Working paper

Beyond gratitude: lessons learned from migrants’ contribution to the COVID-19 response

Migrants Economic depressions Labour market disruption Labour market Workforce planning

This report recognises and values the fundamental contribution of migrant workers to our societies and economies throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year we have leaned heavily on ‘key workers’. Migrants account for a large share of these frontline workers and figure heavily amongst the multiple occupations we now classify as essential. Yet their jobs have often been labelled as ‘low-skilled’ and their work undervalued. As a result, many have risked their lives on the COVID-19 frontline while lacking the basic social protections enjoyed by other workers.

A desire to capture the contribution of migrants during the pandemic inspired us to begin the systematic tracking of events across the globe over the past year. The authors wanted to make migrants’ essential work more visible, track the innovations and reforms that have enhanced their contribution during the emergency, and draw lessons from these experiences to inform long-term reforms and policies. They have observed many national and local governments relaxing migration regulations and creating new incentives for migrant workers in essential services, demonstrating that migration policies – regardless of today’s increasingly polarised debates – can and do change when necessary. This matters for the post-pandemic recovery, given that countries will continue to rely on migrant workers of all skill levels. We all must ensure that these changes are lasting.

Key policy recommendations:

  • Enhance routes to regularisation, in recognition of migrants’ vital contribution to essential services.
  • Expand legal migration pathways, ensuring safe working conditions for all, to support post-Covid-19 global recovery, tackle shortages in essential workforces and fill skills gaps.
  • Ensure that migrants, whatever their status, have access to key basic services and social protection.
  • Detach immigration policies from inflexible ‘low’ and ‘high’ skills classifications. Workers of all skill levels will be essential in the long path to recovery.
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ODI Working Paper 605