Migrant worker
The term migrant worker has different official meanings and connotations in different parts of the world. The United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

' definition is broad, including any people working outside of their home country. The term can also be used to describe someone who migrates
Human migration
Human migration is physical movement by humans from one area to another, sometimes over long distances or in large groups. Historically this movement was nomadic, often causing significant conflict with the indigenous population and their displacement or cultural assimilation. Only a few nomadic...

 within a country, possibly their own, in order to pursue work such as seasonal work
Temporary work
Temporary work or temporary employment refers to a situation where the employee is expected to leave the employer within a certain period of time. Temporary employees are sometimes called "contractual", "seasonal", "interim", "casual staff", "freelance", or "part-time"; or the word may be shortened...


United Nations' definition

The "United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families" defines migrant worker as follows:

The Convention has been Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, and China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

(amongst other nations that receive foreign labour).


In Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, companies are beginning to recruit temporary foreign workers under Service Canada
Service Canada
Service Canada is part of a Government of Canada-wide service transformation initiative aimed at responding to Canadians' expressed desire for better, more responsive, less cluttered service from Canadian governments...

's recent expansion of an immigration program for migrant workers.


Migrant workers in China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 are mostly people from impoverished regions who go to more urban and prosperous coastal regions in search of work, hence they are the main force for urbanization in the People's Republic of China. According to Chinese government
Government of the People's Republic of China
All power within the government of the People's Republic of China is divided among three bodies: the People's Republic of China, State Council, and the People's Liberation Army . This article is concerned with the formal structure of the state, its departments and their responsibilities...

 statistics, the current number of migrant workers in China is estimated at 120 million, approximately 9% of the population. China's urban migrants sent home the equivalent of US$65.4 billion in 2005.

China is now experiencing the largest mass migration of people from the countryside to the city in history. An estimated 230 million Chinese (2010) — a number equivalent to two thirds the population of the United States — have left the countryside and migrated to the cities in recent years. About 13 million new people join the legions every year. The number is expected to reach 250 million by 2012 and surpass 300 million and maybe reach 400 million by 2025.

Many are farmers and farm workers made obsolete by modern farming practices and factory workers who have been laid off from inefficient state-run factories. They include men and women and couples with children. Men often get construction jobs while women work in cheap-labor factories. Most come from Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

, Hunan
' is a province of South-Central China, located to the south of the middle reaches of the Yangtze River and south of Lake Dongting...

, Henan
Henan , is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the central part of the country. Its one-character abbreviation is "豫" , named after Yuzhou , a Han Dynasty state that included parts of Henan...

, Anhui
Anhui is a province in the People's Republic of China. Located in eastern China across the basins of the Yangtze River and the Huai River, it borders Jiangsu to the east, Zhejiang to the southeast, Jiangxi to the south, Hubei to the southwest, Henan to the northwest, and Shandong for a tiny...

 and Jiangxi
' is a southern province in the People's Republic of China. Spanning from the banks of the Yangtze River in the north into hillier areas in the south, it shares a border with Anhui to the north, Zhejiang to the northeast, Fujian to the east, Guangdong to the south, Hunan to the west, and Hubei to...

 Provinces. A 60- year-old grandmother from Sichuan who was as laborer on a construction site in Shanghai told the Los Angeles Times, "If you're willing to work, you can get a job here even if you're old."

So many migrants leave their homes looking for work they overburden the rail system. In the Hunan province, 52 people were trampled to death in the late 1990s when 10,000 migrants were herded onto a freight train. To stem the flow of migrants, officials in Hunan and Sichuan have placed restrictions on the use of trains and buses by rural people.

Most migrant workers have traditionally gone to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and the coastal cities but more are heading to the interior where new opportunities are opening up and there is less competition. In some cities, the migrants almost outnumber the residents. The small industrial city of Yiwu, for example, in Zhejiang Province, is home to 640,000 official residents and a migrant population of several hundred thousand.

The booming cities are desperate for cheap labor while the countryside is experiencing labor surpluses. The cities provide so much work they are sometimes called "factories without chimneys."

The migration is all the more extraordinary when one considers that the government has tried to restrict it. One young girl told National Geographic, "All the young people leave our village. I'm not going back. Many can't even afford a bus ticket and hitchhike to Beijing."

