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Migrant workers


Migrant workers

The term "migrant worker" has different official meanings and connotations in different parts of the world. The United Nations' definition is broad, including any people working outside of their home country. Some of these are called expatriates. Several countries have millions of foreign workers. Some have millions of illegal immigrants, most of them being workers also.

The term can also be used to describe someone who migrates within a country, possibly their own, in order to pursue work such as seasonal work.

United Nations' definition

The "United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families"[1] defines migrant worker as follows: Template:Cquote The Convention has been ratified by Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines (amongst many other nations that supply foreign labour) but it has not been ratified by the United States, Germany, and Japan (amongst other nations that receive foreign labour).

Worldwide perspectives


In Canada, companies are beginning to recruit temporary foreign workers under Service Canada's recent expansion of an immigration program for migrant workers.


Overall, the Chinese government has tacitly supported migration as means of providing labor for factories and construction sites and for the long term goals of transforming China from a rural-based economy to an urban-based one. Some inland cities have started providing migrants with social security, including pensions and other insurance. In 2012, there are a reported 167 million migrant workers, but with trends of working closer to home (within their own or a neighboring province) but with a wage drop of 21%. Migrant workers in China are notoriously marginalized, especially by the HuKou system of residency permits, which tie one stated residence to all social welfare benefits.[2]

European Union

The recent expansions of the European Union have provided opportunities for many people to migrate to other EU countries for work. For both the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, existing states were given the rights to impose various transitional arrangements to limit access to their labour markets. Migrant workers in Germany and Austria are known as Gastarbeiter.

The 1st of March has become a symbolic day for transnational migrants' strike. This day unites all migrants to give them a common voice to speak up against racism, discrimination and exclusion on all levels of social life. The transnational protests on 1 March were originally initiatied in the USA in 2006 and have encouraged migrants in other countries to organise and take action on that day. In Austria the first transnational migrants' strike (Transnationaler Migrant_innenstreik) took place in March 2011, in the form of common actions, e.g. a manifestation, but also in form of numerous decentralised actions.


According to the Finnish trade union organizations SAK (Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions) and PAM Finnish Service Union United PAM foreign workers were increasingly abused in the construction and transportation sectors in Finland in 2012, in some cases reporting hourly wages as two euros. Bulgarians, Kosovars and Estonians were the most likely victimised in the building trade.[3]


There has been a substantial flow of people from Bangladesh and Nepal to India over recent decades in search of better work. Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute found that these migrant workers are often subject to harassment, violence, and discrimination during their journeys, at their destinations, and when they return home.[4] Bangladeshi women appear to be particularly vulnerable. These findings highlight the need to promote migrants' rights with, amongst others, health staff, police and employers at destination.


Migrant workers in Kuwait suffer a range of abuses. Kuwait has more than 660,000 migrant domestic workers who constitute nearly a third of the work force in this small Gulf country of only 1.3 million citizens. But domestic workers are excluded from the labor laws that protect other workers. They have minimal protection against employers who withhold salaries, force employees to work long hours with no days off, deprive them of adequate food, or abuse them physically or sexually.[5]

South Korea

Like many nations, South Korea started as a labor exporter in the 1960s before its economic development in the 1980s changed it to a labor importer. [6] In 1993, the Industrial Trainee Program was established to meets the needs of migrant workers. It provided work for foreigners as trainees in small and medium sized businesses. However, these workers were considered trainees and not official employees, so they could not receive protection under Korean labor laws. On February 14, 1995 Guidelines for the Protection and Management of Foreign Industrial Trainees provided legal and social welfare for migrant workers. The Act on the Employment of Foreign Workers which states that “a foreign worker shall not be given discriminatory treatment on the ground that he/she is a foreigner”, was put into force on August 16, 2003. Later that year the numbers of migrant workers multiplied dramatically. [6]

