Theme 2: Migration and Development

Migration is one of the defining features of the contemporary world of work and is integral to the process of social and economic development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides for a strong link between decent work and migration in Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG) of promoting ‘sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’. Target 8.8 of the SDG stipulates the protection of ‘labour rights’ and promotion of ‘safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment’. The huge potential contribution of labour migration to an inclusive development process can be fully harnessed only if there is a nuanced understanding of the emerging forms and nature of labour flows, on the one hand, and their impacts and implications at the micro and macro levels in the sending and receiving regions, on the other.

The concept of migration that evolved connoted spatial movement of people in conjunction with industrialisation and urbanisation (rural-urban migration). Policy measures too were crafted with this in mind. This conceptual paradigm, with various modifications, still informs descriptions of the movement of people in search of employment. In the mid-1970s, dissatisfaction with this migration paradigm led to the location of labour circulation as an alternative. There are, however, several aspects of labour mobility that still remain outside the purview of the extant paradigms of migration.

One of the major issues concerning migration is the measurement problem: most migration indicators measure stocks of migrant population and severely under-enumerate migration flows. Thus, while lifetime migration may be adequately represented, short-term, seasonal and circular migration are inadequately measured. The growing informalisation of employment relations has accentuated the measurement problem.

While the need to improve data systems to capture all forms of labour migration is vital, it is still important to analyse the trends and patterns of labour migration streams across space and over time. This exercise will enable one to gauge broad orders of magnitude of both internal and international patterns of migration. This should also address the issues of changes and continuity in the gender, social and regional composition of migrant streams. Issues of intensification and diversification of migration flows may also be considered in this light. Here it will be important to examine the available data sources at the macro level to determine these trends and patterns. Critical discussion on data sources may generate possibilities of capturing the hitherto missing aspects of mobility as also suggestions for improving the design of such data-generating systems. Such a trend analysis could become the basis for projection for the future.

Given that discrepancies have often been reported between macro-level analysis and field-level data, it is crucial to take account of the emergent forms and characteristics of migration flows at the micro level. This has become especially necessary with increasing decentralisation of economic and political processes. Such micro-level analysis must take note of the regional and sectoral characteristics. It is at this level that we become aware of the need to go beyond the traditional forms of analysis of the causes and effects of labour migration. Issues such as household strategies, gendered structures of decision-making, differential impacts of remittances, new forms of agency systems, group characteristics of migration streams, etc. are of critical salience.

It is also important to recognise that increasing internationalisation of production, globalisation of economic networks, and liberalisation of the movement of capital and technology will have significant implications for the emerging forms and characteristics of labour mobility. Most predictions point to a much higher scale of labour mobility in the twenty-first century, not because of liberalisation of immigration controls, but because of growing labour supply pressures and rising income inequalities within and across nations brought about by globalisation itself. Given the stringent immigration policies evolving in many receiving regions, there are concerns that bigger numbers of migrants would be undocumented and that labour institutions that have evolved to meet national needs would be inadequate to provide for the social protection and security of the globally mobile migrant workforce.

Labour migration has traditionally been viewed as a strategy for alleviating economic and social insecurity. However, as has been widely noted, the migration process often leads to intensification of existing insecurities and gives rise to new ones. Employer preference for migrant workers in the informal sector is to an extent based on the vulnerability induced by migration. Micro-level studies indicate political and social marginalisation, which accentuates different forms of insecurities including those arising from health and occupational hazards. Studies also suggest that a large proportion of migrant workers, particularly seasonal and circular migrants, are excluded from existing social protection measures, and argue that policy measures should immediately be put in place to overcome this exclusion and thus reduce the vulnerability of these workers. There is also a strong need to ensure portability of social security benefits across regions.

The Covid-19 pandemic has mirrored the different forms of insecurities encountered by the migrant workers, particularly the short-term and circular migrants. Such migrant workers who generally work in the lower rungs of the informal economy were hardest hit by the pandemic in developing countries and Indian cities. As the crisis and the lockdown unfolded, it clearly highlighted the almost complete absence of social protection measures for these vulnerable workers. In fact, lack of reliable data and information about these migrant workers acted as a major deterrent in formulating and implementing contingency measures to meet even their basic subsistence needs in many parts of India. These aspects highlight the need to analyse in detail the issues of rights and empowerment of migrant workers. Given that most rights are based on fixity of location, it will be important to conceptualise the issue of rights as grounded on the increasing spatial mobility of the workforce.

