy-oriented research designed to provide policy guidance to IOM's Member States. To this end, IOM carries out extensive research and in-depth analysis of labour migration trends in the region, motivation, pre-departure needs and protection issues of migrant workers, and informs evidence-based policies in dealing  with the brain-drain phenomenon. In Bosnia and Herzegovina IOM has carried out a research project on the impact of emigration of health and ICT professionals, highlighting related gender issues for a more comprehensive picture.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, IOM expanded its programme to support governments, employers and labour recruiters alike in responding effectively to the crisis and in safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of all migrant workers, acknowledging that the impacts of COVID19 are exacerbated for women and girls, across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection. IOM has developed a number of COVID-19 related guidelines, issues briefs and policy papers, which inform policy-makers and private sector actors on recommended measures to recover better from COVID 19 and reap the benefits of facilitating orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people (SDG 10.7) for the benefits of all.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that migration is a powerful driver of sustainable development, for migrants and their communities. It brings significant benefits in the form of skills, strengthening the labour force, investment and cultural diversity, and contributes to improving the lives of communities in countries of origin through the transfer of skills and financial resources. The IOM Institutional Strategy on Migration and Sustainable Development outlines a whole-of-organization approach to comprehensively integrate migration and development into policymaking and programming within IOM. It recognizes that migration, when well-managed, can be both a development strategy and a development outcome.  

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 to promote sustainable development. 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 Making Migration Work for development programme which builds the capacities of national and local-level governments to integrate migration dynamics into their social and economic development planning. IOM’s offices in Georgia and Armenia have been heavily involved in innovative diaspora mapping and communications projects applying big data and onomastic analysis to map and identify diaspora communities. In Armenia, these techniques have been used to identify and engage with Armenian medical professionals in the diaspora who have experience treating COVID-19 patients and who have then been able to pass on their advice and knowledge to the Ministry of Health. In Georgia, a global mapping of Georgian diaspora business owners and investors has contributed to the first conference for Georgian diaspora business owners to network and discuss opportunities to invest and establish trade and partnerships with Georgian businesses. IOM’s offices in Central Asia currently implement several programmes linking remittances with green initiatives through the promotion of sustainable farming and a climate action fund.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, IOM encourages programming focused on making remittances essential services during a potential future crisis. To this end, IOM is carrying out regional research in Central Asia, looking at the financial policy framework related to remittances and also to the behavior of remittance senders and recipients, to identify gaps and potential adaptation of services provided by money transfer agencies, to ensure that remittances keep flowing.  

Effective integration strategies – including 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. This requires adopting both a whole-of-government as well as a whole-of-society approach.

IOM supports governments at national and local level to develop programmes that respond to migrants' integration needs and deliver migrant-friendly services. IOM offers technical support to beneficiaries and stakeholders through trainings, workshops, advisory services, and other capacity-building initiatives, drawing on a range of integration models and best practices gained through field experience.

IOM knows that early, tailored training and information provision is key to empowering migrants and paving the way for their successful integration. Migrant training includes a wide range of activities designed to facilitate the successful integration of migrants, both permanent and temporary, into their new society. Often delivered in the country of origin and as close as possible to the migrant’s departure date, migrant training provides critical information about migrants’ destination country and identifies the skills needed for migrants to succeed, whether in the workplace or in their new communities. Between 2018 and 2019 alone IOM carried out pre-departure trainings with over 19 000 beneficiaries in the region (mainly in Turkey, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine).

IOM integration programming thus covers critical phases of the migration continuum, linking pre-departure and post-arrival activities, as well as migrant inclusion and social cohesion interventions, to ensure maximum effectiveness and benefit to diverse populations. Within the SEEECA region, IOM's offices in Turkey have been at the forefront of integration and social cohesion programming reaching out to over 11,000 beneficiaries through its pre-departure orientation trainings. Across Turkey and also other countries in the region, 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.

Programmes designed to promote social inclusion are implemented for the whole spectrum of migrant beneficiaries including youth, unaccompanied minors, asylum seekers and resettled refugees. IOM also works closely with migrant leaders, including with religious leaders, through interfaith trainings designed to empower community leaders in their role to the process of integration, contributing to IOM's comprehensive approach. Recognizing the importance of social cohesion in dealing with tensions between host and migrant communities, IOM works with media and government services in order to promote a positive and fact-based public perception of migration and of migrants.

In 2019, IOM’s Joint Global Initiative on Diversity, Inclusion and Social Cohesion (DISC Initiative) - a flexible, demand-led and multi-year initiative - was launched to elevate IOM’s capacity and programming to support Member States and relevant partners in the areas of social cohesion, migrant integration and inclusion. The DISC Initiative also serves as a platform to share, learn, develop and implement innovative strategies and interventions across IOM networks and supports external stakeholders in countering xenophobia and stigma to foster social cohesion in the COVID-19  response and recovery.