E.g., 10/16/2019
E.g., 10/16/2019

Welcome to Work? Legal Migration Pathways for Low-Skilled Workers

In countries where the native-born workforce is concentrated in medium- and high-skilled industries, many low-wage jobs—from child and elder care to agriculture and construction—are filled by immigrants. Yet few legal migration pathways exist for such workers. Most employment-based channels are geared instead toward highly skilled professionals with formal qualifications. Where legal pathways for low-skilled migrants are too narrow to meet demand, employers and foreign-born workers alike often look to illegal migration to bridge the gap.

As states meet to negotiate a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration in 2018, they have pledged to consider opportunities to foster safer and better-managed international migration—including by facilitating labor mobility across the skills spectrum. This brief examines the legal migration pathways currently available to low-skilled workers, identifying promising practices as well as policy gaps.

Such pathways take a variety of forms and are created to serve a range of policy aims, from deterring illegal migration to reducing deaths along unmanaged routes and supporting international development goals. Legal channels also vary depending on the duration, geography, and sector of the migration in question. While some paths are available for workers in temporary and seasonal occupations, such as agriculture, few exist in female-dominated fields, such as child and elder care.

“Among the key challenges policymakers will need to address,” the authors write, “are the need to improve coordination between destination and origin countries, balance clarity of program design with flexibility, and weave the protection of workers’ rights and the evaluation of impact into the fabric of new initiatives.”

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. International Law and Labor Migration

III. Why Offer Legal Migration Pathways for Low-Skilled Workers?

IV. The Dimensions of Legal Pathways for Low-Skilled Migrants

A. The Temporal Dimension

B. The Sectoral Dimension

C. The Geographic Dimension

V. The Architecture of Legal Migration Pathways

VI. Conclusions and Recommendations