Published on Jobs and Development

What we’ve been reading: Rethinking migration policies in the COVID era

This page in:
Photo: Jonathan Ernst/World Bank Photo: Jonathan Ernst/World Bank

This reading list is based on the January 2021 edition of the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter, curated by the World Bank’s Jobs Group and Labor & Skills Global Solutions Group. Click here to sign up for the Knowledge4Jobs newsletter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted millions of people across the world, including migrants and refugees. Their living and working conditions have made them even more vulnerable to the health and economic consequences of the health crisis. These effects are not limited to people on the move, but also include employers and communities in countries receiving and sending migrants. An emerging body of work has started documenting the short-term economic losses, health risks, and exposure to other vulnerabilities that migrant and refugee populations and their affiliated countries have experienced in the last twelve months.

Changes in employers’ production choices, less appetite for inclusive migration policies, and more limited opportunities for migrants’ integration are only examples of the potential changes that the crisis could trigger. While several countries have already taken relevant actions to address the immediate impacts of the pandemic, it is important to ensure that more structural reforms to migration policy designed for longer term effectiveness are introduced.

This health crisis offers the opportunity to rethink migration policies and build pandemic-responsive systems in which: 1) Health, social welfare, occupation, and education systems are adapted to offer protection to people on the move, and 2) Collaborations across and within countries are strengthened so that migrants and refugees are not left behind.

This month’s reading list cover all the areas described above with a particular focus on: 1) Factors that increase the vulnerabilities of migrants and refugees to the pandemic, 2) Short-term economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on people on the move, and in receiving and sending countries, 3) Potential longer terms implications and inter-linkages among COVID-19, migration, jobs, and economic transformation, and 4) Policy discussions.  

Human Mobility and COVID-19

Clemins and Ginn assess the impact of international mobility on exposure to four global pandemics in three different centuries. They find that reduced exposure to international mobility by 50 percent can slightly delay pandemic arrival by 1 – 2 weeks, however there is no detectable reduction in final mortality. (Clemins and Ginn, December 2020)

Native born workers are more often employed in occupations that can be carried out from home, thereby reducing their exposure to negative economic shocks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bossavie et al., December 2020)

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may set back the progress in the labor market inclusion of immigrants in OECD countries. (OECD, October 2020)

Immigrants are at much higher risk of COVID-19 infection than native-born populations due to  a  range  of  vulnerabilities  such  as  higher  incidence  of  poverty,  overcrowded  housing conditions, and high concentration in jobs where physical distancing is difficult. (OECD, October 2020)

Migration-dependent households are especially vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper shows a 25 percent decline in earnings and a fourfold greater prevalence of food insecurity. (Barker et al., October 2020)

Essential Readings

Undocumented men in the U.S. were particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with their rate of job loss far exceeding the rate of job loss of legal immigrants. (Borjas and Cassidy, June 2020)

Regions with high automation produce fewer opportunities for laborers to work remotely, attract lower-skilled migrants, and have experienced higher unemployment rates as a result of COVID. (Fasani and Mazzi, April 2020)

The prevalence of COVID-19 is higher in refugee camps than host communities, but pharmacies and religious leaders can help stop the spread. (Lopez-Pena et al., May 2020)

This blog proposes policy options with a focus on social protection systems to address the key challenges facing migrants and their families due to COVID-19. (Mauro Testaverde, April 2020)

Broader Jobs Agenda

COVID-19’s impact on labor markets in thirty-nine countries based on high-frequency phone survey (HFPS) data. (Khamis et al., January 2021)

Understanding the challenges faced by TVET institutions during the COVID-19 crisis. (ILO and WBG, January 2021)

Repatriations have large negative effects on the average wages of formal workers. (Antonella et al., January 2021)

Nine priority recommendations to help Albania better leverage the opportunities associated with digital trade. (World Bank, December 2020)

Government spending on social protection programs in Lesotho reduces poverty and inequality. (Boko et al., January 2021)

On average, between 2003-2017, real unit labor costs rose more quickly among transition economies that received high levels of remittances compared to other transition economies that received lower remittances. (Okello et al., January 2021)

New estimates confirm the massive impact that the labor markets suffered due to the pandemic 8.8 percent of global working hours were lost in 2020 (relative to the fourth quarter of 2019), equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs. (International Labour Organization, January 2021)

Migrants must be at the center of vaccination and care plans since they take up highly risky and vital jobs on the front line, working as doctors, nurses, caregivers, couriers and shop assistants. (UN Chronicle, December 2020)


Mauro Testaverde

Senior Economist in the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice of the World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000