The rapidly expanding wage gap between locals and migrants 

a waitress in a European cafe
ellen mcveigh

Ciara Mulgrew 

27th January 2021



Migrants earn significantly less than locals in high-income countries (HICs), as shown in a recent study by the International Labour Organisation.


It is reported that isome HICs, such as Cyprus, locals receive a wage up to 42% higher than migrants, while the average in most HICs is 12.6%. On the other hand, in low-income countries, migrants receive an average of 17.3% higher earnings per hour when compared with locals.


In HICs, migrants often face insecure, temporary, or part-time employment contracts. They are repeatedly met with discrimination, prejudices, and inequalities which are deeply ingrained in our economy and society as a whole. They are often considered low-skilled labour or under-educated by employers, and therefore, it is deemed acceptable to underpay them for their work. Additionally, many migrants work in occupations that do not match their skill set. This is largely because of an inability of employers to recognise the qualifications migrants hold. However, in low-income countries, migrants are considered highly skilled and educated expats.


The wage gap between locals and migrants has been widening for several years now, with an increase of around 25% in the last 5 years. Reports state it may have been accelerated due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to wage specialist Rosalia Vasquez-Alvarez, HICs should expect to endure a major wage depression due to the ongoing pandemicConsequently, migrants are expected to be hit hardest by this depression due to the industries they commonly work in being heavily impacted. Among these industries is the food industry, where there has been a number of outbreaks in meat processing plants. As a resultmigrants have reported been segregated from the rest of the work force or losing their job.




A large portion of this wage gap cannot be explained by a lack of education, skills, or experience, and is thought to be due to discriminatory tendencies in the workplace.”




The ILO further reports that women migrants face a wage gap twice as large compared to male migrants. The wage gap between men and women is a global issue of gender inequality that people have been fighting to change for years. However, the fight has been unsuccessful in some areas. Therefore, a woman who is also classified as a migrant must carry the burden of earning a low wage based on gender inequalities as well as racial injustices.


Rosalia Vasquez-Alvarez adds that the private healthcare sector is among the worst sectors affected by the pandemic and it employs a substantial number of migrant women. The study shows migrant women in the private healthcare sector earn an average of 19.6% less than their local colleagues. This is a considerable amount less than the average among most migrants in HICs.


A large portion of this wage gap cannot be explained by a lack of education, skills, or experience, and is thought to be due to discriminatory tendencies in the workplace. If we could remove this unexplained portion, then we could almost eliminate the wage gap completely, for both men and women. It is paramount that we address this issue to reduce income inequalities between households, genders, and nationalities.





Featured photo by Tatiana El-Bakri on Flickr



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