International Migration Convention

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families entered into force in July 2003. Its primary objective is to protect migrant workers and their families, a particularly vulnerable population, from exploitation and the violation of their human rights.

UNESCO advocates ratification of this convention by all states and disseminates information about this convention and other legal instruments concerning migrants.


The Convention on Migrant Workers defines the rights of migrant workers under two main headings:

  • Human Rights of migrant workers and members of their families (Part III) : applicable to all migrant workers (undocumented included)
  • Other Rights of migrant workers and members of their families (Part IV): applicable only to migrant workers in a regular situation.

1. Human rights of migrant workers and members of their families

The Convention is not proposing new human rights for migrant workers. Part III of the Convention is a reiteration of the basic rights which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and elaborated in the international human rights treaties adopted by most nations.

So why are those rights subject to another International Legal Instrument?

The Convention seeks to draw the attention of the international community to the dehumanization of migrant workers and members of their families, many of whom being deprived of their basic human rights. Indeed, legislation implementing other basic treaties in some States utilises terminology covering citizens and/or residents, de jura excluding many migrants, especially those in irregular situations.

  • Basic freedoms
    Applying these fundamental rights to migrant workers and members of their families, the Convention provides for their right to leave and enter the State of origin (Art. I). The inhumane living and working conditions and physical (and sexual) abuse that many migrant workers must endure are covered by the reaffirmation of their "right to life" (Art. 9) and prohibition against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment (Art. 10) as well as slavery or servitude and forced or compulsory labour (Art. 11). Migrant workers are also entitled to basic freedoms like the freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 12), and the right to hold and express opinions (Art. 13). Their property should not be confiscated arbitrarily (Art. 15).
  • Due process
    The Convention then goes on to explain in detail the need to ensure due process for migrant workers and members of their families (Art. 16 - 20). Investigations, arrests and detentions are to be carried out in accordance with established procedures. Their right to equality with nationals of the State before the courts and tribunals must be respected. They must be provided with necessary legal assistance, interpreters and information in a language understood by them. When imposing a sentence, humanitarian considerations regarding the person's migrant status should be taken into account. The arbitrary expulsion of migrant workers is prohibited (Art. 22).
  • Right to privacy
    A migrant worker is entitled to his or her honour and reputation and also to privacy, which extends to one's home, family and all communications (Art. 14).
  • Equality with nationals
    Migrant workers are to be treated as equal to the nationals of the host country in respect of remuneration and conditions of work [overtime, hours of work, weekly rest, holidays with pay, safety, health, termination of work contract, minimum age, restrictions on home work, etc. (Art. 25)]. Equality with nationals extends also to social security benefits (Art. 27) and emergency medical care (Art. 28).
  • Transfer of earnings
    On completion of their term of employment, migrant workers have the right to transfer their earnings and savings as well as their personal effects and belongings (Art. 32).
  • Right to information
    They have the right to be informed by the States concerned about their rights arising from the present Convention as well as the conditions of their admission, and their rights and obligations in those States. Such information should be made available to migrant workers free of charge and in a language understood by them (Art. 33).

2. Other rights of migrant workers and members of their families

Providing additional rights for migrant workers and members of their families in a regular situation, the Convention seeks to discourage illegal labour migration, as human problems are worse in the case of irregular migration.

  • Right to be temporarily absent
    Migrant workers should be allowed to be temporarily absent, for reasons of family needs and obligations, without effect on their authorization to stay or work.
  • Freedom of movement
    They should have the right to move freely in the territory of the State of employment and they should also be free to choose where they wish to reside (Art. 39).
  • Equality with nationals
    for access to educational, vocational and social services In addition to the areas mentioned in Article 25, migrant workers and members of their families shall enjoy equality with nationals of the State of employment in the following areas: access to education, vocational guidance and placement services, vocational training, retraining, housing including social housing schemes, protection against exploitation in respect of rents, social and health services, co-operatives and self-managed enterprises, access to and participation in cultural life (Art. 43). Members of the families of migrant workers also shall enjoy equality with national of States of employment in having access to these services (Art. 45). Migrant workers shall enjoy equality of treatment in respect of protection against dismissal, unemployment benefits, access to public work schemes intended to combat unemployment and access to alternative employment in the event of loss of work or termination of other remunerated activity (Art. 54).
  • Employment contract violations
    When work contracts are violated by the employer, the migrant worker should have the right to address his or her case to the competent authorities in the State of employment (Art. 54 (d)). They shall have the right to equal treatment with nationals and be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law (Art. 18.1).
  • Rights of undocumented ('illegal') workers
    The Convention recognizes that "the human problems involved in migration are even more serious in the case of irregular migration" and the need to encourage appropriate action "to prevent and eliminate clandestine movements and trafficking in migrant workers, while at the same time assuring the protection of their fundamental rights" (Preamble). As measures for preventing and eliminating illegal labour migration, the Convention proposes that the States concerned should collaborate in taking appropriate actions against the dissemination of misleading information relating to emigration and immigration, to detect and eradicate illegal or clandestine movements of migrant workers and impose sanctions on those who are responsible for organising and operating such movements as well as employers of illegal migrant workers (Art. 68). However, the fundamental rights of undocumented migrant workers are protected by the Convention (Art. 8 - 35).
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