Labour Migration

Migrant workers dig into a field in Doha, Qatar (© ILO)
The Arab States region is one of the main destination regions globally for migrant workers, and the numbers have increased substantially in recent years. The proportion of migrant to local workers is amongst the highest in the world. Many of these migrant workers are low-skilled workers, in sectors such as construction and hospitality, or domestic workers. Migrant workers contribute substantially to the development of their destination countries and send vital remittances to their families and communities, but many of them face a number of decent work challenges. The ILO and its constituents are working to address these challenges through the ILO's Fair Migration Agenda, adopted in 2014, and in accordance with the Resolution and Conclusions concerning fair and effective labour migration governance, adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2017. See more

Facts and figures

  • According to ILO global estimates on international migrant workers, the number of migrant workers in 12 Arab States (1) amounted to 24.1 million persons in 2019, representing 14 per cent of all migrant workers worldwide. Importantly, the region has the highest global share of migrant workers as a proportion of the total workforce, reaching 41.4 per cent in 2019 compared to the global average of just 5 per cent. This means that nearly half of all workers are migrant workers due to a number of factors, including the very high labour force participation rates of migrants compared to nationals, especially women (ILO 2021).
  • ILO data (of the 12 Arab States included) shows that close to 83 per cent of all migrant workers are men. Women constitute only 17 per cent of the region’s migrant worker population, compared to a global average of 41 per cent (ILO 2021). The relatively low proportion of women migrant workers compared to other regions of the world can be attributed to the fact that most women migrants are only employed in the domestic work sector.
  • Based on the 2020 edition of the International Migrant Stock database of the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), in 2020, Arab countries (2) hosted 41.4 million international migrants and refugees, who made up around 15 per cent of all migrants and refugees worldwide. Specifically, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) subregion hosted almost three-quarters of all migrants and refugees in the Arab States region, most of them migrant workers (UNDESA 2020).

 1 - Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
 2 - Namely, the 22 Member States of the League of Arab States.