International labour migration is an increasingly important feature of the interconnected global economy. It has never been easier for people to travel and work in other countries, especially in common market areas such as the European Union. This expansion of international labour mobility has brought the issue to the forefront of global policy debates.
Migration also cuts across the Sustainable Development Goals, with labour mobility as an important aspect of SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth.
In 2017 there were an estimated 78 million migrants living in Europe, representing 10.5 per cent of the total population of Europe, up from 6.8 per cent in 1990. In the European Union in 2017, 67 per cent of migrants were employed versus 73 per cent of the native-born population.
But the topic of labour mobility extends beyond permanent migrants and includes groups such as seasonal workers and frontier workers who live in one country but work in another each day. The EU estimated that in 2016 these groups together made up approximately 1.8 million people across the EU and EFTA countries.
People move for many reasons, so for labour mobility statistics it is important to establish the purpose of the move. Sometimes this is recorded at the border, at the point of registration with local authorities, or through applications for work or residence permits. Even when migrants’ primary purpose for moving is not employment, they may still be permitted to work in the country, and therefore still contribute to labour mobility. For example, many of Europe’s 2.6 million refugees receive permits that allow them to work in their country of settlement.
The measurement of labour mobility touches on economic, social and demographic aspects, and information comes from a range of sources, making it especially challenging to coordinate among different data producers. One particular challenge is harmonizing the definitions of who counts as a labour migrant, including those whose entry or stay in a country is irregular or undocumented.
The newly-released UNECE guidelines on
Measuring international labour mobility provide an overview of how international labour mobility can be measured, and makes recommendations for best practice and future development to guide national statistical offices and other producers of migration statistics.
A crucial recommendation is the integration of different kinds of data sources, such as surveys and administrative sources. Many administrative sources contain information that can be used for statistics on migration and labour mobility. The efficient use of such sources requires cooperation among agencies responsible for collecting the data. National statistical offices can play a key role in facilitating this cooperation.
The guidance also recommends that exchange of data among countries is another important avenue for improving measurement of labour mobility, particularly within areas with freedom of movement. It calls for countries to pay close attention to the prospects for sharing individual-level microdata, by working cross-nationally to resolve the legal, confidentiality and privacy issues that such sharing would entail.
The guidelines are available at: