Migration and social security

Social security facing increased mobility of the global workforce

Worldwide, there are over a billion internal and international migrants. One driving factor for migration is often the search for better conditions of work and employment, which for many is inseparable from access to social security coverage.


The importance of migrant workers to a country's economic development is only one of the many reasons why national social security systems should extend coverage to such workers.

With their numbers increasing in many countries, extending coverage to migrant workers is important if significant progress is to be achieved with regard to national and international coverage extension objectives. But there are other reasons. Over and above meeting the basic needs and social protection requirements of migrant workers and their dependant family members, these include advantages for social security systems in particular and society in general:

  • Social security systems provide essential benefits and services to help mitigate the risks faced by what are often vulnerable sections of the working population. There is an affirmed human rights reason for extending coverage to such workers.
  • Wider social security coverage enhances social cohesion, facilitates economic growth and strengthens public support for social security schemes.
  • Coverage of migrant workers may be seen as important for equity reasons by the non-migrant population (for example, in the case of posted workers).
  • Migrant workers may help improve the demographic situation of a country and are often net contributors to the social security system over their lifetime.
  • Covering migrant workers strengthens other efforts to formalize the informal sector, encourages and supports mobility of employees and provides safeguards to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers.

The inclusion of migrant workers in social security programmes has often posed a challenge to social security administrations. This is because the characteristics of migrant workers – short careers in the host economy, with frequent job change; often active in the informal sector; separated from dependant family members; and so on – are different from the majority of workers. In addition, they tend to be less subject to the typically assumed employer/employee relationship on which many social security systems were set up.

So that responses to these challenges are effective, a combination of political will, tailored benefit design, financial commitment and appropriate administrative measures are required.

Social security institutions can also play an important role in putting in place other measures to make benefits more attractive (which is particularly important for schemes for migrant workers that are voluntary), to increase awareness and improve public perceptions of social security programmes, to support workers and their families across the life cycle, and to improve the perception of migrant workers by the national population.

Globalization and the impact of climate change means that migrant numbers are likely to increase. Where policy initiatives are coupled with effective administrative efforts, significant progress is possible.

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