Protecting migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

By: ILO   Posted on 2020-03-03

This policy brief provides information and identifies a number of key recommendations to assist governments and other stakeholders in designing COVID-19 policy responses that can help to ensure the protection of migrant workers, as well as to inform responses for the protection of refugees and those displaced working in countries other than their own, differentiated by gender as appropriate and based upon relevant international labour standards,1 and ILO guidance and good practices. This document will be updated regularly as the situation evolves.




The COVID-19 crisis is having an unprecedented impact on global economies, businesses and workers. ILO estimates that nearly 2.2 billion workers, representing 68 per cent of the global workforce, are living in countries with recommended or required workplace closures.2 Migrant workers represent 4.7 per cent of this global labour pool comprising 164 million workers,3 with nearly half being women. In many countries migrant workers represent a significantly larger share of the workforce making important contributions to societies and economies,4 and serving on the front lines carrying out essential jobs in health care, transport, services, construction, and agriculture and agro-food processing.5 Yet, most migrant workers are concentrated in sectors of the economy with high levels of temporary, informal or unprotected work, characterized by low wages and lack of social protection, including in care work which in many countries is largely carried out by women migrant workers.


Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable. Reports document rising levels of discrimination and xenophobia against migrants and in some cases food insecurity, layoffs, worsening working conditions including reduction or non-payment of wages, cramped or inadequate living conditions, and increased restrictions on movements or forced returns (where they may be stigmatized as carriers of the virus).


Human rights groups fear rising levels of violence, particularly for those in domestic work where women workers predominate.


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