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Including migrants in post-COVID-19 recovery

Getting back on track after COVID-19 and enhancing the contribution of human mobility to sustainable development will require better integration of migrants with the communities that host them.

Comment | 15 February 2022
“My employer ended my contract,” said an Indonesian female domestic worker based in Malaysia. “The restaurant closed due to COVID,” said another migrant who quit Thailand after losing both her salary and permission to stay. “The owner cut our working hours and pay,” said a third migrant, a factory worker who had to return home to Myanmar.

Migrant workers didn’t just lose their jobs during the pandemic; they were excluded from social safety nets and faced stigma and discrimination both abroad and on return. Some governments said that lockdown aid for migrant workers was the responsibility of their home countries, and when authorities did provide food assistance, it provoked a xenophobic backlash on social media.

Although migrants were among the hardest hit by the pandemic, paradoxically, the global health crisis also reaffirmed their extraordinary contributions. Many governments came to acknowledge that migrants bring knowledge, support, networks and skills to support development in countries of origin, transit and destination. Governments in Argentina, Chile, France, Germany, Peru and Spain all recognized the importance of migrants in responding to the pandemic, ensuring access to jobs in key sectors such as healthcare and agriculture. In Kenya, the government extended visas and worked with employers and workers to retain jobs.

Integration: Key to building forward better

The resumption of migration will be an important factor in spurring recovery from the pandemic, if human mobility remains safe and inclusive, and respects international human rights and labour standards. However, turning migration into a factor of sustainable development requires governments, employers, trade unions and other stakeholders to promote the socio-economic integration of migrants as a priority. Integration empowers migrants by fostering their sustainable inclusion and their contribution to local economies.

The United Nations Network on Migration (UNNM) is launching a new report, Tackling the Socio-Economic Consequences of COVID-19 on Migrants and their Communities: Why Integration Matters. Work on the report was led by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Showcasing examples of tangible benefits for migrants and host communities, the report highlights the importance of providing access to decent jobs and social protection, skills development and entrepreneurship opportunities.

For example, ILO and UNDP have supported governments, employers' and workers' organizations in Latin American to reduce vulnerability and maximize the contribution of Venezuelans displaced abroad. One of the main objectives has been to generate decent work opportunities. The majority of Venezuelans work in the informal sector in their host countries. In return, the Government of Colombia provides skills assessments and offers certification services so Venezuelans can find decent work. It also ensures inclusive healthcare and other forms of social protection, helping their children to go to school, and promoting social cohesion.

The report is being released during Migration Week, 14-18 February, a showcase of best practice in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, ahead of the first International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) in May. The IMRF will provide a vital opportunity to assess progress and chart a way forward for rights-based migration governance that protects human and labour rights, and supports sustainable and resilient development.

As we emerge from the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, working towards the inclusion of migrants, making migration safer, more orderly and more regular, promoting social cohesion and delivering integration will prevent other crises from having similar adverse effects. Recovery offers us a choice: go back to business as usual or make migration work for everyone.

By Martha Newton, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy and Asako Okai, Director of UNDP's Crisis Bureau