Overall, the Chinese government has tacitly supported migration as means of providing labor for factories and construction sites and for the long term goals of transforming China from a rural-based economy to an urban-based one. Some inland cities have started providing migrants with social security, including pensions and other insurance.

European Union

The recent expansions
Enlargement of the European Union
The Enlargement of the European Union is the process of expanding the European Union through the accession of new member states. This process began with the Inner Six, who founded the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952...

 of the European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 have provided opportunities for many people to migrate to other EU countries for work. For both the 2004
2004 enlargement of the European Union
The 2004 enlargement of the European Union was the largest single expansion of the European Union , both in terms of territory, number of states and population, however not in terms of gross domestic product...

 and 2007 enlargements, existing states
Member State of the European Union
A member state of the European Union is a state that is party to treaties of the European Union and has thereby undertaken the privileges and obligations that EU membership entails. Unlike membership of an international organisation, being an EU member state places a country under binding laws in...

 were given the rights to impose various transitional arrangements to limit access to their labour markets. Migrant workers in Germany and Austria are known as Gastarbeiter
Gastarbeiter is German for "guest worker." It refers to migrant workers who had moved to West Germany mainly in the 1960s and 70s, seeking work as part of a formal guest worker programme...


The 1st of March has become a symbolic day for transnational migrants' strike. This day unites all migrants to give them a common voice to speak up against racism, discrimination and exclusion on all levels of social life. The transnational protests on the 1st of March were originally initiatied in the USA in 2006 and have encouraged migrants in other countries to organise and take action on that day. In Austria the first transnational migrants' strike () took place in March 2011, in the form of common actions, e.g. a manifestation, but also in form of numerous decentralised actions.


The passport system in the Soviet Union
Passport system in the Soviet Union
The Soviet passport is an identity document issued upon the laws of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the citizen of the USSR. For the general purposes of identity certification Soviet passports contained such data as name, date of birth, sex, place of birth, nationality and citizenship...

 severely restricted migrant workers but the dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

 allowed far more movement, both from the "near abroad
Near abroad
In political language of Russia and some other post-Soviet states, the near abroad refers to the newly independent republics which emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and sometimes other nearby countries such as Finland and Mongolia....

" and within Russia.

United States

The term foreign worker
Foreign worker
A foreign worker is a person who works in a country other than the one of which he or she is a citizen. The term migrant worker as discussed in the migrant worker page is used in a particular UN resolution as a synonym for "foreign worker"...

 is generally used in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 to refer to someone fitting the international (UN) definition of a migrant worker while the term migrant worker is considered someone who regularly works away from home, if they have a home at all.

In the United States, migrant worker is commonly used to describe low-wage workers performing manual labor in the agriculture
Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi and other life forms for food, fiber, and other products used to sustain life. Agriculture was the key implement in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the...

 field; these are often illegal aliens
Illegal immigration to the United States
An illegal immigrant in the United States is an alien who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa....

 who do not have valid work visas
Visa (document)
A visa is a document showing that a person is authorized to enter the territory for which it was issued, subject to permission of an immigration official at the time of actual entry. The authorization may be a document, but more commonly it is a stamp endorsed in the applicant's passport...

. The United States has enacted the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act
Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act
The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act repealed and replaced the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act (MSPA) (P.L. 97-470) (January 14, 1983) repealed and replaced the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act The...

 to remove the restraints on commerce
While business refers to the value-creating activities of an organization for profit, commerce means the whole system of an economy that constitutes an environment for business. The system includes legal, economic, political, social, cultural, and technological systems that are in operation in any...

 caused by activities detrimental to migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, to require farm labor contractors to register, and to assure necessary protections for migrant and seasonal agricultural workers, agricultural associations, and agricultural employers.

The term migrant worker sometimes may be used to describe any worker who moves from one seasonal job to another. This use is generally confined to lower-wage fields, perhaps because the term has been indelibly linked with low-wage farmworker
A farmworker is a person hired to work in the agricultural industry. This includes work on farms of all sizes, from small, family-run businesses to large industrial agriculture operations...

s and illegal aliens
Illegal immigration to the United States
An illegal immigrant in the United States is an alien who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa....

. Examples of itinerant
An itinerant is a person who travels from place to place with no fixed home. The term comes from the late 16th century: from late Latin itinerant , from the verb itinerari, from Latin iter, itiner ....

 who could be called migrant workers, some of them quite lucrative, include: electrician
An electrician is a tradesman specializing in electrical wiring of buildings, stationary machines and related equipment. Electricians may be employed in the installation of new electrical components or the maintenance and repair of existing electrical infrastructure. Electricians may also...

s in the construction
In the fields of architecture and civil engineering, construction is a process that consists of the building or assembling of infrastructure. Far from being a single activity, large scale construction is a feat of human multitasking...

 industry; other construction worker
Construction worker
A construction worker or builder is a professional, tradesman, or labourer who directly participates in the physical construction of infrastructure.-Construction trades:...

s who travel from one construction job to another, often in different cities; wildland firefighters in the western United States
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

; temporary consulting
A consultant is a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area such as management, accountancy, the environment, entertainment, technology, law , human resources, marketing, emergency management, food production, medicine, finance, life management, economics, public...

 work; and Interstate
Interstate Highway System
The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, , is a network of limited-access roads including freeways, highways, and expressways forming part of the National Highway System of the United States of America...

 truck driver
Truck driver
A truck driver , is a person who earns a living as the driver of a truck, usually a semi truck, box truck, or dump truck.Truck drivers provide an essential service to...


United States

Migrant workers in the United States have come from many different sources, and have been subject to different work experiences. Prior to restrictions against the slave trade, agriculture in the United States was largely dependent on slave labor; contrary to popular myth, slavery, while more prominent in the Southern plantation system
Plantation economy
A plantation economy is an economy which is based on agricultural mass production, usually of a few staple products grown on large farms called plantations. Plantation economies rely on the export of cash crops as a source of income...

, was used in both the North and South as a way of supplying labor to agriculture. However, over the course of the late 18th and 19th centuries, when the slave trade was banned and slaves emancipated, foreign workers began to be imported to fill the demand for cheap labor.

There were many sources for cheap labor. Workers from China were the first group to be brought to the United States in large numbers; however, the federal government curtailed immigration from China with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. At the turn of the Twentieth century, workers from Mexico and the Philippines
Filipino American
Filipino Americans are Americans of Filipino ancestry. Filipino Americans, often shortened to "Fil-Ams", or "Pinoy",Filipinos in what is now the United States were first documented in the 16th century, with small settlements beginning in the 18th century...

 began to enter the United States to work as cheap agricultural laborers. Other sources of cheap agricultural labor during this time were found in unskilled European immigrants, whom, unlike Chinese, Mexican or Filipino laborers, were not brought to the United States to work specifically as cheap laborers, but were hired to work in agriculture nonetheless. Many European migrants who worked as agricultural laborers did so with the goal of eventually purchasing their own farm in the United States; however, due to the difficulty farm hands faced in accumulating capital, this goal was often not reached.

The experiences of migrant laborers in agriculture during this period varied. Workers from England
English American
English Americans are citizens or residents of the United States whose ancestry originates wholly or partly in England....

 experienced little difficulty, as they shared a common language and Protestant religion with many Americans, and thus faced little prejudice and assimilated into American society easily; on the other hand, workers from catholic countries such as Ireland
Irish American
Irish Americans are citizens of the United States who can trace their ancestry to Ireland. A total of 36,278,332 Americans—estimated at 11.9% of the total population—reported Irish ancestry in the 2008 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau...

 and Germany
German American
German Americans are citizens of the United States of German ancestry and comprise about 51 million people, or 17% of the U.S. population, the country's largest self-reported ancestral group...

 were subject to a number of prejudices. Employers viewed Mexican workers, who continued to be brought into the United States on a temporary basis during the 20th century, desirably, as they generally did not strike or demand higher wages, and were thus seen by managers as being satisfied with the conditions they worked under. However, the use of Mexican migrant laborers declined during the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

, when internal migrant workers from Dust Bowl
Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936...

 states moved west to California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, taking jobs normally filled by Mexican migrants.

