This project is funded under Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities

Media Policy Makers Researchers Civil Society Organizations
LogOn  Register
Lost Password

Researching migrant pathway in Europe

Executive summary

The undocumented worker transitions project has brought together partners from seven EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain, UK and Bulgaria).
The project deals with the impact of migration flows on labour markets, with particular regard to:

  • the relationship between the presence of “informal” or “shadow” industry labour markets and migration flows
  • the interaction between legal status and migrant labour market positions
  • the cogency of theories concerning human capital and social capital in relation to migration
  • the impact and experience of undocumented migration, by interviewing migrant workers
  • the gender specific dimensions of migration and its consequences for migrant women.

The policy brief will focus on the gender effect on labour market for migrants, not only in terms of feminisation of migration, bringing with it increased female participation in European labour markets, but also referring to the gender segmentation of labour and its consequences for the working condition of female migrants. Regarding undocumented labour, the report concludes that gender divisions remain strong within it as host country labour.

<< Top



The project makes use of a combination of qualitative and quantitative data.

- Review of existing data from country reports summarising the framework for migration and reviewing existing literature on undocumented migrant workers.

- Stakeholder interviews with 70 experts (including social partners and migrant community organisations)

- Migrant worker in-depth interviews with 210 migrant workers who are, or have been, undocumented (30 in each country). These will include a range of sectors, including hospitality, construction and domestic work.

- Undocumented migration estimate using statistical techniques given the unofficial nature of the phenomenon

<< Top


The gender effect on labour market

It must be recognize that gender is a key factor in understanding migrant and refugee flows.
There are 3 main aspects of gender effect on migration in EU:

  • The feminisation of migration
  • The gender segmentation of labour
  • The consequences for the working condition of migrant women (especially undocumented or semi-documented)

The feminisation of migration

The gender composition of migrant labour has been changed, with a growing feminisation of migration flows due to a number of situations:

  • The feminisation of economic responsibility for families which has compelled women to migrate in search of work
  • Family reunification in those EU countries which now have an established migrant presence
  • The need of care for family in host countries (especially for the elderly) which cannot be carry out by individual family
  • The increase of working women in host countries, requiring a different distribution of family caring responsibilities.

The gender segmentation of labour

The current labour market structure directs female and male migrants to jobs and trades “adapted” for specific gender characteristics. The gender effect is related both to labour market in general and undocumented labour. Thus Undocumented women migrants are thus mostly engaged in health care and cleaning in private households, hotels and catering, as well as in the sex industry.

Men’s employment is dominant in construction and in manufacturing. Both genders work in the hotels and restaurant industry and in agriculture although they will usually do different types of jobs.

Employment in most of the sectors offering employment possibilities for undocumented migrants is often linked to seasonal or short-term demand, female dominated sectors (health care, domestic work and entertainment) offer more continuous forms of employment.

The consequences for the working condition of migrant women

The interviews with migrant women have confirmed a gender differential with respect to the working conditions of migrant women and migrant men in the host country. The key differences can be resumed as follows:

  • The relationship between women workers and their employers can be positive, but female migrants are more likely to be working in private homes and find it difficult to separate their work from their private time. This can lead to a state of dependency from the employer who, by providing accommodation, justifies very low wages. Also, employers are seen as a shield between immigration authorities and the undocumented individual.
  • Migrant women, both in care and other sectors, feel vulnerable to harassment in a way that generally does not apply to migrant men.
  • Both male and female undocumented migrants are working in least-unionized sectors and this is particularly the case for women in care and sex industry (while for instance construction and manufacturing are usually more unionized sectors). For this reason undocumented migrant women are more likely to find individual solutions to their predicaments.



There are various relevant dimensions trough which analyzing the gender effect on migrant labour market.

1. Family status

    The reunion of families is a comparatively new development in Southern Europe.

  • Family status is an important part from the process of entering the host country, as well as from the subsequent process of adaptation. Family reunion is a comparatively new development in Southern European countries as a result of high levels of immigration since the 1990s, regularisation and its recognition as a mode of entry.
  • When supporting the integration of children, we support the integration of their mother

  • The integration of children is a prerequisite of the integration of their mothers and if such integration is not achieved there is a greater likelihood of return
  • Family reunification is an important pathway of access for migrant women, but plays an ambiguous role. The reunion of families – especially when the partner has been living in the host country for long – can accelerate the process of adaptation. Female migration can be triggered by violent patriarchal structures in the country of origin. Thus female migration is the result of the escape from violent patriarchal structures in country of origin.
  • The increasing phenomenon of so called left behind children in the CEE countries, the ex-Soviet and Yugoslav republics means that many children remain in their countries of origin to be brought up by grandparents, relatives and neighbours, while their parents send money home from the host countries (remittances).
  • When men find it difficult to adapt in the host country (particularly by accepting jobs beneath their qualifications), they may decide to return. Such a possibility is not usually considered by women. In many cases, it seems more practical for the family if women stay alone in the host country, to make money and send it to their families after their husbands have returned home.

Country Fiche - Austria

Migrant regularisation programmes
Dealing with undocumented migration is voluntary repatriation, forced return (deportation), combating trafficking, combating “fictitious” marriages and adoptions, domestic control through on-the-street identity controls and inter-departmental cooperation.
The focus is on preventive measures, such as border controls, anti-smuggling operations and restrictive visa politics. For undocumented migrants in Austria, there are few ways of becoming legalised, i.e. applying for humanitarian residence under certain circumstances; applying for citizenship after a certain number of years; adoption by or marriage with an EEA citizen (although these routes have been curtailed in the latest amendment to the Aliens Law in 2006).
Migration and employment law
Work permits are issued for various lengths of time and some allowances are made for the employment of students from third countries. Social security benefits are only granted after five years of continuous residence in Austria
Access to service for migrants
(health, education)

No access to social security system; access to healthcare limited to emergencies; access allowed in education

2. Education

Improving the recognition of educational attainment level of migrants, combating the bureaucratic, socio-cultural and linguistic barriers

The level of educational attainment and qualifications is not a factor for  female immigrants’ access to the informal and even formal labour market of the host countries.

3. Health care

To insure health care access both documented and undocumented migrants

To collect more information about health needs and access to health services for culturally diverse population

  • It is clear that the seven UWT partner countries have quite different health insurance systems, different approaches to the health status of their citizens and migrants, female migrants included, both documented and undocumented.
  • For undocumented migrants the access to health care is even more limited for workers employed in the shadow economy without labour contracts
  • Conditions are more difficult again for women with the most insecure status – refugees, women who crossed borders illegally, and those who have ended up in detention centres.
  • When speaking of specific female disorders in particular, we found that Muslim women, in particular, would find it difficult to ask for assistance from the security guards or from men working in the immigration and refugee services.

3. Motivation for women’s emigration

The motivations underlying the migration process are differentiated by gender. The reasons that lead women to migrate to other countries are closely related with their participation or non-participation in the labour market in the host countries. Most of the women involved in the research were not young. The fact that women were migrating fairly late in their lives suggested that they had done this as a result of extreme economic necessity rather than as a period of “adventure” in their lives.

Country Fiche - Spagna

Migrant regularisation programmes
Regularisation programme introduced in 2005 and over half a million migrants were regularised.

Migration and employment law
Employment law does not distinguish between migrants and the local population.
Current debates are taking place on the issue of access to employment and acquisition of work permits

Access to service for migrants
(for pregnant women and minors, and for undocumented migrants who are registered at the town hall. Introduced in 2001)


Separate migration status and employment rights to allow all workers, regardless of migration status, to benefit from the protection that labour laws are set up to provide
Permanent regularisation processes to enable undocumented workers to gain regular status, through a ‘pathway to citizenship’

The motivations for female migration can be grouped in four categories:

  • family reunion: women join their husbands who have already fitted into the host country. In general, women do not always enter the labour market in the new country, but they take care of their family
  • asylum seekers and refugees: it is less likely that women work outside the home after having their refugee status confirmed
  • better economic condition: women looking for a higher standard of living enter actively the labour market for sending money to family in the country of origin
  • sex industry and trafficking: this category could be considered as part of the third group because it is usually connected with economic motivation.
  • An emerging element in the changing gender specifics of the migratory flows is the tendency for the females to migrate individually

