EU can meet social targets by enforcing Migrant Workers’ Rights

The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM) urges the EU and governments to enforce labour rights for migrant workers, regardless of their residence status.

Several sectors of the economy in the EU rely on the presence of a migrant workforce. Many migrants work in the informal economy due to very limited opportunities, especially in the low and middle wage sectors, to get work and residence permits, and are forced to work in precarious conditions where they face high risks of exploitation.

Karifa, an agricultural worker from Mali in Spain explained his situation: “I never hesitated to defend myself from the abuses I suffered as an agricultural worker. Delays in wages and non-payments are unacceptable and I am not willing to tolerate it even though in exchange I suffer insults and lack of respect from those who want to take advantage of me. I am a worker, I have rights, I am not a criminal.”

The Europe 2020 initiative* for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth aims, among other targets, to increase employment rates, including better integration of migrants in the workforce, to reduce poverty and to reduce early school-leaving rates.

PICUM’s new country briefs on undocumented migrants and the Europe 2020 Strategy in Spain and Germany** examine progress towards the strategy’s targets on employment, poverty reduction and education, in Germany and Spain respectively. The briefs follow PICUM’s position paper “Undocumented Migrants and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Making Social Inclusion a Reality for all Migrants in Europe” which shows how the inclusion of migrants, and more specifically undocumented migrants into social service provision and labour migration policies, could help attain the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy in these three areas.

According to the OECD,*** the working age population in Europe will shrink by 50 million by 2060. It will not be enough to mitigate this prognosis without labour migration policy reform. Given that non-EU migrants make a significant part of the economic and social fabric of Europe, EU member states should recognise these needs and create more entry and stay opportunities for third country migrant workers to regularly come and work in Europe in the low and medium skilled sectors.

Jean Lambert, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/European Free Alliance) stated: “Migrant workers coming from outside of the EU substantially contribute to many key sectors but are also among the most exploited, particularly if they have no residence status. Labour migration policies should recognise this and provide more regular channels for migrants to come and work in Europe to meet the EU’s economic goals and effectively reduce and prevent irregular migration.”

In addition to the need for more inclusive labour policies and regular channels across skills levels, the country briefs discuss how undocumented migrants disproportionately suffer from poverty, social exclusion and limited or no access to health care, education and homeless shelters in Spain and Germany.

Behshid Najafi of Agisra, an organisation supporting migrant and refugee women in Germany, highlighted: “Work, health care and decent accommodation are human rights. Human rights are universal and inalienable. Universality means that these rights apply everywhere and to everyone. Inalienability means that no one can take these rights away from others. This means that these rights have to be granted to all, also to undocumented migrants. These human rights are enshrined in several international and European human rights frameworks. Germany, as one of the richest countries in the world and officially a welfare state, has signed these frameworks and is thus obliged to implement these rights.”

A key barrier to ensure undocumented workers’ rights are law enforcement practices which oblige employers and labour inspectors to report undocumented workers to the police and other authorities. Employers frequently take advantage of the situation and exploit undocumented migrant workers by threatening to report them if they demand unpaid wages or other workers’ rights.

Governments should therefore set up a “firewall” – a clear separation between labour inspectors and migration law enforcement authorities to ensure that all migrant workers can safely report exploitation and abuse and access justice.

If governments want to effectively reduce irregular labour, work permits for migrants should also not be dependent on one single employer to ensure that migrants do not lose their status and become undocumented if their contract with their employer ends.

Systematic labour exploitation and informal work can only be effectively addressed if migrant workers are treated first and foremost as workers with rights, regardless of their residence status, and if they have opportunities to obtain work and residence permits.


The statement is available online in English, German and Spanish.


*See: EU2020


**See:  “Undocumented Migrants and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Making Social Inclusion a Reality for All Migrants in Germany”, available in English and German and “Undocumented Migrants and the Europe 2020 Strategy: Making Social Inclusion a Reality for All Migrants in Spain”, available in English and Spanish.


***See: B. Westmore, International migration: the relationship with economic and policy factors in the home and destination country.


Watch here a web documentary about the realities of undocumented workers in Europe.


See also: Ten Ways to Protect Undocumented Migrant Workers, PICUM.



PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants, is a non-governmental international organisation (NGO) that promotes respect for the human rights of undocumented migrants within Europe. PICUM represents 149 member organisations in 31 countries. For more information, see:

To watch PICUM’s web documentary ‘Undocumentary’ showing the realities of undocumented migrants, click here. To watch the video animation “Migration is not a Crime”, click here.


Media Contact:

Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber

Communications Officer

+32 2 210 1780


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