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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | 08 Sep 2020

Potential migration implications of the COVID-19 crisis

  • The COVID-19 epidemic revealed that migrant workers are playing a critical role in performing basic functions in EU societies. On average, 13 per cent of workers in occupations that have been identified as essential in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the EU (i.e. key workers) are immigrants. This includes both EU mobile workers and workers from non-EU countries.
  • In some occupations such as cleaners and helpers and labourers in mining and construction, up to a third of key workers are foreign-born.
  • Although highly-educated migrant workers are generally favoured by immigration policies and citizens in host countries, low-educated migrants are strongly represented in occupations that are key for hosting societies (e.g. personal care workers in health service, drivers, transport and storage workers, food processing workers).
  • Yet, available evidence suggests that migrants are among the vulnerable groups that are paying the heaviest toll of the crisis. For example, undocumented migrants, remain largely beyond the scope of contributory income-support schemes.
  • The risk of displacement due to conflict will probably increase even though options for travel are likely to be restricted. Conflicts that have in the past forced many people from their homes, have not universally been pacified during the pandemic.
  • The interrelated effects of the pandemic – such as contracting economies, food insecurity, social unrest, political tensions, hardening societies and deepening divisions between population groups – could result in massive displacements and possibly onward movement towards Europe, including many persons with international protection needs.
  • At the same time, migration patterns will likely remain highly disrupted due to restrictions on mobility and possibly coupled with increased digital surveillance. Consequently, refugees’ ability to access to protection whether in Europe or elsewhere may be compromised.
  • A World Bank brief estimates that due to the COVID-related global economic contraction expected in 2020, remittance flows to low and middle-income countries are likely to drop by around 20 percent. This reduction could increase poverty and reduce households’ access to much-needed health services during the pandemic.