Even though there has been a drastic rise of migrant workers in Korea and policies are in place for their protection, the lack of cheap labor in Korea has forced the Korean community to condone the maltreatment of illegal migrant workers, illegal overtime hours and work on holidays, and other unsavory practices. To counter these problems, the Korean government has allowed the import of migrant workers by 5,000 more individuals to 62,000 in 2013. [7] In addition, on January 31, 2013, the minimum wage for migrant workers increased to 38,880 KRW for eight hours per day or a monthly rate of 1,015,740 KRW. [8] With the growing interest and awareness by Korean citizens and the global community towards human security, many programs were put into place to protect migrant workers and ease their integration to Korean society. Programs sponsored by the government such as Sejonghakdang (세종학당), Multicultural Center of Gender Equality and Family Program, Foreign Ministry Personnel Center Program, and Ministry of Justice Social Integration Program provide free Korean language lessons for migrant workers. In addition, by fulfilling all the requirements of the Ministry of Justice Social Integration Program, migrant workers can apply for Korean citizenship without taking the Naturalization exams.

Further information: Immigration to South Korea


In Thailand, migrants come from bordering countries such as Burma, Laos and Cambodia. Many face hardships such as lack of food, abuse, and low wages. Often times deportation is their biggest fear. In Bangkok, Thailand many migrant workers attend Dear Burma school where they study subjects such as Thai language, Burmese language, English language, computer skills and photography.[9]


Since the late 1970s Singapore has become one of the major receiving countries of foreign workers in Southeast Asia with 612,200 foreign workers constituting 29.2% of the total workforce in the year 2000. It becomes highest proportion of foreign labor force in Asia. About 500,000 of these foreign workers fall under the category of unskilled or low-skilled. Currently, there are 135,000 male construction workers and 150,000 are female domestic workers in Singapore. They are from different countries like Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Thailand. In order to control the lager amount of these labors, Singapore implemented clear migration policies with visa categories available for all skill levels.[10] The entry of foreign domestic workers is controlled through strict enforcement of a “guestworker policy of transience”. The employers are required to post a S$ 5,000 bond with the Government to guarantee the worker’s repatriation at the end of her two-year work permit. The government control the entire migrant workers with this law.[11]


Foreign workers in Malaysia numbered 3.5 million as of mid-2011. Among 3.5 million migrant workers, there are 1.5 million legal foreign workers and 2 million illegals. According to Malaysia Factbook, Malaysia is seeing fewer skilled foreign workers and expatriates with low-skilled migrant workers. Nearly 40% of migrant workers had no formal education, as compared to the 10% with tertiary experience. Even so, there are more skilled migrant workers in Malaysia than there are skilled jobs. The share of migrants in skilled occupations has declined sharply from a peak level of 10% in 2002 to 5.8% in 2008. This was due to rising domestic education levels, with the overall skill level of the natives increasing.[12]

Women and migrant labor

Economic conditions in developing countries have created the need for a new wave of migrant workers, predominantly young females. Turnover rate in many of these migrant jobs is very high due to harsh working conditions. This occurs on both a national and transnational basis. In Europe alone there are 3 million female migrant workers. The 1970s and 1980s have seen an increase in female migrant laborers in France and Belgium. Female migrants work in domestic occupations which are considered part of the informal sector and lack a degree of government regulation and protection. Minimum wages and work hour requirements are ignored and piece-rates are sometimes also implemented. Migrant labor allows large companies to keep up with the changes in the market and fashions but still keep production inexpensive at home. Women's wages are kept lower than men because they are not regarded as the primary source of income in the family.[13]

Why women participate in migrant labor

Women become involved in migrant labor for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are economic: the husband's wage is no longer enough to support the family. Other reasons include familial pressure, on a daughter, for instance, who is seen as a reliable source of income for the family only through remittances. Young girls and women are singled out in families to be migrant workers because they don't have a viable alternative role to fulfill in the local village and if they go to work in the urban centers as domestics they can at least send home money. Many of these women come from developing countries, and are low skilled.[14] Additionally women who are widowed, divorced or single and have limited economic opportunities in their native country may be forced to leave out of economic necessity. Lastly, migration can also substitute for divorce in societies that don't allow or do not condone divorce.[13]