Country Fiche - United Kingdom

Migrant regularisation programmes
A permanent system of regularisation for those who have been in the country continuously for 14 years and for families with small children who have lived in the country for 7 years, although only small numbers are granted residence.
In addition, a domestic worker regularisation programme ran between July 1998 and October 1999, under which an estimated 4,000 workers gained residence rights. When the UK granted free movement of workers to nationals of the A8 central and eastern European countries in May 2004, many workers who were already in the UK were in effect regularised

Migration and employment law
The main determinant for employment rights is the individual work contract between the employer and the employee

Access to service for migrants
(the situation is changing with more emphasis on denying access to undocumented individuals)

5. Integration in the labour market

Give the asylum seekers the right to work

Reducing the influence of ethnic economic networks for facilitating labour market re/integration

  • The ethnic and gender labour market segmentations affect in particular female migrants, who are disproportionately
  • located in informal/undocumented types of work, in low paid and low qualified jobs and in part-time and short-term employment

  • A current aspect of labour market segmentation relates to the creation and amplification of “ethnic niches” in the labour market
  • "ethnic" economic networks present an ambiguous nature: their positive role in the integration of compatriots
  • in the job market, the support and help which they bring to individuals who without them would be left to their own devices, but these networks take advantage of their members’ dependence on them, in particular when they are incapable of communication with the outside.

  • Female migrants don’t qualify for unemployment benefits because they are more likely to work on the margins of the economy.

  • There are programmes and measures for labour market integration with a variable potential for success. Access to training and job schemes is important however this is limited for those female migrants with irregular status and limited residence permits.

Focus on developing routes out of informal work for migrants (including documented) ad addressing labour market obstacles

Increased trade union organising campaigns for workers in sectors where migrants, and in particular undocumented migrants, work (modelled on existing approaches such as in the US), including co-operation with migrant organisations

  • There si limited knowledge of programmes and the practical constraints imposed by work and domestic demands. These programmes are inaccessible for wives of migrant workers, who are tied to the home with loose ties only through contacts in their immediate neighbourhoods or with their children’s teachers or doctors.

  • In most countries, asylum seekers do not have the right to work, leading to de-skilling and a waste of skills

6. The shadow economy

  • Labour market express a specific demand for informality, which encourages not only irregular migrants in need of employment, but also general informal working practices. We have also identified a type of informality produced by EU-led policies, facilitating sub-contracting, which encourages low paid informal migrant labour.

  • The criminalisation of undeclared work is particularly critical for female migrant workers: the “punishment” for the migrant worker is always much harsher than that given to employer.

  • The role of trade unions is minimized, especially for women that have difficult access to union activists.

    Trade union cooperation between unions in the host country and unions in the home country of undocumented migrants

    Moreover, women working in the domestic services, the sex industry or agriculture, do not have that freedom to participate in trade union activities.

  • There is insufficient information in the interviews about the access to trade unions or support by unions.

7. Domestic work

Preferring work contract model rather than self-employment and self-insured work for legalisation of migrant domestic workers

  • There seems to be a hierarchy among the different jobs in the care economy: at the bottom is sex work, migrant women working in the sex industry try to move out of it by seeking employment in what is regarded as the next “step up on the ladder” into the care economy: cleaning’.

  • Childminding in private households, which is seen, especially by highly qualified migrant women, as servile and less prestigious work. The next realistic option is employment in the formal care sector, with defined working conditions and seen by the public as a worthwhile and respected profession.

A strategies to create jobs in the trade is tax deductions for domestic services
Professionalization for domestic works

  • Legalisation of migrant domestic workers in some countries is either on the basis of a work contract or on the basis of self-employment and self-insured work. While the latter may decrease dependency on the employer, it is often merely a disguised salaried work with reduced rights and benefits for the worker.

  • Frequently, domestic workers interview claimed that they preferred to avoid legalisation because under their current status they could more quickly accumulate the money they had come to the country to earn. Their regular status brought security but also was accompanied by obligations to make regular payment of taxes and social welfare contributions as well, which had a negative impact on their overall earnings.

