One of the central policy challenges posed by the COVID19 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. In particular, they have often played a key role in these sectors’ responses to changing labour demand or supply. 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 even in some cases 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 COVID19 will lead to a fundamental and longer-term re-think of labour immigration policies and the rights of migrant workers, especially of those working in low-paid but ‘essential’ jobs, around the world.
Aims of MigResHub
The primary aim of MigResHub is to facilitate global and comparative research on how migrant labour shapes the vulnerability and resilience of essential economic sectors and public services to the current COVID19 crisis and to similar (and likely) pandemic shocks in the future, and to discuss the implications and options for future immigration and other public policies around the world. There is little doubt that epidemics and pandemics will happen again in the future, but their effects will depend critically on human action including efforts to improve the resilience of the provision of essential goods and services. The Hub will concentrate on three essential sectors around the world – the food production sector, health services, and social care – and their associated cross-country supply chains. A particular focus will be on exploring how the relationship between reliance on migrant workers and the systemic resilience of the food, health, and care sectors vary across countries with different institutional and policy frameworks for the provision of these essential services. MigResHub will take a global approach and include countries and supply chains covering all major regions of the world.
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) but this existing research has primarily focused on employers’ incentives and not yet considered 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.
Migrants and migration policy, as well as their potential role in increasing the resilience of essential sectors, will be the subjects of major debates in many states as they emerge from lockdown or move into a series of mini-lockdowns over the next few months and years, depending on the further development of the pandemic. Through its global and comparative research, MigResHub aims to inform these policy debates and encourage policy learning both within and across countries.
MigResHub will work with a range of researchers and policy experts from different regions of the world, bringing together theories and insights from different academic disciplines, research literatures, and policy debates.
Website and Outputs
Visit the project website which will be further developed over the coming months. This will include a concept note and short commissioned contributions on a range of theoretical and empirical aspects of migrants and systemic resilience in food, health, and care sectors around the world, including associated global supply chains.
Watch the recent MPC Webinar: From ‘low-skilled’ migrants to ‘key workers’: Rethinking migrants’ skills and labour immigration policies