Thursday, November 8, 2018

International migrants: carrying their own weigh

 Although international migration is not a new phenomenon, a growing number of people choose or are forced to migrate. In 2015, there were an estimated 244 million international migrants around the globe (United Nations, 2015a). Migrants can face daunting challenges while in transit and in their country of destination. But on balance, international migration has been a positive phenomenon, transforming millions of lives and even whole societies for the better. And despite popular perceptions, migrants generally pay more in taxes and contributions than they take from social protection programmes in their countries of destination. Over the long term, they are unlikely to constitute a disproportionate fiscal burden for receiving countries.

That said, international migrants face substantial risk of exclusion from social protection programmes due to ineligibility or inadequate coverage. Migrants admitted under long-term residence and work permits (one year or longer) generally have legal access to social protection on the same terms as nationals, but only after having resided or worked in the country for a certain period of time.7

Governments struggle to reduce what they perceive as incentives for irregular migration, while respecting the human rights of all migrants. In practice, equal treatment in access to social protection is rare. Migrants in an irregular situation are often able to access emergency health care, either by law or de facto, and accident compensation benefits. Access to tax-financed social assistance programmes, however, is seldom granted.

 Migrants often have social protection entitlements from their home countries, which they can lose if the benefits are not portable across borders. Adequate “portability” means that benefits accrued in one country must be payable in another. It also means that benefits must be determined on the basis of an individual’s full contribution in all countries where he or she has paid into the system.

Most negotiated bilateral and multilateral agreements that ensure the portability of entitlements cover long-term contributory benefits, mainly old-age pensions. Health care benefits are less often within the purview of these agreements, even when contributory. Tax-financed payments are rarely portable.

In 2000, only about 23 per cent of all international migrants worldwide were legally covered by adequate and portable social protection programmes in their countries of destination (Avato, Koettl and Sabates-Wheeler, 2009). The disconnect between law and practice, particularly when it comes to migrants, should also be noted. Due to the multiple administrative and social barriers migrants face, effective coverage of migrants is likely to lag far behind that required by law, as described in chapter VI.

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