Opening remarks at the training on “International Migration Law and International Standards”

By Mr Tim De Meyer, Director, ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia

Statement | Beijing, China | 02 March 2017
Mr Marcin Grabiec, Counsellor, European Union Delegation to China and Mongolia,
Mr Tian Lin, Counsellor, International Department of MOFA,
Pär Liljert, DG Special Envoy & Head of Office, IOM China,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning. ILO is happy to be contributing today and tomorrow to this training workshop on “International Migration Law and International Standards”. I wish to thank the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for organizing this training and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for your cooperation and support. My appreciation also goes to the European Union for supporting the EU-China Migration and Mobility Support Project, which is funding this training. We hope this training will facilitate the EU-China cooperation on migration and mobility. The ILO feels privileged to partner with the IOM in the implementation of this project.

Understanding international law and international standards on migration management and the protection of the rights of migrants and their families is critical in coming to grips with the forces that drive the transformation of our modern world. Technology, demography, globalization and climate change have all become determinants of what we need as human beings, of what we expect our lives to be like and of how, where and on what we anticipate to work in future.

Overseas migration is in that same category. Migration has the potential to drive innovation and economic transformation; to address labour market surpluses in some countries and labour market shortages in others at the same time; and to provide much needed opportunities income for workers and reduce inequality between and within nations. No wonder, then, that human mobility is one of the defining features of the modern world. No fewer than 244 million migrants live outside their countries of origin and the majority of them have left their homes in search of decent work, a better life and the means to support families and friends at home. China and India are the top recipients of remittances and for some smaller lower-income countries such as Nepal or Tajikistan, remittances can make up for as much as 30 per cent of GDP.

But migrant workers are by the very nature of their mobility vulnerable. The lack of familiarity with local language, customs or laws; the lack of local networks; the fact that the dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs typically attract low-skilled – and often ill-prepared – migrant workers. Deceptive or simply absent information may mean that they end up as irregular workers or even victims of trafficking – eagerly exploited by commercial operations that should have no place in a modern economy. Women make up almost half of the total, often ending up in jobs that are not as formal, visible or well-protected as that of men.

So, while the potential benefits of regular migration for economic growth, understanding between cultures and overall development are enormous, the damage that uncontrolled irregular migration can do social stability and labour market conditions in host countries, migrant workers’ lives and down the line, indeed, healthy between nations is equally big. Establishing a framework of non-negotiable principles within which governments can promote regular migration for employment as well as roll back irregular migration for employment based on established labour market needs, that is what international migration law within the labour sphere is all about. It is what the ILO has been working on since at least 1939. Details to follow tomorrow.

The past decade has seen a growing effort in labour migration research and policymaking as many countries have become aware of labour mobility flows that are not only increasing but also changing in characteristics. That time has now also come for China.

China is traditionally a very important country of origin: around 10 million Chinese are working overseas. This ranks China among the top in overseas remittances globally. However, a large proportion of the 10 million Chinese migrant workers are low skilled and many of them are still suffering from exploitation, forced labour and other forms of infringement on their fundamental rights. Some of the root causes – such as high recruitment costs to be borne by workers – can be addressed in China. Now that China is pursuing economic transformation driven by innovation, it is also emerging as a country of destination. It is time for us to look at the new immigration policies to attract and retain foreign talents. Demographics and a change in income status are also changing China and the needs of its population in different ways. For example, an ageing society and a bigger globally oriented middle class are expected to create demand for services by various categories of domestic workers – a development that may prompt a revision of immigration policies in the lower-skilled category so as to avoid irregular migration.

The ILO is particularly pleased to be a partner at this training. The training and knowledge sharing event will help us gain a better understanding of the diverse aspects of migration and enhance the cooperation between China and EU on migration management so as to maximize the development impact of international migration for all parties concerned.

I wish the training workshop much success. Thank you for your attention.