Today an estimated 245 million people live outside their country of origin. While responding to increased work demands for globalized labour markets, international migration poses significant challenges for migrants and their families in terms of social security coverage. Compared to nationals working their entire lives in one country, migrants face huge challengers in exercising their rights to social security. They may be denied or have limited access to social security coverage in their host country because of their status, nationality, or the insufficient duration of their periods of employment and residence. Their access may further be curtailed due to a lack of awareness of their rights and the State’s obligations. At the same time, they can lose their entitlements to social security benefits in their country of origin due to temporary absence.
The The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, 1990 (CMW) regulates the rights of migrant workers and members of their families including the rights to social security (Article 27) and access to services, such as health (Article 28) and education (Article 30). While this convention has been ratified by only 47 (mainly low- and middle-income) countries, this does not exclude migrant workers from the rights detailed in other human rights instruments.
At the domestic level, there have been some landmark decisions extending social security guarantees to migrants. For example, the South African Constitutional Court and the Federal Court of Switzerland have emphasized that the principle of non-discrimination applies in regard to the enjoyment of the right to social security by migrants. In applying the European Social Charter, the European Committee on Social Rights has consistently found national practices that exclude non-nationals – particularly through residency and qualifying period requirements – to violate the rights to social security and social assistance.
Overcoming the difficulties faced by migrant workers and their families with respect to social security coverage is central to the ILO mandate of closing coverage gaps as the highest priority for equitable growth, social cohesion and decent work for all as embedded in the Declaration of Philadelphia (1944) and reaffirmed in Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202). ILO conventions and recommendations recognize and address the specific disadvantages faced by migrant workers in accessing social security; not only in ensuring equality of treatment but also in extending coverage. Consequently, these documents call for increased social security coordination between countries through bilateral and multilateral agreements and ensuring the portability of social security rights (Equality of Treatment [Social Security] Convention, 1962 [No. 118], Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 [No. 157], and accompanying Recommendation No. 167).
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Maintenance of Social Security Rights Recommendation, 1983 (No.167)
Recommendation No. 167 proposes model provisions for the conclusion of bilateral or multilateral social security agreements regarding all contingencies and provides rules on maintaining social security rights and exporting benefits. It also proposes a model agreement for the coordination of bilateral or multilateral social security instruments. Link to Recommendation
Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 (No. 157)
Convention No. 157 and its accompanying Recommendation No. 167 specifically address the issue of the maintenance of social security rights of migrant workers and complement Convention No. 118, focusing on equality of treatment and exportability. Unlike Convention No. 118 however, which allows State Parties to choose one or more out of the nine branches, Convention […]
Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No. 118)
Convention No. 118 addresses the issue of the social security of migrant workers in a global manner. It covers the nine branches of social security and provides that, for each branch accepted under the Convention, a ratifying State undertake to grant equality of treatment to nationals of other ratifying States (and their dependents) with its […]
Protection against Employment Discrimination in the Republic of Korea
Nature of the Case Upon consideration of a communication submitted before it, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held the Republic of Korea accountable for multiple violations of rights under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, including the right to work, and access to an effective […]
Access to social welfare benefits for non-citizens in Switzerland
Summary: The case involved three brothers, originally from what was previously Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), who were denied access to social welfare benefits in Switzerland on account of being illegal residents . The brothers had been living in Switzerland since 1980, but were expelled to Czechoslovakia in 1987 on charges of criminal offences. They […]
Provision of social security for permanent residents in South Africa
Summary: The case was brought before the Constitutional Court of South Africa by Mozambican citizens living in South Africa as permanent residents. The applicants challenged the validity of certain provisions of the Social Assistance Act 59 of 1992 that denied social assistance to foreign nationals. They cited the infringement of the right to equality and […]
Social Protection, Migration and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
This briefing considers the extent to which international labour migrants are covered by social protection, and the implications this has for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda). More specifically, this brief shows that social protection coverage of international labour migrants varies considerably, and outlines how this has a bearing on the achievement of […]
Inter-Regional Report on Labour Migration and Social Protection
Since the 1970s in particular, the countries of Western Asia and those of the Asia-Pacific region have been closely linked to each other through highly extensive movements of people. Opportunities created by the rapid development of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), but also other countries in the ESCWA region, have attracted a […]