How does COVID-19 impact migrant domestic workers?

How does COVID-19 impact migrant domestic workers?

Originally published in English on the Caribbean Migration Consultation website.

Migrants employed in the domestic work sector are essential workers in the COVID-19 response, due to the important roles they play in the care of children, sick, and dependent people, as well as the maintenance of homes, which helps prevent the spread of the virus. However, despite their enormous contribution to the functioning of households and the economy, they tend to be one of the groups most affected by the crisis. 

Traditionally, domestic work has been considered precarious due to poor or even exploitative working conditions, such as long working hours, low wages, informal conditions, little-to-no social protection, and a tendency to live with their employers. A 2018 report released by UN Women found that the Caribbean region has high levels of informal working conditions among domestic workers, with 90% of domestic workers employed informally. Specifically, the following states had particularly informal work situations for domestic workers: Haiti (99%), Dominican Republic (96.5%), Jamaica (92%) and Guyana (94.9%).  

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 93% of domestic workers in the Caribbean are women, and out of this, 17% of domestic workers are migrants. Furthermore, race and class inequalities are reflected in the domestic work sector with Afrodescendant and indigenous populations overrepresented in domestic work. According to a 2010 survey from ECLAC, 63% of domestic employees are of Afro descent in Latin America. 

Under lockdown, migrant domestic workers’ already unstable situations have worsened, according to a new report on Domestic workers in Latin Americas and the Caribbean during the COVID-19 crisis, released by UN WOMEN. Many have continued working, despite the current pandemic, while others have been dismissed without pay, meaning they cannot pay rent or send remittances back home. Specific contextual factors that exacerbate domestic worker´s vulnerabilities include:  

  • Caring for at-risk populations: domestic workers must attend to the ‘at-risk’ population, such as elderly or sick people, while at the same time caring for children who must stay home due to the suspension of classes and restrictions on mobility. Some domestic workers have not received adequate Personal Protective Equipment despite having to interact with others outside their household or having to care for people who have tested positive for the virus, which increases their risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19.  
  • Extra workloads: Stay-at-Home orders have increased the ordinary workloads in the house, such as cooking and cleaning tasks. IOM CREST reports that over 50% of domestic migrant workers have had to work extra hours, without extra pay or compensated hours.  Since official recommendations are not to leave the house, domestic workers have reported being unable to refuse to work on their day off. In addition, some domestic workers have been pressured to stay overnight in their workplaces to lower risks or exposure to possible contracting and/or transmission of COVID-19 during their commute. 
  • Access to health care: the informal nature of much domestic work means that many migrant domestic workers have limited or do not have adequate access to healthcare, as well as limited health seeking behaviour due to limited financial resources or because they are not affiliated with the social security system in the country where they work.  It is particularly critical in the case of migrant domestic workers in irregular administrative situation who often cannot even attend public health centres in many countries.   
  • Reduced wages: In other cases, domestic workers have reported reduced working hours, loss of wages and/or unemployment as a result of decreased economic activity or unemployment. According to the IOM, 70% of domestic workers in the Americas have been affected by quarantine measures, resulting in a reduction of working hours or the loss of work altogether. For migrant domestic workers whose migratory status is attached to their employment, COVID-19 induced unemployment can increase their risk of entering an irregular migratory status.  
  • Loss of home: some live-in domestic workers have been dismissed. Some domestic workers have been found in the streets, after losing their homes along with their jobs, increasing their health vulnerabilities and the need for physical and mental health assistance and support. Additionally, this situation puts them at greater risk of falling into situations of trafficking or exploitation as they try to survive.  

The IOM has released a set of guidelines for employers and businesses to enhance migrant worker protection during the COVID-19 pandemic, with specific recommendations to address the unique vulnerabilities of migrant domestic workers. Recommendations include the adoption of health and safety measures in the home, the modification of work commutes to reduce the possibility of contracting or transmitting COVID-19, and the responsibilities of employers to ensure their domestic workers have up-to-date identification and migration documents.  

