Published on Voices

More Work Needed to Make Labor Migration a Safer Option for Youth

Roughly 27 million young people leave their country of birth to find employment abroad. Does this trend suggest that migration may be a solution to the worrying situation whereby 60% of young people in developing regions that are either unemployed, not studying, or engaged in irregular employment?

According to a number of heads of state, policymakers and other stakeholders (such as recruitment agencies), the answer is “yes.” In 2013, the government of Malawi struck deals with a number of countries to “export” its youth labor, in an attempt to create new employment opportunities for its youth population abroad. Elsewhere, in some South Asian countries, private sector companies recruit unemployed youth for work in other countries.
Labor migration can expose youth to better opportunities, including access to decent work. For example Thomas, a youth labor migrant from Ghana living in Canada, remarked, “Migration has been beneficial to me; I have learned new professional skills, the salary is good, and I am able to have a decent standard of living here and send some money back to my relatives in Ghana.”
That said, there is a common misconception that transitioning into the labor market of another country or society is smooth and simple. This is not often the case, particularly for young migrants from the developing world. For example, it has been reported that there are an estimated 1.4 million migrant workers – mostly young people – currently in Qatar, providing labor service for the country’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup. Sadly, “more than 500 Indian migrant workers have died since January 2012 and more than 380 Nepalese workers died in 2012 and 2013.”
Development professionals and policymakers should be focusing on a number of areas to improve the safety, security and labor migration experience of young migrants.
Equip youth migrants with information and skills
Before young people migrate for work, they should be equipped with relevant education and life skills training. This will help them take advantage of economic opportunities in their destination country or society, in turn contributing to reducing the incidence of “brain waste,” particularly for highly skilled or semi-skilled migrants.
There are also a number of activities that are critical to promoting the rights of youth labor migrants and mitigating the risk of them experiencing the worst forms of exploitation and abuse.
These include:

●Sharing reliable and relevant information about what to expect during their journey
●Informing them of their labor rights and responsibilities
●Providing methods of reporting ill-treatment in the destination country or society 
●Facilitating integration into the destination country or society by providing information on its culture.

Ensure labor agreements are based on human rights standards
Countries who are receiving young migrants must ensure that labor migration agreements are based on ethical recruitment and decent work principles.
Stakeholders, including origin and destination governments as well as private sector institutions, must engage in systemic processes to enforce and assess working conditions and reduce the potential risk of abuse and exploitation in destination countries.
Create spaces for social networking, mentorship, and skills development
Social networks play an important role in empowering young people with important information that can directly reduce the risks associated with migration. They can also facilitate social, cultural and economic integration in both destination countries, and also – for potential return migrants – origin countries.
However, migrants often lack access to these trusted social support and networks, especially in their destination countries. Stakeholders should therefore be collaborating to connect newly arrived migrants with trusted compatriots.
Increase decent work opportunities and provide financial assistance for return migrants
Skilled young labor migrants returning to their origin countries, equipped with skills, business networks, qualifications, and economic resources, can contribute positively to the economic development within those countries.
Governments of origin countries should be doing all they can to facilitate these young people’s reintegration to their society.
Enhance the visibility of young migrants in policy and practice
Despite the significance of youth migration – young people account for 30% of the 232 million international migrants – and its developmental impact, youth today receive few opportunities to participate in migration policy debates and practices.
Stakeholders involved in youth migration issues should therefore be engaging young would-be, current, and past migrants through collaborative, consultative or youth-led participatory mechanisms.
Encourage youth entrepreneurship and provide job-focused training
While all these recommendations need to be implemented to protect and enhance the experience of young labor migrants, migration itself should not be seen as a silver bullet. Rather, governments need to encourage investment in their country’s young entrepreneurs, and provide job-focused training to unemployed people. This can encourage youth to stay at home while contributing to local and national development.
Most youth labor migrants in developing countries who move do so as a matter of necessity rather than choice, primarily due to the lack of employment opportunity or economic assets for entrepreneurship. Investment in these young people at home will provide a far more sustainable solution.

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