Labour Migration

Quick Facts

105 million
Number of persons working in a country other than their country of birth

USD 440 billion
Total earnings of migrant workers in 2011

USD 350 billion
Remittances sent to developing countries in 2011

Number of countries benefiting from IOM labour migration programmes

International labour migration is defined as the movement of people from one country to another for the purpose of employment.  Today, an estimated 105 million persons are working in a country other than their country of birth.   Labour mobility has become a key feature of globalization and the global economy with migrant workers earning US$ 440 billion in 2011, and the World Bank estimating that more than $350 billion of that total was transferred to developing countries in the form of remittances.  However, despite the efforts made to ensure the protection of migrant workers, many remain vulnerable and assume significant risks during the migration process.

When properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants, their communities, the countries of origin and destination, and for employers. While job creation in the home country is the preferred option, demographic, social and economic factors are increasingly the drivers of migration. As a result, a growing number of both sending and receiving countries view international labour migration as an integral part of their national development and employment strategies. On one hand, countries of origin benefit from labour migration because it relieves unemployment pressures and contributes to development through remittances, knowledge transfer, and the creation of business and trade networks. On the other hand, for destination countries facing labour shortages, orderly and well-managed labour migration can lighten labour scarcity and facilitate mobility.

IOM’s Vision

IOM strives to protect migrant workers and to optimize the benefits of labour migration for both the country of origin and destination as well as for the migrants themselves.

IOM’s Objectives

In its labour migration programming, IOM builds capacity in labour migration management by:

  • offering policy and technical advice to national governments;
  • supporting the development of policies, legislation and administrative structures that promote efficient, effective and transparent labour migration flows;
  • assisting  governments to promote safe labour migration practices for their nationals;
  • facilitating the recruitment of workers, including pre-departure training and embarkation preparedness;
  • promoting the integration of labour migrants in their new workplace and society.

Principal Beneficiaries

IOM implements various labour migration programmes in 70 countries.  The beneficiaries of these programmes include:

  • migrants, their families and their communities;
  • local and national governments;
  • private sector entities such as employers and industry representatives; and
  • regional organizations.

IOM’s Approach

Through its global network of more than 440 offices, IOM is able to bring together governments, civil society and the private sector to establish labour migration programmes and mechanisms that balance their various interests, and address migrants’ needs.  The IOM approach to international labour migration is to foster the synergies between labour migration and development, and to promote legal avenues of labour migration as an alternative to irregular migration.  Moreover, IOM aims to facilitate the development of policies and programmes that are in the interest of migrants and society, providing effective protection and assistance to labour migrants and their families.

Featured Projects

Strengthening Evidence-Based Management of Labour Migration in Armenia

In today’s Armenia the phenomenon of migration is closely linked to the lack of employment opportunities at home, which drives many Armenians to look for work elsewhere.  The Armenian Government sees the need to regulate this emigration through the promotion of legal, temporary, circular labour migration.  With IOM's involvement, bilateral labour agreements with countries in Europe are being drafted to help facilitate the migration of Armenian workers.  This is done in parallel with facilitating policy dialogue on aligning national legislation with EU acquis legislation and agreements on migration, and strengthening the capacities of Armenian institutions responsible for readmission of returning Armenian nationals.  At the same time national capacities in migration data collection and analysis are being strengthened to enhance the effectiveness of migration management and to promote consistent standards of personal data protection.  A study of the Armenian labour market has already been conducted by IOM under this programme. Recommendations supporting greater institutional coordination and the development of migration policies through Armenia’s EU Association Agreement were suggested thanks to the Progress Review of Migration Management in Armenia.    The programme has also helped to facilitate discussions at the national level and possible outcomes arising from the EU-Armenia Mobility Partnership.  

Central Asia Regional Migration Programme, 2010 – 2013

The Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) is a three-year programme implemented in three Central Asian countries and Russia by IOM, UN Women and the World Bank with support from the UK Government. The programme exemplifies labour migration programming as a strategy to reduce poverty levels and strengthens labour migration management in this region by improving the livelihoods of migrants and their families while protecting their rights.  The programme promotes policy development, provides technical assistance and fosters regional dialogue across Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation on migration for a broad range of stakeholders. It also directly assists migrant workers and their families through a network of Migrants Resource Centres (MRCs). Legal, medical and humanitarian assistance is also provided by other partners. Under the programme, 15 MRCs operating across the four countries have assisted over 50,000 migrant workers and their families. Over 2,000 economic initiatives involving families of migrant workers in their countries of origin were also supported by the programme through self-help groups. At a policy level, CARMP assisted the Government of Tajikistan with its National Labour Migration Strategy and with institutional capacity building for the recently created Migration Service of Tajikistan. In Kazakhstan, CARMP supported the development and adoption of its Law on Migration, while it supported the drafting of a migration policy in the Russian Federation.  Read more

Joint Programme on Youth, Employment and Migration (YEM): A One-stop Shop for Youth Employment in Two Cities of Costa Rica

As part of a larger United Nations programme and in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), IOM carries out activities to facilitate the integration of young migrants and refugees into the Costa Rican educational system. The programme includes workshops targeting teachers from the Costa Rican Ministry of Education in selected communities, aimed at raising awareness on young migrants’ rights. In coordination with NGOs, training activities are developed for officials on the "one-stop shop" format to promote access to services like health, education, immigration advice and labour opportunities.