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 2022, migrants remitted over US$647 billion to low- and middle-income countries, amounting to more than three times the amount of Official Development Aid (ODA). Within the South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (SEEECA) region, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are the first and fifth most remittance-dependent countries globally, with remittances representing 51 per cent and 28 per cent of their GDP in 2022, respectively. A number of other countries in the region also demonstrate high levels of remittance-dependence to stimulate and sustain economic growth (Uzbekistan 21 per cent, Kosovo and Georgia 17 per cent and Moldova and Montenegro 14 per cent of their GDPs). 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.
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. Longer term demographic and labour market trends, including the demand for labour force in countries of the European Economic Area exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and emerging needs for workers in traditional labour migrant sending countries (e.g. in the Western Balkans), indicate that labour migration will play an increasingly important role in the region.
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 overrepresented 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, for example, lack of educational opportunities, language barriers and the inability to find decent work. Furthermore, hate and discrimination against migrants in many countries globally and increasing racist and xenophobic incidents have far-reaching consequences for the affected individual, communities and societies.
The countries covered by IOM's Regional Office in Vienna include both established countries of destination, such as the Russian Federation, and emerging countries of destination such as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Türkiye. 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. While the Russian Federation was still the primary country of destination for migrant workers in the region, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Türkiye are receiving a growing number of migrant workers and 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. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and related sanctions are expected to influence labour mobility patterns in the region in the short and long term. Governments in Central Asia have for example increased efforts to diversify possible countries of destination for their labour migrants and according to estimations early-recovery and reconstruction efforts in Ukraine will require millions of additional workers join the labour force.
These regional migration dynamics offer considerable opportunities to leverage migration to support development efforts. However, they also come with risks relating to migrant protection, social conflict and with significant implications for migrants´ health and sustainability of livelihoods dependent on remittances and impacted by regional and global crises namely the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the Earthquake in Türkiye and the COVID-19 pandemic. IOM’s Labour Mobility and Social Inclusion (LMI) programmes seek to mitigate the risks and augment the opportunities of labour mobility.
How well labour mobility and social inclusion 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 inclusion and social cohesion in communities of destination.
 References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
- Facilitating Labour Mobility
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. LMI 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 has supported various countries (Georgia, Moldova, etc.) 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 thus build opportunities for workers and employers alike.
IOM mainstreams gender and other cross cutting issues in all its programming and seeks to include gender-sensitive measures as well as measures addressing other intersecting factors (e.g. disability, race, age) into migration policies of countries of origin and destination, as well as in bi- and multilateral agreements, thus enabling environments that provide equality of employment opportunities and access to benefits to all regardless of their gender identity or other characteristics. Following its gender-mainstreaming approach, IOM is supporting women migrants who are often prone to multiple vulnerability determinants in the migration process, based on their gender, age, ethnicity, or lack of regularization of the working sectors (domestic cleaning, caregiving, etc.).
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. In Central Asia, for example, IOM implements a regional programme that aims to contribute to enhancing labour migration governance to better respond to employer and labour market needs while ensuring protection of migrant workers and enhancing development impacts in both countries of origin and destination.
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, motivations to migrate, pre-departure needs and protection issues of migrant workers, and informs evidence-based policies in dealing e.g. with the brain-drain phenomenon. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for example, IOM has carried out a research project on the impact of emigration of health and ICT professionals, highlighting also related gender issues for a more comprehensive picture. In the framework of the regional Labour Migration Programme in Central Asia IOMs Mobility Tracking Matrix (MTM) conducts regular assessment to track mobility, provide amongst others information on geographic distribution of migrant workers and return migrants, reasons for migration and periods of migration (see here).
- Migration and Development: Diaspora, Knowledge Transfer and Investments
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:
supporting local development and youth employment initiatives to reduce negative drivers of irregular and unsafe migration; harnessing remittances to support sustainable local development and investment both for families receiving remittances and broader communities; 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.
- Promoting Integration and Social Cohesion
IOM recognizes integration as a two-way process of mutual adaptation between migrants and the societies in which they live, whereby migrants are incorporated into the social, economic, cultural and political life of the receiving community. It entails a set of joint responsibilities for migrants and communities, and incorporates other related notions such as social inclusion and social cohesion. 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. Based on the experience in the field and often in cooperation with academic institutes IOM has developed a set of guidelines and tools to design, implement and evaluate various programmes that respond to migrants' integration (see more under RESOURCES & TOOLS)
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. In 2021 alone IOM carried out pre-departure trainings with over 3300 beneficiaries in the region (mainly in Türkiye and Tajikistan).
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 diverse populations. Within the SEEECA region IOM works with its partners on all phases of the migration continuum. For example, IOM's offices in Türkiye are building capacities of authorities and creating social mixing programmes that allow meaningful interactions between migrant, refugee and host communities. IOM Pristina aims to improve access to services and inter-ethnic relationships by creating language learning opportunities and building capacities of relevant institutions and in Kyrgyzstan IOM is combatting xenophobia against international students through an awareness raising campaign and social mixing programmes.
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 promote the process of integration, thus contributing to IOM's comprehensive and whole-of-society approach to migrant inclusion. 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.