Published on People Move

Forecasting and meeting future demand for migrant labor

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Labour migration policies in destination countries frequently consider and facilitate the immigration of highly skilled workers. Low-skilled migrant workers may experience greater challenges in labour market integration, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. A greater need for coherence among labour migration, employment and education and training policies has been identified as a critical factor for improving labour migration governance and skills portability. The active engagement of employers’ and workers’ organizations, along with governments, in labour migration policy design and implementation may ensure more effective and coordinated policy approaches to address future skills demand and supply for migrant labour. 

The ILO has estimated that there 169 million international migrant workers worldwide. This represents the 4.9 per cent of all workers. More than two-thirds of international migrant workers are concentrated in high-income countries (113.9 million).

One of the main challenges in labour migration remains the effective skills matching with labour demand in destination countries due to the lack of accurate skills anticipation mechanisms. To contribute to the identification of appropriate policy solutions to the above challenges, we have conducted research on forecasting future demand for migrant labour in one industrialised country (Italy) and in one middle-income country (Costa Rica). 

The parallel analysis of the case studies of Italy and Costa Rica on future skills demand and supply for migrant labour offers valuable policy indications on labour migration governance in different contexts. Both countries have migration and integration policies, and their labour market entry mechanism is demand driven. The research confirms the central role of skills in labour migration, and the importance of skills anticipation. It provides a basis for broader policy analysis on the importance of skills forecasting for migration at national and sector levels.

The modalities of cooperation on skills and labour migration could be assessed along specific migration corridors, where migrant workers encounter different challenges, related to their skills and qualifications. In this regard, there are different mechanisms of international collaboration: mutual recognition agreements (MRAs), bilateral labour migration agreements or memoranda of understanding (BLMAs or MoUs), skills mobility partnerships, accreditation accords, etc. In many high-income countries, skills and qualifications are obtained within the formal education and training systems, this is often not the case in many origin countries, with large informal economies. In some of these countries, the informal apprenticeship is a traditional way of learning skills, which is not recognised. New forces of change are transforming labour markets around the globe and are also impacting labour migration trends and skills needs. Technological advances, the greening of economies and demographic developments have been identified among the main elements of change, in addition to traditional push and pull factors for labour migration.

The concrete measures on forecasting and meeting future demand for migrant labour will depend on the specific country context, institutional capacities and policy attention, as well as the effective collaboration of governments and social partners.

Read the research here.


Ibrahim Awad

Professor of Practice and Director of Center for Migration and Refugee Studies, American University in Cairo, Egypt

Natalia Popova

Labour Economist, ILO

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