Migrant labor in the 30 years after the Second World War was characterized by the movement of laborers from the southern United States, Latin America and the Caribbean northwards for seasonal work. While migrant workers within the United States did have the option of finding agricultural work through government agencies, such as the Farm Labor Agency, recruitment was often done informally, with crew leaders hiring workers with the allure of high wages and free trips north. On the other hand, foreign workers were hired through government programs, under contracts negotiated by prospective employers; as a result, employers were given complete control over migrant workers, which meant that migrant workers who complained about their working conditions or the terms of their contracts could be threatened with deportation. Ethnographic accounts of migrant laborers in the northeastern United States have revealed that migrant workers in the post-war period often lived and worked under very poor conditions; workers were entirely dependent on their crew leader to supply them with goods, which often compounded the debt they already owed the crew leader from the trip north. Furthermore, housing conditions were often abysmal, with many people sharing cramped and poorly maintained facilities.

During this period, a large number of foreign migrant workers entered the United States illegally
Illegal immigration to the United States
An illegal immigrant in the United States is an alien who has entered the United States without government permission or stayed beyond the termination date of a visa....

. During the Second World War, Mexican migrant workers could legally work in agriculture in the United States under the Bracero
Bracero Program
The Bracero Program was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico, for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States.American president Franklin D...

 guest worker program; however, the termination of this program marked the beginning of large-scale illegal immigration into the United States. Illegal Mexican migrant workers have to come to be seen as an important source of cheap labor in the southwestern United States; attempts to increase enforcement against illegal migrants has been met with hostility from growers who depend on illegal immigrants as cheap laborers. Furthermore, the United States government has granted amnesty to illegal Mexican migrants based on their work in agriculture: under the US Immigrant Reform and Control Act (1986)
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
The Immigration Reform and Control Act , , also Simpson-Mazzoli Act, is an Act of Congress which reformed United States immigration law.In brief the act:* required employers to attest to their employees' immigration status....

, illegal immigrants that could demonstrate 60 days of employment in agriculture since 1985 were awarded permanent residence.

Most migrant farmworkers earn annual incomes below the poverty level and few receive benefits such as Social Security or worker's compensation. The transient nature of their work often prevents them from establishing any local residency, excluding them from benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps. The majority of migrant farmworkers are either U.S. citizens or legal residents of the United States. Some foreign workers enter the United States under guest-worker programs when there are not enough available workers to satisfy the demand.

Women and migrant labor

Economic conditions in developing countries have created the need for a new wave of migrant workers, predominantly young females. Turnover rate in many of these migrant jobs is very high due to harsh working conditions. This occurs on both a national and transnational basis. In Europe alone there are 3 million female migrant workers. The 1970s and 1980s have seen an increase in female migrant laborers in France and Belgium. Female migrants work in domestic occupations which are considered part of the informal sector and lack a degree of government regulation and protection. Minimum wages and work hour requirements are ignored and piece-rates are sometimes also implemented. Migrant labor allows large companies to keep up with the changes in the market and fashions but still keep production inexpensive at home. Women's wages are kept lower than men because they are not regarded as the primary source of income in the family.

Why women participate in migrant labor

Women become involved in migrant labor for a number of reasons. The most common reasons are economic: the husband's wage is no longer enough to support the family. Other reasons include familial pressure, on a daughter, for instance, who is seen as a reliable source of income for the family only through remittances. Young girls and women are singled out in families to be migrant workers because they don't have a viable alternative role to fulfill in the local village and if they go to work in the urban centers as domestics they can at least send home money. Additionally women who are widowed, divorced or single and have limited economic opportunities in their native country may be forced to leave out of economic necessity. Lastly, migration can also substitute for divorce in societies that don't allow or do not condone divorce.

Effect of migrant labor on gender role

In terms of migrant labor, many women move from a more oppressive home country to a less oppressive environment where they have actual access to waged work. As such, leaving the home and obtaining increased economic independence and freedom challenges traditional gender roles. This can be seen to strengthen women's position in the family by improving their relative bargaining position. They have more leverage in controlling the household because they have control over a degree of economic assets. However, this can lead to hostility between wives and husbands who feel inadequate or ashamed at their inability to fulfill their traditional role as breadwinner. The hostility and resentment from the husband can also be a source of domestic violence
Domestic violence
Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence , is broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, or cohabitation...

