Interview with Francesco Luciani, Head of Unit B3, Migration, Employment, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission.
Is employment the key push factor for migration and what conditions do migrant workers face?
First let me talk about why people migrate.
People have always crossed borders, whether out of need or desire, in search of work, study and a better life for them and their families. Migration can be driven by a mix of economic, social, political and cultural conditions, frequently also by family and community ties. Indeed, each migrant has his or her own unique story, while at the same time, each migrant’s story can depict wider trends and phenomena, playing out across countries and regions. It is also important to distinguish between those who migrate by choice and those who do so as forcefully displaced, for example by a conflict. In any case, while there can be plenty of different reasons for a person to migrate, it is obvious that the hope of earning a higher income and gaining better working conditions represents a leading factor for most.
Now, let me turn to the conditions faced by labour migrants. Conditions differ from person to person, and from country to country.
There are many migrants that have success stories, with many rapidly building up for themselves and their families, work and living conditions that are far better than those they used to have in their country of origin, or would have had if they had remained there. However, most migrants are and some even remain for their whole life in vulnerable situations, frequently experiencing, or being easily exposed to, discrimination and exploitation. This is particularly the case of those having entered or are staying in the host country irregularly or in unclear legal statuses, as they often do not enjoy basic freedoms and security, or access to the protection of the law, to health services or to social protection. The worst situations of all are those faced by migrants that are victims of trafficking or submitted to debt bondage.
Fair recruitment, decent working conditions and, more broadly, legislative frameworks that respect the human rights of migrants, are all necessary measures to facilitate the legal, social and economic inclusion of migrants. This is one more reason for the EU to encourage at the global level, orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility, as called for by the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum.
Making progress globally in this direction is urgent, more than ever, as the outbreak of COVID-19 this year has starkly revealed the poor conditions many migrants face in different countries. These conditions have only worsened as a result of the pandemic. Many of these migrants who are often carrying out essential jobs, although under very precarious terms, have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and the ILO has termed this a “crisis within a crisis”. It goes without saying that, as a result of the harsher socio-economic situation and the closure of the borders due to the pandemic, many migrants, although in dire need of work, have chosen or were forced to return to their countries of origin
What are the benefits and challenges posed by labour market migration?
I would strongly insist that, with the right policies, well-managed migration can bring many benefits to both countries of origin and destination, while respecting the rights and fulfilling the aspirations of the migrants themselves. For different reasons, these benefits are often overlooked. However, in order to harness the benefits, a level of international cooperation is required.
When managed well, labour migration can help respond to shifts in labour supply and demand across countries, address demographic changes, and encourage innovation, exchange and the transferral of skills. On the other hand, when migration is irregular and controlled by unscrupulous employers or smugglers, migrants are at risk of exploitation, abuses and trafficking in human beings.
The Global Compact represents a step forward on the priorities for international migration and its governance
For the country of origin of the migrant, remittances are becoming increasingly important. Remittances are transfers made from migrant workers back to their families, and are a major boost to some countries’ economies and the livelihoods of many. Globally, remittances directly benefit one billion people: 200 million migrant workers send them to help feed, shelter, educate and support the health of 800 million family members in more than 125 developing nations. On average, remittances represent 60% of the recipients’ family income. However, this year, the impact of COVID-19 on remittance flows could be significant, with their fall in value predicted to be close to EUR 120 billion.
In order to reduce the negative aspects of migration, while taking advantage of the benefits, there are a number of crucial things that need to be seriously tackled. Irregular migration must be stamped out, including the risk that migrants run of trafficking in human beings, while legal pathways for migration should be expanded. Integration and reintegration can be facilitated and circular migration could be promoted more, while reducing the phenomenon of “brain drain” or “brain-waste”. Remittance flows should be facilitated and can be made more impactful. Partnerships with the private sector and trade unions can be greatly improved. Finally, but most importantly, as I have already mentioned, the rights of migrant workers, including labour rights and standards, must be protected at all times.
Are there sufficient international policies in place to address labour migration?
International efforts continue to evolve, however, we have made great strides in recent years. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has recognised the importance of migration and set a number of dedicated targets related to migration: SDG 10.7 on promoting orderly, safe, and responsible migration and SDG 8.8 on protecting the labour rights of migrant workers.
The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum proposes, among many other ideas and initiatives, to establish additional legal pathways to the EU for migrant workers.
In line with the SDGs, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was adopted in 2018, not without some significant debate and disagreements, and the subsequent UN Network on Migration to promote its implementation was established. Although not legally binding, the Global Compact represents a step forward on the priorities for international migration and its governance. We need to continue supporting these important goals and initiatives, especially at country level, in order to make migration work for all.
Interestingly, also the new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum, which has been recently presented by the European Commission, proposes, among many other ideas and initiatives, to establish additional legal pathways to the EU for migrant workers, students and persons in need of international protection. This is being done, not only by acknowledging that the promotion of legal pathways is key to protect migrants’ rights and lives from dangerous and undignified migration experiences, but also with the explicit objective to further attract to Europe a higher number of talented people, that the EU needs to ensure its own growth and development. The pact is founded on the recognition of the benefits that legal migration can bring, not only to the migrants and their countries of origin, but also to the countries of destination alike.
Can you explain how the EU cooperates with partner countries to improve the lives of migrant workers?
Through our international cooperation we have mainstreamed migration through our various programmes and approaches. We are supporting countries to establish legal frameworks for safe migration and promote many of the other aspects related to migration that I have touched on above, such as fair recruitment, circular migration, skills transfers, strengthened partnerships with social partners, reducing the transfer of the cost of remittance flows and improving their uses for social and income generating purposes.
For instance, as part of its global response to COVID-19, the EU is supporting a project to promote the digital transfer of remittances in the African, Caribbean and Pacific region. Another example of the EU’s support is “Ship to Shore” implemented with the ILO. It is helping establish legal and safe labour migration among South East Asian countries, particularly in the fishing and seafood processing industry. Under the EU-UN "Spotlight Initiative", the project "Safe and Fair" helps prevent violence against women migrant workers and improve labour migration conditions for women in countries of origin and destination of the ASEAN region. Another project, also with the ILO, is extending social protection and the portability of benefits to migrant workers and their families, including those in the informal economy, across Africa
Through our international cooperation we have mainstreamed migration through our various programmes and approaches.
We also support our partners to address the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement, by improving socio-economic conditions, promoting investments, facilitating job opportunities, especially for young people, building resilience, stability and security and tackling climate change.
The Team Europe’s mobilisation in support of our partner countries in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed in mitigating the negative impact on migrants and refugees. Europe continues to call on its partner countries to ensure that migrants and refugees hosted by them be given equal access to health cares and social and economic assistance offered to their population.
We need not only to resist to and overcome the painful crisis triggered by the pandemic, but also possibly use it as an opportunity to re-set and re-new our approaches and orient our cooperation towards measures effectively contributing to reduce the existing inequalities and vulnerabilities within countries, that create the conditions for migration.
And now, as the programming exercise of the NDICI (the Neighbourhood and Development International Cooperation Instrument) has been launched, and the legal basis of the instrument is expected to be adopted soon, the time has come for us to act!