One year ago, as the UK and much of Europe went into lockdown, we committed to monitoring the situation of migrant workers as the pandemic unfolded across the globe. Most importantly, we wanted to bring to life the stories of migrants’ contribution to the Covid-19 response around the world, while also recognising the risks they were exposed to.
We expected to see governments take rapid action to confront the crisis, and we were not wrong. Throughout the pandemic, countries have scrambled to reform restrictive immigration rules, often obliged to fast track much needed migrant workers into essential workforces. These rapid and often effective fixes demonstrate that – regardless of today’s increasingly polarised debates – migration policies can and do change when necessary. It is now on all of us to make sure these changes are long lasting.
All of the information we have gathered in this past year is presented in our innovative data visualisation, created by the information designer Federica Fragapane and developer Alex Piacenti, alongside our accompanying working paper. With their expertise we have sought to harness the power of design to tell the stories of migrants’ contribution across the globe, in real time. One year on from the creation of this data visualisation, we are in a position to take stock of what we have found.
A visible truth: migrant workers are essential workers
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided the most compelling insight yet as to how reliant we are on migrant workers. This is far from a new story. Before Covid-19, OECD countries, in particular, were already exceptionally reliant on migrants, with the healthcare sector an emblematic example. In Luxembourg and Australia, for example, prior to the pandemic over 50% of doctors were foreign born. In London, almost half of doctors and two-thirds of nurses were migrants.
What the pandemic has changed is visibility and general awareness of the vital role these workers play. Suddenly we experienced a genuine moment of reckoning: our economies and societies simply cannot function without ‘key workers’. These are the ‘heroes’ – from nurses to care home workers to delivery drivers and supermarket staff whose jobs keep us, quite literally, alive. What is indisputably clear is that migrants figure prominently amongst these workers. Globally, migrants make up only 4.7% of the workforce, but they are far more important when we analyse workforces by ‘essential’ functions (see graphic).
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This publication first appeared on the ODI site.
Author: Claire Kumar, ODI
The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.