Keys to address the labor exploitation of migrant populations in Central America

Solutions to address the labor exploitation of migrant populations in Central America

Migrants face different challenges when they settle in their destination countries, including their entry into the labor force. Studies such as CEPAL (link in Spanish) indicate that irregular migrants are more likely to experience poor working conditions and be employed in low-skilled jobs. Including those who obtain a regular status, in some countries, migrants receive salaries below the average of nationals.

To better understand the labor conditions of migrants in Central America, the Central American Integration System (SICA), in conjunction with IOM and UNHCR, developed a baseline study on migration and displacement in the SICA region (link in Spanish), where they are addressed, among other issues, labor discrimination. The study indicates as a relevant finding that labor exploitation is often not conceptualized as a violation of human rights, but only as an administrative offense, which circumvents the corresponding penalty and facilitates the perpetuation of the issue.

According to the study, another consequence of the precarious work for most migrants in the region is the lack of access to social security. One the one hand, this is due to the economic cost involved, as they first need to obtain a regular immigration status which entails certain expenses. On the other hand, the more ‘informal’ that their employment is, the less likely it is to be connect to social security benefits.

The legislation and working conditions of people vary from country to country. To address the challenges of labor migration, the study by SICA, IOM and UNHCR (link in Spanish) proposes several courses of action so that states can collaboratively and comprehensively address the integration of this type of migratory flow including irregular migration, labor discrimination, social security and regional integration. Some of the actions recommended by the study are:

To discourage irregular labor migration

• Support countries in ratifying the ILO Migration for Employment Convention (No. 97) and the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143), as well as adopting the ILO Migration Statistics Recommendations (No. 19).

• Analyze national labor markets to identify areas with deficits or surpluses of trained personnel.

• Strengthen the collection and exchange of information on the needs of labor markets, with approved regional variables.


To address labor discrimination

• Implement policies against discrimination and xenophobia.

• Strengthen instruments to ensure the protection of the rights of migrant workers.

• Promote mechanisms of social, labor, and cultural integration of migrants in destination countries.


To facilitate access to social security and the protection of migrants

• Support countries in the ratification of the Multilateral Social Security Agreement (link in Spanish).

• Promote internal legislation that protects migrants’ rights to social security.

• Design social security schemes that respond to the specific needs of migrants and their families.


To facilitate regional integration of labor migration

• Facilitate the exchange of labor migration information between countries in the region.

• Promote mechanisms (or include spaces in existing mobility agreements) that allow intra-regional labor mobility.


In addition to these key actions, the study includes contributions to address labor discrimination specifically with indigenous migrants and LGBTI + populations, who may experience a greater precariousness in their working conditions. This information can be accessed via this link (in Spanish).

How will COVID-19 affect the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda?

How will COVID-19 affect the achievement of the goals of the 2030 Agenda?
Categoria: Migration Governance
Autor: Laura Thompson


There is no doubt that the current pandemic has a broad humanitarian, social and economic impact in the short, medium and long term, which in turn may affect or delay the achievement of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at different levels and in various ways.

The most evident impact, obviously, is on Goal 3, which seeks to guarantee a healthy life and promote well-being. The pandemic has put enormous pressures on health systems not only in relation to the treatment and management of the virus, but also affecting the ability to care for patients who have other diseases and increasing the risk of complications in populations with compromised health states. The pandemic has given greater visibility to the importance of universal access to health systems regardless of people's migratory status. However, the pandemic will also have implications for other aspects of the 2030 Agenda.


Impacts beyond health

COVID-19 is also having a negative impact on the employment, economic and social situation of many households around the world, and on their ability to meet their needs, even the most basic ones. The economic crisis that the countries of the region are facing and the growing unemployment will be decisive in this regard, since apart from the pandemic, Latin America and the Caribbean reached an unemployment rate of 8.1% at the end of 2019, according to the International Labor Organization. And according to ECLAC projections, labor unemployment will rise to 11.5% in the same region, as a result of the contraction of economic activity by COVID-19.

Unemployment and the loss of purchasing power affect more severely migrant populations, since they are very often employed in the informal sector of the economy and have more precarious contractual working conditions, particularly women migrant workers. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, informal work engages around 50% of the total number of people employed. The increase in unemployment will impact the scope of Goal 8 (on full and productive employment and decent work for all), but also Goal 1 (the fight against poverty), Goal 2 (the eradication of hunger, food security and better nutrition), Goal 5 (gender equality and empowerment of women and girls), and targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2, on trafficking and exploitation of people. ECLAC also emphasizes that Latin America and the Caribbean is already suffering a fall of -5.3% in GDP, the worst in its history.

Likewise, this pandemic could accentuate existing inequalities in societies, as well as the vulnerabilities of certain population groups, and consequently delay the achievement of Goal 10, which seeks to reduce inequalities between and within countries. In this context, migrants are one of those vulnerable groups that have been particularly affected by the pandemic and that are often left behind or forgotten in social protection and economic relaunch plans, or have limited access to them, either because of language barriers or because of their immigration status. All of this despite the enormous contribution that migrant workers make to the operation of essential basic services in many countries, as has become evident during this crisis.

Additionally, a decrease in the amount of international remittances is projected, which, according to the World Bank, would be reduced between 10% and 19.3% by 2020. Remittances are a fundamental component in the economy of some countries in the region, where they can amount to between 5% and 20% of the national Gross Domestic Product. A significant reduction in remittances would jeopardize the ability of many households in those countries to meet their most basic needs and their ability to invest in improving nutrition, education, and reducing child labor, among others, further emphasizing existing inequalities.

Finally, at the state level, due to the economic slowdown we are experiencing and urgent health needs, it is very likely that there will be a decrease in social spending or a reorientation of available resources, potentially at the expense of the more comprehensive vision contained in the Sustainable Development Goals, again affecting the scope of the transversal objectives of the 2030 Agenda.


Recovery and SDGs: the same path

But this should not lead us to pessimism and to think that we have lost the fight to achieve the SDGs. On the contrary, it is essential at this time to work together and forcefully to identify the additional difficulties that the current pandemic presents in achieving the 2030 Agenda. We must redouble our commitment and our efforts to ensure that the impact of the pandemic is incorporated into national plans and international assistance, as well as that the different realities and vulnerabilities of some specific groups are incorporated.

For this we must work from now on to ensure the universal attention of the health and education systems; in reducing remittance transfer costs (a topic included in Goal 10), as El Salvador is already doing, creating more resilient and inclusive cities in line with Goal 11 or strengthening forms of regular migration for migrant workers and decent working conditions (Goal 8).

The time is now: all organizations, governments and individuals have an important role in ensuring that the efforts for our Latin American region and the world to recover from the serious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are aligned with the 2030 Agenda and that we make sure we do not leave anyone behind.