“Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family.”
Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary General
Migrant workers contribute to the growth and development of the destination countries as well as origin countries, particularly through their remittances and, when they return, thanks to the skills acquired. The ILO estimates that there are 150 million migrant workers in the world today. Yet, the migration process implies complex challenges. The recent crises have highlighted the critical role migrants play as essential workers, but the crises have also exposed their vulnerability to the health, economic and social impacts of these crises. The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on migrant workers and their access to decent work. Besides the health crisis, the containment measures, including lockdowns and border closures, had implications on the hiring and employment conditions of migrant workers
To address the multiple challenges of the migration process, the International Labour Organization (ILO) explored the role of digitalization. How can digital information and communication technology (ICT) facilitate safe labor migration and fair recruitment? Where do you start? How do you make sure that technology delivers real benefits? To answer these questions, we need to better understand why and how migrant workers use digital technology. To this end, the ILO conducted research that included a landscape analysis of relevant existing digital products1. The research was part of the ILO’s Fair Recruitment Initiative (FRI).
Migrants who participated in the study reported using ICTs to gather a wide range of information related to their journey and employment, including documentation, information on salary, accommodation, and contracts. Yet almost half (49%) said they did not use digital technology at all, with the top reasons being a lack of knowledge on sources to consult and the belief that other sources are more reliable. Migrant workers ranked misinformation as the top concern associated with using digital technology and said they trust friends, family, and recruitment agencies more than online sources.
Yet, digital technology could be a game changer, in particular when it comes to migrant protection. The number of online content users around the globe continues to grow, and the evolution of ICTs has been unprecedented since the onset of COVID-19. This has given rise to new digital tools, including those intended for migrant workers, such as apps, websites and web portals. ICT is gaining importance, enabling migrants to have access to up-to-date information before and during their migration. Migrant workers can benefit from access to a broad range of information, including on working conditions, relevant labour laws, customs and culture. Access to information on recruitment and employment standards, as well as workers’ rights is crucial in their protection.
Digitalization, including the process of issuing work permits and visas, is a growing trend globally. A one-stop platform that integrates information can, on one hand, help address key issues for migrants along each stage of migration and, on the other hand, improve the governmental process of collection of migration-related data.
ICTs can be used to formally and informally evaluate and recognize acquired skills and competencies. Returning migrants acquire different skills while working abroad; however, rarely are there any systems for skills recognition upon their return. The reintegration of returning migrants in their country of origin and the domestic labour market can be facilitated through the identification and recognition of migrants’ relevant skill sets.
Additionally, digital technology could help migrants identifying legitimate vs. illegitimate recruitment agencies. Countries with compulsory licensing systems for private recruitment agencies could create publicly available registries of licensed recruitment agencies. Regularly updated registries would allow migrants to check whether the agencies hold valid licences to facilitate matching and job placement.
Moreover, new digital solutions for remittance transfers could contribute to the reduction of costs for the migrant workers, which is included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development under SDG Target 10.c.
While digital products undoubtedly have the potential to make labour migration safer and more effective, they cannot resolve many structural challenges. To make the most of digital technology, it needs to be integrated into a wider set of actions that promote an enabling environment for skills enhancement, access to decent work and to safe and regular migration. Without this, it risks further marginalizing migrants, particularly the most vulnerable groups, including those with low literacy levels and little to no digital access.