Blog post written by Dr Paul Minderhoud (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands) and forms part of a series of blog posts examining the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Objective 22 aims to assist migrant workers at all skill levels to have access to social protection in countries of destination and profit from the portability of applicable social security entitlements and earned benefits. The importance of cross-border portability of social benefits is increasing in parallel with the rise in the absolute number of international migrants and their share of the world population, and perhaps more importantly, with the rising share of the world population that for some part of their life is working and/or retiring abroad. To achieve the goal of portability first the access to non-discriminatory national social protection systems have to increase. ILO estimates that only 29 per cent of the global population are covered by comprehensive social security systems that include the full range of benefits, from child and family benefits to old-age pensions. Yet the large majority – 71 per cent, or 5.2 billion people– are not, or are only partially, protected.[1] To establish or maintain non-discriminatory national social protecting systems is provided for in several human rights instruments, which can be used as indicators. To enhance or fully establish portability multilateral arrangements and bilateral social security agreements (BSSAs) are the centerpiece of current portability arrangements between countries. There are no universal human rights provisions stimulating portability practices which can be used as indicators. But there are some relevant ILO instruments.

1. Establish or maintain non-discriminatory national social protecting systems

(Articles 22 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Articles 9, 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); Article 27(1) of the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families)

Of significant importance in this regard is also ILO Recommendation 202 of 2012 on social protection floors with a view to ascertaining its efficacy for poverty reduction in poor regions.  This Recommendation affirms the existing human rights standards on social security by making reference to the above mentioned human rights instruments and other ILO instruments (like the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102), the Income Security Recommendation, 1944 (No. 67), and the Medical Care Recommendation, 1944 (No. 69)) on this issue.

An important aspect of the Recommendation is its rights-based approach to social protection.

Rather than viewing social protection from a mere welfare perspective, the definition of social protection floors is grounded in human rights language. By defining social protection floors as “sets of basic social security guarantees which secure protection aimed at preventing or alleviating poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion”, the Recommendation would seem to align itself with the main objective of social protection as an instrument of social restructuring and poverty reduction.

Objective 22 of the GCM refers explicitly  to Recommendation 202 giving authority to the use of the 18 principles of this Recommendation in pursuit of the GCM objective.

2.  Stimulate extending portability practices to more countries

Bilateral Social Security Agreements (BSSAs) are the most common portability arrangements between countries at the moment. While they can in principle cover the whole range of exportable social benefits, BSSAs focus mostly on long-term benefits such as old-age, survivor’s, and disability pensions and, to a much lesser extent, on health care benefits.[2] But also Multilateral arrangements (MAs) represent a general framework of portability for a group of countries for all or a subset of social benefits. These general rules are typically supported by more detailed BSSAs. The most developed MA is the one among EU Member States (plus Norway, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland) that is actually not an MA but based on supranational EU law. Traditional MAs have been established in Latin America (MERCOSUR) and the Caribbean (CARICOM) and in 15 French-speaking countries in Africa (CIPRES); one is recently established between Latin America and Spain and Portugal (Ibero-American Social Security Convention); and one is under development for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The Gulf Cooperation Council agreement, and the 2005 Baku Declaration among countries of Eurasia can be mentioned in this respect as well.

Some ILO Conventions call explicitly for increased social security coordination between countries through bilateral and multilateral agreements and ensuring the portability of social security rights (Equality of Treatment [Social Security] Convention, 1962 [No. 118]Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 [No. 157], and accompanying Recommendation No. 167). A serious problem here is that not many countries have ratified these instruments yet.

Also ILO Convention No.102 from 1952 is important in this regards as it emphasises the necessity of equal treatment for non-national residents through bilateral or multilateral agreements providing for reciprocity.

3. To increase social protection portability it is also important to collect more data on migration and on the social protection coverage of migrants

a. Collect more data on migration. For instance, irregular migrants are usually missing from official population statistics, and migrants in general are not always clearly identified in either data or legislation. Instead, eligibility for social protection tends to be based on residence status or nationality. This lack of data on migration more generally exacerbates the ineffectiveness of social protection arrangements. Having data on migrants, their vulnerabilities and needs would allow for better social protection programming for migrants. For instance, it could be used to target migrants who may in fact already be eligible for social protection or to create outreach programmes for groups who are hard to reach through regular channels.

b. Collect more data on the social protection coverage of migrants. National data on social protection programmes should disaggregate by citizenship and residence status (a strong proxy for migrant status). This would help estimate effective, or de facto, social protection coverage of labour migrants, and manage the financial implications of benefits becoming portable.[3]

[1] World Social Protection Report 2017–19 Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

[2] For the texts of BSSAs worldwide, see the ILO NATLEX database:

[3] See

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