Migrants of working age make up 4.2 percent of the global population, and the number is growing. A UN report notes how poorer countries are increasingly supplying labor to richer ones to their own detriment.
There are 277 million international migrants, 234 million migrants of working age (15 and older) and 164 million migrant workers worldwide, according to a UN report.
Figures for 2017 from the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA) published on Wednesday show that migrants of working age make up 4.2 percent of the global population aged 15 and older, while migrant workers constitute 4.7 percent of all workers.
The numbers rose by almost 20 percent between 2013 and 2017 for international migrants, 13 percent for migrants of working age and 9 percent for migrant workers.
Of the 164 million migrant workers worldwide, 111.2 million (67.9 percent) are employed in high-income countries, 30.5 million (18.6 percent) in upper middle-income countries, 16.6 million (10.1 percent) in lower middle- income countries and 5.6 million (3.4 percent) in low-income countries.
From 2013 to 2017, the concentration of migrant workers in high-income countries fell from 74.7 to 67.9 percent, while their share in upper middle-income countries increased, suggesting a shift in the number of migrant workers from high-income to lower-income countries.
The report noted that this growing number could be attributed to the economic development of some lower-income nations, particularly if these countries are in close proximity to migrant origin countries with close social networks.
The share of migrant workers in the labor force of destination countries has increased in all income groups except for lower middle-income countries.
In high-income countries, falling numbers of migrant workers were observed simultaneously with a higher share in the labor force as a result of the sharp fall in the labor force participation of non-migrants, due to a variety of factors such as changes in demographics, technology and immigration policies.
“Stricter migration policies in high-income countries and stronger economic growth among upper middle-income countries may also contribute to the trends observed,” the report noted.
Some 60.8 percent of all migrant workers are found in three subregions: Northern America (23.0 percent), Northern, Southern and Western Europe (23.9 percent) and Arab States (13.9 percent). The lowest number of migrant workers is hosted by Northern Africa (less than 1 percent).
The subregion with the largest share of migrant workers as a proportion of all workers is Arab States (40.8 percent), followed by Northern America (20.6 percent) and Northern, Southern and Western Europe (17.8 percent).
In nine out of 11 subregions, the labor force participation rate of migrants is higher than that of non-migrants. The largest difference is in the Arab States, where the labor force participation rate of migrants (75.4 percent) is substantially higher than that of non-migrants (42.2 percent).
Among migrant workers, 96 million are men and 68 million are women. In 2017, the stock of male migrant workers was estimated to be 95.7 million, while the corresponding estimate for female migrant workers was 68.1 million.
“The higher proportion of men among migrant workers may also be explained by...the higher likelihood of women to migrate for reasons other than employment (for instance, for family reunification), as well as by possible discrimination against women that reduces their employment opportunities in destination countries,” the report noted.
It added that societal stigmatization, the discriminatory impacts of policies and legislation and violence and harassment undermine women’s access to decent work and can result in low pay, the absence of equal pay and the undervaluation of female-dominated sectors.
Prime-age adults (ages 25-64) constitute nearly 87 percent of migrant workers. Youth workers (aged 15-24) and older workers (aged 65 plus) constitute 8.3 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively, of migrant workers. This age composition holds for male and female migrant workers alike.
“The fact that the overwhelming majority of migrant workers consist of prime-age adults suggests that some countries of origin are losing the most productive part of their workforce, which could have a negative impact on their economic growth,” the report noted, but it added that emigration of prime-age individuals may also provide a source of remittances for countries of origin.
Destination countries, meanwhile, benefit from receiving prime-age workers as they are increasingly faced with demographic pressures.
Labor shortage in Germany
Germany’s BDI industry association said skilled labor from abroad was key to Germany’s future economic success. “The integration of skilled workers from other countries contributes significantly to growth and jobs,” BDI President Dieter Kempf said.
The country’s VDE association of electrical, electronic and IT engineering was the latest group in Germany to point to the growing need for foreign experts. Emphasizing that Germany itself was training too few engineers, VDE said there would be a shortage of 100,000 electrical engineers over the next 10 years.
“We will strive to increase the number of engineers by means of migration,” VDE President Gunther Kegel noted.