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New ILO figures show 164 million people are migrant workers


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  • Some countries of origin are losing the most productive part of their workforce, the study says.

 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 164 million people are migrant workers – a rise of 9% since 2013, when they numbered 150 million. 

According to the 2nd edition of the ILO’s Global Estimates on International Migrant Workers , which covers the period between 2013 and 2017, the majority of migrant workers – 96 million – are men, while 68 million are women. This represents an increase in the share of men among migrant workers, from 56% to 58%, and a decrease by two percentage points in women’s share, from 44% to 42%. 

 “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% of migrant workers are of prime working age, between 25 and 64 years old. This suggests that some countries of origin are losing the most productive segment of their workforce. This, the report says, could have a negative impact on their economic growth. 



Regional trends

The report provides a comprehensive picture of the subregions and income groups in which migrants are working. 

Of the 164 million migrant workers worldwide, approximately 111.2 million (67.9%) live in high-income countries, 30.5 million (18.6%) in upper middle-income countries, 16.6 million (10.1%) in lower middle-income countries and 5.6 million (3.4%) in low-income countries. 

Migrant workers constitute 18.5% of the workforce of high-income countries, but only 1.4 to 2.2% in lower-income countries. From 2013 to 2017, the concentration of migrant workers in high-income countries fell from 74.7 to 67.9%, while their share in upper middle-income countries increased. This could be attributed to the economic development of the latter. 

Nearly 61% of migrant workers are found in three subregions; 23.0% in North America, 23.9% in Northern, Southern and Western Europe and 13.9% in the Arab countries. Other regions that host large numbers of migrant workers – above 5% – include Eastern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia and the Pacific, and Central and Western Asia. In contrast, Northern Africa hosts less than 1% of migrant workers. 



Need for comprehensive data

The authors also highlight the importance of gathering more comprehensive and harmonized statistical data on migration at national, regional and global levels. The 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. 

 “International labour migration is a rising policy priority and there is a need to respond equitably to the interests of countries of origin and countries of destination, as well as to the interests of migrant workers,” said Rafael Diez de Medina, Chief Statistician and Director of the ILO Department of Statistics. “To be effective, and aligned with international labour standards, policies must be based on strong evidence, including the number of international migrant workers involved, their characteristics and their employment patterns. Precisely because of this urgent demand, 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.”


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