Migrants and Systemic Resilience: A Global COVID19 Research and Policy Hub (Mig-Res-Hub)
Aims of MigResHub
The primary aim of MigResHub is to facilitate research and policy debates on how migrant labour shapes the resilience of the provision of essential goods and services to the current Covid-19 pandemic and to similar shocks in the future. The Hub concentrates on three essential goods and services around the world: food and agriculture; health services; and social care. MigResHub aims to take a comparative and transnational approach that includes countries and supply chains covering all major regions of the world. A particular focus will be on exploring how the relationships between reliance on migrant workers and the systemic resilience of the provision of food, health, and social care vary across countries with different institutional and policy frameworks for the provision of these essential services.
Existing studies have shown that institutional and regulatory frameworks of the labour market and wider public policies can play an important role in “producing” domestic labour shortages and employer demand for migrant labour (e.g. Ruhs and Anderson 2010). However, this existing research has primarily focused on employers’ incentives and has not yet explored the potential effects of broader considerations of systemic resilience on the demand for migrant workers. Research on the regulation of labour migration has remained separate from research on systemic resilience, and the current crisis highlights potential gains from bringing these two approaches together.
MigResHub aims to engage researchers and policy experts from different regions of the world, bringing together theories and insights from various academic disciplines, research literatures, and policy debates. If you want to contribute your thinking and analysis to MigResHub, please see “How to contribute”.
Policy Context: Rethinking the impacts of migrant workers and labour migration policies
One of the central policy challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic has been how to protect and maintain essential economic activities and public services such as the provision of food, health services, and social care. The health emergency and associated bans on movement within and across countries have led to severe labour market shocks, including a sharp increase in the demand for health professionals and a reduction in the supply of agricultural and social care workers, thus threatening the resilience of essential services during the pandemic. Resilience can be broadly understood as the ability to withstand, recover, and adapt to unexpected external shocks (OECD 2020).
Despite considerable variations in national food, health, and care systems and their interlinkages with global supply chains, migrants play an important role in these sectors in many countries. As a consequence, migrants doing essential work – including those typically considered ‘low-skilled’ labourers such as fruit-pickers, care assistants, and cleaners in hospitals – have in many countries been included in designations of ‘key workers’ whose supply needs to be protected and in some cases even expanded during the current health emergency. This public re-evaluation and greater appreciation of the contributions of migrant workers as an immediate and widespread response to the outbreak of the pandemic raises important questions about whether and under what conditions Covid-19 will lead to a fundamental re-think of labour migration policies and the rights of migrant workers, especially of those working in low-paid but ‘essential’ jobs. Through its transnational and comparative research, MigResHub aims to inform policy debates about these questions and encourage policy learning both within and across countries.
Coordinators of MigResHub
Based at the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) of the European University Institute (EUI), MigResHub is a joint initiative of the MPC and Migration Mobilities Bristol (MMB), a Specialist Research Institute at the University of Bristol. MigResHub is led and coordinated by Martin Ruhs (MPC), Bridget Anderson (MMB). Friedrich Poeschel (previously MPC and now EASO) played a central role in the development phase of MigResHub in 2020.
Reassessing migration impacts and policiesThink Piece
Covid-19 and Systemic Resilience: Rethinking the Impacts of Migrant Workers and Labour Migration Policies
Author(s): Bridget Anderson, University of Bristol
Friedrich Poeschel, Migration Policy Centre, RSCAS, EUI
Martin Ruhs, Migration Policy Centre, RSCAS, EUI
This paper argues that concerns about the resilience of essential services require a reassessment of the impacts of migrant workers and the design of labour migration and related public policies.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the high share of migrants among ‘key workers’ who deliver essential services, notably in agriculture and food production, health services and social care.
We review existing insights on the role of migrant workers in essential services, which emphasise employers’ incentives as well as different national policies and institutional settings.
We introduce the notion of systemic resilience to this context and outline key determinants of systemic resilience that have been identified in several disciplines but not yet applied in the field of labour migration.
Given the importance of essential services, the paper argues that bolstering resilience should be a key objective for policy makers, and systemic resilience should be a criterion in impact assessments of migrant workers and in the design of labour migration and related policies.
We find that this requires broader approaches to consider entire systems for the provision of essential goods and services, more attention to the medium and long run, and thinking beyond the protection of domestic workers.
