Feeding the Global Compact on Migration: How do immigrants contribute to developing countries’ economies?

By Michelle Leighton, Chief, Labour Migration Branch, International Labour Organization (ILO), and Theo Sparreboom, Senior Economist, ILO

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Before going to Thailand, I already had sewing skills but I did not have the money to open a store. Instead, I had to work as an employee and earned a small income. When I got back to my hometown, I had some savings and was able to open a tailor shop.1

– Female migrant worker from Viet Nam

Contrary to popular belief, migrants have a limited impact on labour market outcomes in low- and middle income countries.2 They are unlikely to take jobs from native-born workers. In some countries, including South Africa, immigration may even create jobs and raise the incomes of the native-born population.

One reason why migrants do not take away jobs is that they are often in jobs that do not appeal to native-born workers. These include so-called non-standard forms of employment such as temporary work, agency work, and dirty or dangerous work. This is not surprising since for many people migration is a necessity and not a choice. Poverty or lack of opportunity encourages people to look for prosperity abroad. While regular channels of migration exist, they are often bureaucratic and expensive. Migrants who use cheaper options may end up in situations of exploitation and abuse.
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