Effect of migrant labor on gender roles

In terms of migrant labor, many women move from a more oppressive home country to a less oppressive environment where they have actual access to waged work. As such, leaving the home and obtaining increased economic independence and freedom challenges traditional gender roles. This can be seen to strengthen women's position in the family by improving their relative bargaining position. They have more leverage in controlling the household because they have control over a degree of economic assets. However, this can lead to hostility between wives and husbands who feel inadequate or ashamed at their inability to fulfill their traditional role as breadwinner. The hostility and resentment from the husband can also be a source of domestic violence.[15] Studies have also been done which point to changes in family structures as a result of migrant labor. These changes include increased divorce rates and decrease in household stability. Additionally, female migrant labor has been indicated as a source for more egalitarian relationships within the family, decline of extended family patterns, and more nuclear families.[13] There is also a risk for infidelity abroad, which also erodes the family structure.[16]

Migrant labor and children

Migrant labor of women also raises special concerns about children. Female migrant workers perform care work abroad while leaving home. These children learn to regard their relatives at home as their own parents. Frequently, children of migrant workers become migrant workers themselves. There is concern that this may have negative psychological effects on the children left behind. Although this has not been proven to be entirely true or false, studies have been done which show that many children of migrant workers manage reasonably well. One theory for why this is states that remittances to some degree make up for the lack of care by providing more resources for food and clothing. Additionally, some migrant mothers take great care in attempting to maintain familial relationships while abroad.[16]

Gender role of migrant workers in global city

Brenda S.A.Yeoh, Shirlena Huang, and Katie Willis view gender dimensions from Singapore. They divided three women groups in order to present the dimensions of gender roles in global city. First group is targeting expatriate wives who are often reduced to dependent spouse status by immigration laws. Second group is based on Singapore’s wives who left behind the public working access by taking care of the children at home. Although they are from middle class Singaporean, they can’t get out from housework which is the same level or share status with foreign domestic workers. Third group is foreign domestic workers who are employed by Singapore to help as a means to resolve the crisis in household reproduction. Because of global economic restructuring and global city formation, the mobility of female labors is becoming increased. However, they are controlled through strict enforcement and they are statistically invisible in migration data. The female foreign domestic workers are always gender-stereotyped as maids and generalized as low wages workers in society.[17]

Migrant Labor force in Economy

We must not forget that the migrant workforce has historically played a vital role nationally and across local communities over recent times. The economic globalization has created more migrant workers than ever before. In developing countries, the key factors to promoted many workers is unemployment and increasing poverty. While developed countries have increased their demand for labor, especially unskilled labor, the workers from developing countries are used. As a result, millions of workers and their families travel to countries other than their own to find work. This influx of migrant workers contributes to growth of slum, which is described as "urban poverty" by Davids. [18] These workers, usually from rural areas, cannot afford housing in cities and thus live in slums.[19] Some of these unskilled workers living in slums suffer from unemployment and make a living in informal sector. [20] According to International Labor Organization, at present there are approximately 175 million migrants around the world.[21]

Migrant Workers Rights

The “People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE)” have composed a list of fourteen rights for migrant workers. [22]

National vs. transnational migration

Like transnational migration, national (internal) migration plays an important role in poverty reduction and economic development. For some countries, internal migrants outnumber those who migrate internationally. For example, 120 million people were estimated to migrate internally in China compared to 458,000 people who migrated internationally for work.[23] Situations of surplus labor in rural areas because of scarcity of arable land is a common "push factor" in the move of individuals to urban-based industries and service jobs. Environmental factors including drought, waterlogging, and river-bank erosion also contribute to internal migration.[23]

There are four spatial patterns of internal migration:[23]

  1. Rural-rural migration: in many poor countries like Senegal, rural-rural migration occurs when laborers from poorer regions travel to agriculturally-rich and irrigated areas which have more work.
  2. Rural-urban migration: seen in the urbanizing economies of Asia, migration of poor agricultural workers move to larger cities and manufacturing centers.
  3. Urban-rural migration: migration that occurs when individuals retire back to their villages. Often, migrants who return bring back skill sets that benefit their home areas tremendously.
  4. Urban-urban migration: as the predominant form of internal migration, this movement takes place from the center of towns to the outer areas of the town.

Circular migration, the temporary and repetitive movement of a migrant worker between home and host areas, can occur both internally and transnationally.

See also



External links

  • Migrant workers in the gulf and the Middle East
  • Pictures of Austria's first Transnational Migrants' Strikehe:מהגר עבודה

ja:民工 no:Arbeidsvandring ru:Трудящийся-мигрант simple:Migrant worker sv:Arbetsvandringar zh:农民工

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