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International Migrants Day: the role of women

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On this International Migrants Day, I would like to focus on female migrants and labor migration policies that affect them.

I took a one day field trip to Arlington, Virginia last summer to observe how international migrant women contribute to development in their home countries, particularly through remittances and tapping the skills of diaspora communities.

It is evident that women (young and old) send remittances often to their home countries. Several of my younger friends from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and other Latin American countries do this. In the case of African countries, I noticed that older women tend to send money to their countries.  They continue to work in order to support their families, even though it might be time for them to retire. 

Case study evidence of migrant labor market performance in receiving countries shows that most immigrants from developing countries, regardless of their destination, suffer an earnings penalty and higher inactivity levels and unemployment rates than nationals.  Additionally, recent arrivals from developing countries to developed ones face lower earnings and greater competition in labor markets, relative to more established immigrants. Unemployment rates for immigrants originating from developing countries are uniformly higher than those from more developed economies. This gap is more pronounced for women than men across all skill levels. The highest unemployment rates are encountered by immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, and Turkey.

Despite the fact that women are more impacted by lower wages and lack of recognition of degrees and work experience in their countries, some migrant women are entering into professions that were only being done by men. For example, in the past, the majority of managers of remittance service providers in US were only men. In 2008, there were 3 managers of these agencies that served Africa. Tapping to the skills and financial resources of women migrants will be key for the development of developing countries. 

So this leads me to ask:

  • Do the migration policies affect men and women differently?
  • What is the impact of labor migration policies (points system, the prospect of the blue card) on professional migrant women?
  • What are some ways to analyze the mobility of talent of female migrants?


Sonia Plaza

Senior Economist, Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice, World Bank

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