  • Regarding the informal caregivers, there is no clear definition of the areas of responsibility/work. Informal caregivers have to do household tasks, medical tasks, social tasks and there is no clear limitation of working hours. Carers do not have any time for themselves, do not have any private sphere. This permanent pressure of work migrant workers suffer from severe health problems

Country Fiche - Belgium

Migrant regularisation programmes
Regularisation campaign gave legal status to around 50,000 people in 2001

Migration and employment law
A system of work permits has been introduced, but employment in the public sector has traditionally been reserved for the indigenous population. Some changes, however, to this law enabled EU citizens (from the old countries) to gain civil service jobs and further changes in 2002 also enabled migrants to work in regional civil service positions

Access to service for migrants
(access to health care limited to urgent medical assistance)

8. Sex services as an ordinary emplyment niche and as forced work

Consideration of status of sex work to put it on a par with other work, so giving the workers greater labour rights

  • Sex work involves basically women from the ex-Soviet Union – Russia, the Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, as well as from the Balkans. A great number of these women enter West European countries as well as Bulgaria already trapped within trafficking channels. Bulgaria remains a transit country as regards trafficking in women for sexual exploitation while countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany and the North European countries are mentioned as a final destination. Trafficking in women is also stimulated by the presence of international military corps in the Balkans, i.e. in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Kosovo.

  • For some of the women interviewees who had left for the host country with the aim to make their living through this type of work and in this particular sector, sex work was accepted as any other type of work. The situation was different in the case of females who were forced to become prostitutes.

  • Migrant women who enter the sex industry are escaping from unemployment, exclusion and discrimination in the labour market in their countries of origin.

  • Sex work is a biased employment niche and is subject to moralistic prejudices. Respect for women who are working in the sex industry is often lacking. Not only employers and customers treat women working in this sector with contempt and disrespect but so do the authorities and the society as a whole.

Country Fiche - Denmark

Migrant regularisation programmes
Residence in Denmark is not open to all. Since 1973, Denmark has enforced tight immigration conditions, which vary with the nationality of the applicant:
Nordic citizens (that is nationals from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland) can always come to Denmark to reside and work without a permit. EU/EEA citizens can enter and reside in Denmark if, for example, they are working or studying there. Citizens from other countries cannot simply decide to live in Denmark for any lengthy period. Residence permits can be granted, however, if the individual is a refugee, qualifies under family reunification legislation, is engaged in a particular time-limited commission in the country (for example, work or study)

Migration and employment law
Work permit are issued, but current social assistance in Denmark is based on the idea that reduced benefits will be an incentive to search for a job
Access to service for migrants
(services are accessed through close ethnic minority networks)

Country Fiche - Italy

Migrant regularisation programmes
Regularisation programmes took place between 1979 and 2002 and approximately 1.5 million people have been legalised

Migration and employment law
The law that appears to have gone farthest in integrating the institutional casualisation stemming from the Italian migration policies is Law 30/2003 (the Biagi Law). This law's principal measures aim essentially at (de)regulating the labour market through liberalisation of employment-agency activities. The guiding thread that connects the evolution of migration and labour market policies is, on the one hand, the tendency to institutionalise the processes of flexibilisation, hierarchisation, and competition between workers - as single individuals and as "racialised" individuals - already operating in the labour market; and, on the other, the tendency to extend, to the entire body of the working class, the forms of casualisation that have been previewed precisely on the skin of immigrant workers
Access to service for migrants
(introduced in 1998)

Country Fiche - Bulgaria

Migrant regularisation programmes
There are not specific programmes for migrant regularisation.
To acquire Bulgarian citizenship, it must meet the following requirements:
  • To have reached the legal age of majority;
  • To have been permanently resident in the country for at least five years;
  • Not to have been sentenced for intentionally committed crime prosecuted ex officio by the state and not to be suspect or accused in a criminal procedure related to these type of crimes;
  • To have income or occupation that allows him/her sufficient resources;
  • To master the Bulgarian language;
  • To have been freed by his/her former citizenship or to lose it at the moment of acquisition of Bulgarian citizenship

Migration and employment law
Migrants are granted work permits according to the type of residence they have acquired. Otherwise, employment rules are the same as for Bulgarian citizens. There are also some benefits such as child tax concessions for people that have been granted asylum
Access to service for migrants