As an agenda for new migration research, we discuss three types of comparative analysis needed to examine the various ways in which migrant workers might affect systemic resilience.
The Role of a Quality Mobility Industry in Building Systemic Resilience
Author(s): Rebekah Smith and Zuzana Cepla, Labor Mobility Partnerships
Building resilience of mobility systems (and therefore resilience of broader systems) requires building a mobility industry which meets agreed standards of quality, tied to regular quality assurance and vetting that these standards are being met. Such a mobility industry would not only increase flexibility for employers, but would act as a safety net for workers, offering pastoral care and helping them navigate the uncertainties and constantly changing circumstances of crises.
Public attitudes to migrant workers: a (lasting) impact of Covid-19?
Author(s): Lenka Dražanová, Migration Policy Centre, RSCAS, EUI
Suggesting that the Covid-19 pandemic will bring a dramatic and wide-reaching change either in attitudes towards immigration or policy is likely an overestimation. However, the pandemic might bring a greater appreciation of the wider social benefits of migrant workers, at least of those doing “essential” work. This has the potential to change the public debate and government policies with regards to “low-skilled” migrants in the future.
Precarious Systemic Resilience: Venezuelan Immigration and COVID-19 in the Andean region
Author(s): Luisa Feline Feier and Marta Luzes, Universidad del Pacífico
We argue that migrants and refugees could have contributed to the crisis response of these countries more significantly if governments had granted them stable legal status and social protection, and facilitated the recognition of professional degrees. South American governments should thus review current immigration, health, and employment policies. Migrants and refugees in the region could, and should, take a bigger role in the economic recovery and socio-economic adaptation both during and after the pandemic.
A ‘better work’ strategy is necessary for resilient societies and economies
Author(s): Monique Kremer, University of Amsterdam
The Covid-19 crisis has rightly shone a light on the employment conditions of migrant workers, especially of those working in agriculture, associated logistics and food industries, often considered as ‘vital’ sectors. But only improving ‘protection’ and making work more ‘Covid-proof’ is not enough to make society and economy more resilient and crisis resistant. A ‘better work’ strategy is needed.
In April 2020, an MPC Webinar discussed first ideas about migrants and systemic resilience. The recording is available here: From ‘low-skilled’ migrants to ‘key workers’: Rethinking migrants’ skills and labour immigration policies
Systemic resilience and migrant workersThink Piece
Author(s): William Hynes, OECD
The systems approach can promote cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaboration in the process of policy formulation: it takes proper account of the crucial linkages between issues generally treated separately. Growing complexity and interdependence have made various systems (economic, public health, cyber, etc.) susceptible to widespread, irreversible, and cascading failure. Striving for maximum efficiency and optimisation, such systems have neglected resilience against disruptions. Resilience acknowledges that massive disruptions can and will happen and it is essential that core systems have the capacity for recovery and adaptation. It must become a core philosophy within system management and operation to ensure these systems are able to continue to function despite disruptions like Covid-19. This crisis shows how important it is to have buffers, safeguards and in some cases resources in reserve for times when unexpected upheavals in the system prevent it from functioning normally.
Podcast on systemic resilience and migrant workers with Ha-Joon Chang
Author(s): Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge
Focusing on resilience rather than efficiency in the short run might translate into efficiency in the long run. However, firms might avoid the additional short-run costs associated with greater resilience, so the government could support resilience through regulation or financial incentives. An inclusive health system is needed to make the labour force resilient. Diversification of international supply chains is easier said than done: some suppliers are hard to replace, and an existing industrial base is a precondition for repatriating industries. Societies need to find new ways to identify important occupations: many “key workers”, including many migrant workers, are poorly paid. In addition to better pay, migrant workers in essential services should be less dependent on a single employer and more often multi-skilled.
Migrant workers’ role in building systemic resilience: Opportunities and risks from an ILO perspective
Author(s): Christiane Kuptsch, International Labour Organization (ILO)
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role migrant workers play in the provision of essential goods and services around the world. The new MigResHub encourages us to think about how labour migration policies and the employment of migrants can shape systemic resilience to external shocks (Anderson et al 2020). In this commentary, I briefly reflect on potential opportunities and risks associated with linking migrants to systemic resilience as a way of rethinking labour migration and the effects of migrant workers. I write from the perspective of the International Labour Organization (ILO) whose activities on migration aim to protect the rights of migrant workers and promote fair and effective labour migration policies around the world.