. Studies have also been done which point to changes in family structures as a result of migrant labor. These changes include increased divorce rates and decrease in household stability. Additionally, female migrant labor has been indicated as a source for more egalitarian relationships within the family, decline of extended family patterns, and more nuclear families.There is also a risk for infidelity abroad, which also erodes the family structure.

Migrant labor and children

Migrant labor of women also raises special concerns about children. Female migrant workers perform care work abroad while leaving home. These children learn to regard their relatives at home as their own parents. Frequently, children of migrant workers become migrant workers themselves. There is concern that this may have negative psychological effects on the children left behind. Although this has not been proven to be entirely true or false, studies have been done which show that many children of migrant workers manage reasonably well. One theory for why this is states that remittances to some degree make up for the lack of care by providing more resources for food and clothing. Additionally, some migrant mothers take great care in attempting to maintain familial relationships while abroad.

National vs. transnational migration

Like transnational migration, national (internal) migration plays an important role in poverty reduction and economic development. For some countries, internal migrants outnumber those who migrate internationally. For example, 120 million people were estimated to migrate internally in China compared to 458,000 people who migrated internationally for work. Situations of surplus labor in rural areas because of scarcity of arable land is a common "push factor" in the move of individuals to urban-based industries and service jobs. Environmental factors including drought
A drought is an extended period of months or years when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply. Generally, this occurs when a region receives consistently below average precipitation. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region...

, waterlogging
Waterlogging or water logging may refer to:* Waterlogging , saturation of the soil by groundwater sufficient to prevent or hinder agriculture...

, and river-bank erosion also contribute to internal migration.

There are four spatial patterns of internal migration:
  1. Rural-rural migration: in many poor countries like Senegal, rural-rural migration occurs when laborers from poorer regions travel to agriculturally-rich and irrigated areas which have more work.
  2. Rural-urban migration: seen in the urbanizing economies of Asia, migration of poor agricultural workers move to larger cities and manufacturing centers.
  3. Urban-rural migration: migration that occurs when individuals retire back to their villages. Oftentimes, migrants who return bring back skill sets that benefit their home areas tremendously.
  4. Urban-urban migration: as the predominant form of internal migration, this movement takes place from the center of cities to the outer areas of the city.

See also

  • United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
  • Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975
    Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975
    Migrant Workers Convention, 1975, or Convention concerning Migrations in Abusive Conditions and the Promotion of Equality of Opportunity and Treatment of Migrant Workers is an International Labour Organization Convention for the rights of migrant workers...

  • Cesar Chavez
    César Chávez
    César Estrada Chávez was an American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers ....

    , migrant worker organizer in the United States
  • Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning
    Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning
    Dirty, Dangerous and Demeaning , also known as the 3Ds, is an American neologism derived from an Asian concept, and refers to certain kinds of labor often performed by unionized blue-collar workers.The term originated from the Japanese expression 3K: kitanai, kiken, and kitsui, and has...

    , also known as the 3Ds in Japan
  • Harvest of Shame
    Harvest of Shame
    Harvest of Shame was a 1960 television documentary presented by broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow on CBS that showed the plight of American migrant agricultural workers. It was Murrow's final documentary for the network; he left CBS at the end of January 1961, at President John F...

    , a 1960 television documentary presented by broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow
    Edward R. Murrow
    Edward Roscoe Murrow, KBE was an American broadcast journalist. He first came to prominence with a series of radio news broadcasts during World War II, which were followed by millions of listeners in the United States and Canada.Fellow journalists Eric Sevareid, Ed Bliss, and Alexander Kendrick...

  • Migrant domestic workers
    Migrant domestic workers
    Migrant Domestic Workers who work for wealthy families in the UK are currently allowed to change employers without breaking the law so long as they continue working full time as a domestic worker in a private household....

  • Remittance
  • Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina
    Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina
    The Migrant Housing Act of North Carolina was made into law in the U.S. state of North Carolina in 1989...

External links

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