Detailed deliberations on these and related aspects and their outcomes will be pivotal for evolving an evidence-based, coherent and comprehensive policy architecture to respond to contemporary labour migration and make it integral to the process of development.

Considering the transdisciplinary construct of labour migration, papers are welcome which explore not only economic issues but also historical, political, sociological and psychological aspects linked to labour migration. The contributions should be confined to labour migration and should not be concerned with other forms of migration such as refugee movement, student migration and population mobility.

Given this broad context, we enlist certain pertinent questions (only indicative in nature) that may be addressed by the scholars and policymakers in the papers they contribute to this theme.

  • How do the recent theoretical developments reconceptualise migration? Do the key propositions propounded by these theoretical models adequately explain the initiation and perpetuation of contemporary labour migration flows?
  • How effective are secondary sources of data in India in capturing all forms of labour migration flows? What kind of reorientation in the design of such data-generating systems is needed to capture the hitherto missing aspects of labour mobility?
  • What are the recent and major trends and patterns of labour migration streams across space and over time? What kind of changes and continuity do we observe in terms of gender, social and regional composition of migration flows? How are these related to the structural factors determined by the nature of capitalist growth and globalisation?
  • How do the regulatory and policy mechanisms impinge on labour migration? How do socio-political factors influence these mechanisms, at the formulation and implementation levels? What measures are to be taken to manage ‘orderly’ migration?
  • How have different forms of networks and agencies evolved and operated in the recruitment landscape related to labour migration?
  • What are the contributions of different types of factors in promoting labour migration? If migration is selective for certain kinds of labour migration in certain contexts, why is this so? How do the individual attributes, such as gender, socio-religious background, education and skill training, explain the propensity to migrate, choice of employment and earning levels? What is the impact of migration on the overall earnings of labour? What are the different types of discrimination and social exclusion migrant workers encounter at their places of destination?
  • How does migration affect the individuals left behind, households, communities and regions in source areas? The possible consequences of migration can be assessed in terms of economic well-being, remittances, poverty, patterns of accumulation, changes in the labour market, civic rights, entitlements, local participation, awareness, attitudes, habits and consumption patterns, children’s education, etc. Distinction may be made between children, the elderly, women and men.
  • What is the impact of labour migration on different aspects of development in the destination areas, such as the availability and cheap supply of services, accumulation and growth, urban congestion, fiscal space, etc.?
  • How does labour migration interact with labour market characteristics in the destination areas? Does it lead to greater segmentation among labour markets?
  • Does labour migration necessarily lead to a hardening of social and political attitudes of the locally resident populations towards migrant labour? What are the conditions which lead to a differential impact on these attitudes?
  • How do changes in the transport, communication and banking infrastructure influence labour migration? If recent changes have brought down some of the costs of migration, what is the overall impact on migration?
  • What is the impact of development initiatives (such as MGNREGA in India), both at the source and destination areas, on labour migration?
  • What is the status of labour rights for migrants? How do labour regulations and the legislative framework affect different types of migrants?
  • What are the implications of new Labour Codes and e-Shram Portal for migrant workers in India?
  • What do we know about cross-border immigration, particularly in the Indian context, its causes and its consequences? How can the rights of these migrants be safeguarded under the relevant ILO Conventions?
  • What is the impact of different types of local intervention by non-state actors on labour migration?
  • What were the major vulnerabilities encountered by the various groups of migrant workers, particularly short-term migrants, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic? How far were the responses of the state and non–state actors effective in mitigating the insecurities of the migrant workers?
  • What kinds of policies will be needed in future to better address the crisis due to COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdown for various groups of workers?
  • To what extent is labour migration likely to affect the achievement of the SDGs?
  • How do we situate the intersection of labour migration and the future of work at a time of rapid change, uncertainty and disruption?