Cross-border linkagesThink Piece
Author(s): Upasana Khadka, consultant to the World Bank and columnist at the Nepali Times
This paper highlights the interdependency between countries for the resilience of global supply chains, using the example of Malaysia’s medical glove industry, which not only needs to maintain its production amid the pandemic but also ramp up its production in a short period of time to help with the global COVID-19 emergency response. The resilience of the Malaysian medical glove sector depends not only on its own production capacity, the adaptability of its production and distribution operations, and the Malaysian Government’s policies in the pandemic. It also depends on the policies of labour migrants’ origin countries such as Nepal, from where the medical glove sector sources many of its workers, and on policies of third countries that import the medical gloves.
Food production and agricultureThink Piece
Author(s): Philip Martin , University of California, Davis
This paper explores the resilience of agricultural subsectors that rely on migrant workers, laying out short- and medium-term options to increase their resilience to a pandemic or similar shocks. In the short term, when the demand for labor is relatively fixed or inelastic, the major options are to induce local workers to substitute for missing migrant workers or to make exceptions to international mobiliy restrictions and admit temporary migrant workers to fill seasonal farm jobs. In the medium term, governments can influence the demand for migrant workers by subsidizing or taxing labor-saving mechanization, raising or lowering the cost of temporary migrant workers, and using trade policies to encourage or discourage imports of labor-intensive commodities.
Challenges for a Coherent Approach to Food System Resilience within the EU
Author(s): Bettina Rudloff, German Institute for International and Security Affairs
The Covid-19 crisis has prompted fears about the reliability of food supply during crises. The EU has traditionally considered “food system resilience” as a priority of high public interest. This has, over time, led to complex interventions in policy areas like agriculture, trade and investment, with different definitions and resilience objectives. Poor coordination across these policy areas may result in counterproductive impacts on resilience.
Migrant workers and the systemic resilience of regional and seasonal industries
Author(s): Chris F Wright, University of Sydney
Labour markets are inherently inefficient and prone to market failure and there are certain situations where labour market institutions struggle to address this. For instance, geographical effects can create significant variation in the supply of and demand for workers between urban and regional areas. In essential services such as health and social care as well as seasonal industries such as horticulture and tourism, employers in regional and remote areas face considerable challenges to finding the skills they need. Drawing upon research from Australia, this commentary highlights the critical importance of migrant workers and immigration policy in helping address the challenges of supplying labour to where it is most needed.
Health servicesThink Piece
Author(s): Steve Thomas, Padraic Fleming, Catherine O’Donoghue, Arianna Almirall-Sanchez, Centre for Health Policy and Management, Trinity College Dublin
The resilience of health systems has never been so important with the increasing frequency of extreme climate events, mass migration, economic crises and pandemics. This paper examines what strategies can build resilience; the central role of workforce in resilience before, during and after shocks; and whether migrant labour makes health systems more resilient or more vulnerable. The importance of sufficiency, flexibility and motivation / engagement, in relation to resilience building, are discussed within the context of a global shortage of health care workers and a profound demand and supply imbalance between high and low-middle income countries. The question of whether health system resilience can be bolstered by migration is nuanced. Governments who rely on health worker migration need to set robust policies, manage migration in a constructive way and adopt formal agreements for which they are accountable.
Social careThink Piece
Author(s): Franca van Hooren, University of Amsterdam
This piece summarises how differences in welfare state arrangements and immigration regimes have jointly contributed to cross-national variations in the employment of migrants in social care and how these different national constellations faired during the financial crisis of 2008 and the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Thereafter, I consider the specific role of migrant workers in social care provision during the Covid-19 pandemic and public responses to their enhanced visibility.
Migrant workers and the resilience of the long-term care sector in England
Author(s): Florin Vadean, Shereen Hussein, Agnes Turnpenny and Eirini Saloniki, University of Kent
Migrant workers are overrepresented in the long-term care (LTC) sector in England. Being particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, many were unable to work due to travel restrictions or decided to stay in/return to their home country due to fear of infection. Others increased their workload or working hours (similar to British care workers), and the English LTC sector eventually proved remarkably resilient. The UK’s post-Brexit immigration system will limit the recruitment of new migrant care workers and likely exacerbate chronic shortages in LTC.
Covid-19 and Systemic Resilience: What role for migrant workers?
