EU Science Hub

The crucial contribution of migrant workers to Europe's coronavirus response

The migrant workforce has acted as an integral part in keeping basic functions in Europe functioning during the lockdown.
The migrant workforce has acted as an integral part in keeping basic functions in Europe functioning during the lockdown.
May 13 2020

A JRC analysis highlights the critical contribution of migrant workers to the ongoing effort to keep basic services running in the European Union during the coronavirus pandemic.

The  current  coronavirus  pandemic  presents  an  unprecedented  challenge  to  most  European countries.  

The  rapid  spread  of  the  virus has led  many  Member  States  to  temporarily  shut  down  large  sections  of  their  economies  with  the  intent  of  slowing  down  its propagation rate.

While the forced shut down has confined large sections of the workforce at home, some essential functions still need to be performed to keep European citizens healthy and safe and to ensure access to basic services during the pandemic.

"Key workers" – from doctors to nurses and drivers – are performing those crucial tasks. They are on the frontline of the EU response to the coronavirus crisis.

A new JRC study quantifies the contribution of EU and extra-EU migrants to keeping these basic services running.

"The overarching picture that our study paints is that of a migrant workforce that acts as an integral part in keeping basic and necessary functions of European societies working amidst the periods of forced closure", JRC researcher Jacopo Mazza said.

13% of key workers are immigrants

Based on European Commission guidelines  concerning  the  exercise  of  the  free  movement  of  workers  during  COVID-19 outbreak, the study identifies the key workers in terms of the EU’s coronavirus response.

It finds that around 31% of the employed working-age individuals in the EU perform key functions.

The largest five categories are teaching professionals (14.5%), skilled agricultural workers (11.9%), science and engineering associate professionals (11.1%), personal care workers (10.3%) and cleaners and helpers (9.9%).

While the majority of the key workers were born in the country they work in, intra-EU and extra-EU migrants fill vital roles that keep European economies functioning during the pandemic.

On average, 13% of all key workers are migrants, although in some specific sectors the share of migrants is much higher. For instance, up to a third of all cleaners and domestic helpers are foreign born.

Share of migrant workers is high in low-skill jobs

According to the study, the share of migrant workers – especially extra-EU migrants – is particularly high in key low-skill jobs, such as personal care workers in health services, drivers, transport and storage workers as well as food processing workers.

 "The fight against coronavirus has unveiled the relevance of migrant workers in many occupations. This aspect is often overlooked – if not dismissed - in the debates on legal migration predominantly focused on the importance of attracting high skilled migrants to the Union", Jacopo Mazza concludes.

JRC researcher Jacopo Mazza conducted the study in collaboration with Francesco Fasani of the Queen Mary University of London.