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the vulnerabilities of at-risk groups of the population, and the serious consequences for domestic workers in the Caribbean region, among others. The pandemic has emphasized the State’s responsibility to extend social welfare and labour protection for all migrant workers, irrespective of their migrant situation. It is crucial that this crisis does not represent a step backwards in the consolidation of the labour rights of migrant domestic workers.  

For more information, please contact Mr. Jorge Gallo, Regional Communications Officer at IOM Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean. 


7 recommendations to promote the inclusion of migrants in host communities through social and cultural activities.

Categoria: Pacto Mundial sobre Migración
Autor: Carlos Escobar

The promotion of social and cultural activities as a mechanism to encourage interaction between migrants and host communities with the aim of advancing in the construction of more just and peaceful societies, is currently a topic of special interest in studies, policies and programs on migrant inclusion and social cohesion.

Taking Intergroup Contact Theory (IGCT) as a reference, different researches argue that the interaction of people from different places and contexts, under the right circumstances, favors trust and the change of xenophobic or discriminatory perceptions. Thus, intergovernmental agreements such as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration have integrated this perspective into their theoretical and conceptual body. In particular, Goal 16 "Empower migrants and societies to achieve full inclusion and social cohesion", calls for the creation of community centres or programs at the local level to facilitate the participation of migrants in the receiving society by engaging migrants, community members, diaspora organizations, migrant associations and local authorities in intercultural dialogue, exchange of experiences, mentoring programs and the creation of business linkages that enhance integration outcomes and foster mutual respect.

Based on the analysis and review of different research, the IOM, in its publication The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities – A Review of Lessons Learned, proposes a series of recommendations, based on empirical evidence, to encourage the participation of migrants and receiving communities in social and cultural activities.

1). Fun and goal-oriented

Designing and incorporating fun and exciting activities leads to a lighter and more welcoming environment for people to meet, interact and create social bonds. At the same time, setting common goals, which neither group can achieve without the participation of the other (cooperative interdependence), makes the activities more engaging and participatory.

2). Mutual appreciation

Participants should understand, recognize and appreciate culture, traditions and history as part of the process of bridging differences, maximizing each other's strengths and identifying commonalities. It is important that all individuals are able to identify how their contributions can have a positive impact on the achievement of common goals.

3). Shared ownership

Involving migrants and local communities in all phases of activities will increase their participation. This ownership empowers them, raises their self-esteem and opens up new opportunities for responsibility and commitment.

4). Guided Reflection

Dialogues and activities that allow for a certain degree of reflection help to create an atmosphere that is perceived as trusting, friendly and warm. Processing information and sharing personal and sensitive stories, which can evoke memories, are of utmost importance as long as they are carefully guided and accompanied by facilitators or project members.

5). Supervision and Trust Facilitation

Those responsible for group interactions, such as team leaders, facilitators, project staff or event planners, must play an active role in promoting equality within intergroup relations and creating an inclusive environment for all. This deliberate effort is crucial to overcome the natural tendency of participants to group themselves according to their most salient characteristics and status.

6). Sustained and regular intervention

It goes without saying that the more frequent, prolonged and intensive the participation, the better the attitude of each individual towards others. This means adopting an approach that rethinks the role of the people involved, who in turn will define the needs of their communities and ultimately take part in the design and organization of appropriate interventions.

7). Institutional support and partnership

The support of institutions such as local governments, media, government agencies and intermediary organizations is critical to promoting and facilitating constructive efforts to strengthen intergroup relations. The coordination of these institutions creates a system that can provide resources and incentives to promote and strengthen intergroup relations.

Social and cultural activities, understood as a programmatic intervention strategy to facilitate the inclusion of migrants in receiving communities, are important to the extent that they offer non-institutional spaces for interaction, where through spontaneous human contact, social ties are built based on experiences, stories, emotions and life trajectories of the participants. This facilitates the generation of trust between individuals, greater degrees of social cohesion and, of course, peaceful coexistence in communities, understood not only as the absence of conflict, but also as a positive, dynamic and participatory process in which dialogue is promoted and conflicts are resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, through the acceptance of differences, the ability to listen, recognize, respect and appreciate others. (UN, 2021).