An online Research and Policy Conference
9 November 2020, (09.00 - 17.30, CET)
This online conference marks the launch of the “Migrants and Systemic Resilience Hub” (MigResHub), a joint initiative of the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence and Migration Mobilities Bristol at the University of Bristol.
The primary aim of MigResHub is to facilitate research and policy debates on how migrant labour shapes the resilience of essential goods and services to the current Covid-19 pandemic and to similar shocks in the future. MigResHub aims to engage researchers and policy experts from different regions of the world, bringing together theories and insights from various academic disciplines, research literatures, and policy debates.
The online conference provides an opportunity for a first discussion of key themes and priorities for a new research and policy agenda on migrants and systemic resilience, with a focus on food production, health services, and social care. It will discuss the implications of a concern with systemic resilience for how we assess the effects of labour migration and how we design migration policies and related public policies. The conference is open to all but registration is required.
Preliminary programme (All times refer to Central European Time)
“Systemic resilience as a response to Covid19”
William Hynes (OECD)
MigResHub contributions relevant for this session:
COVID-19 and systemic resilience : rethinking the impacts of migrant workers and labour migration policies, Martin Ruhs, MPC/EUI, Friedrich Poeschel, MPC/EUI, Bridget Anderson, MMB, University of Bristol
The Role of a Quality Mobility Industry in Building Systemic Resilience, Rebekah Smith and Zuzana Cepla, Labor Mobility Partnerships
Public attitudes to migrant workers: a (lasting) impact of Covid-19?, Lenka Dražanová, Migration Policy Centre, RSCAS, EUI
Precarious Systemic Resilience: Venezuelan Immigration and COVID-19 in the Andean region, Luisa Feline Feier and Marta Luzes, Universidad del Pacífico
A ‘better work’ strategy is necessary for resilient societies and economies, Monique Kremer, University of Amsterdam
‘Systemic resilience and migrant workers’, Podcast with Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge
‘Systemic Resilience as a Response to Covid-19’, William Hynes, OECD
Migrants, cross-country supply chains, and systemic resilience
Chair: Friedrich Poeschel (MPC, EUI)
“Cross-country supply chains and systemic resilience: The case of medical gloves production in Malaysia”
Upasana Khadka (Columnist for Nepali Times and Consultant to the World Bank)
“Cross-border traders and systemic resilience in Africa”
Mehari Taddele Maru (MPC, EUI)
“Challenges for a coherent approach to food system resilience within the EU”
Bettina Rudloff (SWP, German Institute for International and Security Affairs)
Migrants and systemic resilience in health services
Chair: Friedrich Poeschel (MPC/EUI)
“Strengthening health systems resilience: What role for migrants and migration polices?”
Steve Thomas (Trinity College Dublin)
“Migrant workers and resilience in social care”
Franca van Hooren (University of Amsterdam)
“Migrant workers and the resilience of the long-term care sector in England”
Shereen Hussein (University of Kent)
Respondent: Marie McAuliffe (IOM)
Migrants and systemic resilience in food and agriculture
Chair: Martin Ruhs (MPC, EUI)
“Food supply resilience and migrant workers”
Philip Martin (University of California, Davis)
MigResHub contributions relevant for this session:
Food Supply Resilience and Migrant Workers, Philip Martin , University of California, Davis
Are Agri-Food Workers Only Exploited in Southern Europe? Letizia Palumbo (MPC) and Alessandra Corrado
Challenges for a Coherent Approach to Food System Resilience within the EU, Bettina Rudloff, German Institute for International and Security Affairs
Closing remarks and next steps for MigResHub
Call for contributions
MigResHub is a collaborative initiative that aims to engage researchers and policy experts from different regions of the world, bringing together theories and insights from various academic disciplines, research literatures, and policy debates. We welcome short contributions (up to 1,000 words) that relate to one or more of the sub-themes of MigResHub:
- - Resilience (concepts, theories, debates)
- - Cross-border linkages (e.g. global supply chains, labour emigration policies, etc.)
- - Migrants and systemic resilience in the provision of health services, social care, and food/agriculture
- - Rethinking research and policy-making on labour migration.
All contributions should engage, as much as possible, with the opening ‘think pieces’ and other contributions under the relevant theme(s).
If you are interested in contributing to MigResHub, please send a short abstract (less than 150 words) to Friedrich Poeschel at Friedrich.Poeschel@eui.eu