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COMMITTEE ON MIGRANT WORKERS

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Who are "migrants"?
  2. How are migrant workers and their families protected under the Convention?
  3. Are there other international mechanisms for the protection of migrants?
  4. Where can I get more information on the rights of migrants? (The factsheet)
  5. Where can I get help? (communication procedures)

1. Migrants: Who are they?

More than 175 million people, including migrant workers, refugees, asylum-seekers, permanent immigrants and others, live and work in a country other than that of their birth or citizenship. Many of them are migrant workers. The term "migrant worker" has been defined by the Migrant Workers Convention in article 2, paragraph 1, as:

"a person who is to be engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national".

The Convention breaks new ground in defining those rights which apply to certain categories of migrant workers and their families, including: "frontier workers; seasonal workers; seafarers; workers on offshore installations; itinerant workers; migrants employed for a specific project; and self-employed workers".

2. How are migrant workers and their families protected under the Convention?

The Convention seeks to play a role in preventing and eliminating the exploitation of all migrant workers and members of their families throughout the entire migration process:

Preparing to migrate

When preparing to migrate, ideally, migrant workers should be able to acquire a basic understanding of the language, culture, and legal, social and political structures of the States to which they are going. Article 37 of the Convention establishes the right of migrant workers and members of their families who have the proper documentation to be informed before their departure, or at the latest at the time of their admission to the State of employment, of all conditions applicable to their admission, as well as of the requirements they must satisfy in the State of employment and the authority to which they must address themselves for any modification of those conditions.

Problems of adjustment

Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to racism, xenophobia and discrimination. They are often the targets of suspicion or hostility in the communities where they live and work. The deliberate association of migration and migrants with criminality is an especially dangerous trend, one which tacitly encourages and condones xenophobic hostility and violence. Migrants themselves are criminalized, most dramatically through widespread characterization of irregular migrants as "illegal", implicitly placing them outside the scope and protection of the rule of law.

Problems of adjustment were also addressed by the 168 States participating at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban, South Africa, 2001). In the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the Conference, States are encouraged to engage in information campaigns to ensure that the public receives accurate information regarding migrants and migration issues, including the positive contribution of migrants to the host society.

Also, migrant workers are known to have been excluded from the scope of regulations covering working conditions, and to have been denied the right to take part in trade union activities. Article 25 of the Convention establishes that migrant workers shall enjoy treatment not less favourable than that which applies to nationals of the State of employment in respect of remuneration and other conditions of work and terms of employment. A number of specific provisions of the Convention guarantee regular or documented migrants the rights to freedom of movement, to form associations and trade unions, and to participate in public affairs.

Article 31 of the Convention requests States parties to ensure respect for the cultural identity of migrant workers and members of their families and shall not prevent them from maintaining their cultural links with their State of origin.

Social and cultural handicaps

Living conditions for migrant workers are often unsatisfactory. They face serious accommodation problems and although they contribute to social security schemes, they and their families do not always enjoy the same benefits and access to social services as nationals of the host State. Article 27 of the Convention says that with respect to social security, migrant workers and members of their families shall enjoy the same treatment granted to nationals insofar as they fulfil the requirements provided for by law. Article 28 grants the right to receive any medical care that is urgently required for the preservation of their life or avoidance of irreparable harm to their health.

Often, migrant workers leave their families in their State. Article 44 of the Convention says that States parties shall facilitate the reunification of migrant workers who are documented with their spouses or persons who have with the migrant worker a relationship that produces effects equivalent to marriage. Also, when families are remaining together, it has often been said that the children of migrants - studying in a different language and adapting to a new environment - cannot be expected to equal the performance of their fellow pupils unless special measures are taken to overcome these difficulties. On the other hand, fear of local parents that overall educational standards will decline with the admission of migrant children has become a sensitive issue in some States. The Convention in article 30 establishes that each child of a migrant worker shall have the basic right of access to education on the basis of equality of treatment with nationals of the State concerned.

Arbitrary expulsion and voluntary return

International legal instruments establish protection for migrant workers against arbitrary expulsion when, for example, an employment contract ends. Articles 22 and 56 of the Convention prohibit measures of collective expulsion and impose certain procedural steps to be taken when issuing an expulsion decision. Migrant workers also have the right to return if they so wish.

Irregular and clandestine migration/halting the traffic

Without status, the irregular migrant is a natural target of exploitation, obliged to accept any kind of job and any working and living conditions. Restrictive immigration policies often turn flows of would-be migrants towards illegal channels.

The Convention seeks to put an end to the illegal or clandestine recruitment and trafficking of migrant workers and to discourage the employment of migrant workers in an irregular or undocumented situation.

3. Are there other international mechanisms for the protection of migrants?

The entry into force of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families will reinforce and complete a series of other provisions under the main United Nations human rights treaties. Many of the provisions of such treaties in fact provide for the protection of migrants. Particularly relevant in this regard are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committees monitoring the implementation of these treaties have on many occasions expressed concern that often there is a failure to implement their provisions without discrimination in respect to migrants.

Also, the ILO Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97) and the ILO Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143) contain provisions designed to protect migrants.

4. Where can I get more information on the rights of migrants?

The Fact Sheet on the Rights of Migrants, part of the human rights Fact Sheet Series, is published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

5. Where can I get help? (communication procedures)

The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families provide for inter-state and individual communications. Information on how to submit complaints is available in our Communications/Complaints page. However, it should be noted that inter-state and individual communications of the Migrants Convention may be received only if they concern a State party which has so recognized the competence of the Committee. The inter-state and individual communication procedures require 10 declarations by States parties to enter into force.

Country-specific information