Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, 1990

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The UN Convention on Migrant Workers’ Rights is the most comprehensive international treaty in the field of migration and human rights. It was adopted in 1990 and it entered into force in 2003. The convention sets a standard in terms of access to human rights for migrants. However, it suffers from a marked indifference: only fourty states have ratified it and no major immigration country has done so. This highlights how migrants remain forgotten in terms of access to rights. Even though their labour is essential in the world economy, the non-economic aspect of migration – and especially migrants’ rights – remain a neglected dimension of globalisation.

The Convention opens a new chapter in the history of determining the rights of migrant workers and ensuring that those rights are protected and respected. It incorporates the results of over 30 years of discussion, including
United Nations´human rights studies, conclusions and recommendations from meetings of experts as well as debates and resolutions on migrant workers in the United Nations.

The Convention seeks to establish minimum standards that the States parties should apply to migrant workers and members of their families, irrespective of their migratory status. The concept behind the recognition of rights of undocumented migrant workers is also reaffirmed in the preamble, in which the States parties consider, inter alia, that irregular migrants are frequently exploited and that they face serious human rights violations and that appropriate action should be encouraged to prevent and eliminate clandestine movements and trafficking in migrant workers while at the same time ensuring the protection of their human rights.

Scope and definitions

Part I of the Convention contains the most comprehensive definition of migrant workers found in any international instrument concerned with migrants. It  defines a migrant worker as “a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.” It defines which persons constitute the members of the migrant worker’s family as “persons married to migrant workers or having with them a relationship that, according to applicable law, produces effects equivalent to marriage, as well as their dependent children and other dependent persons who are recognized as members of the family by applicable legislation or applicable bilateral or multilateral agreements between the States concerned.”

Human rights of all migrants

Part III of the Convention grants a fairly broad series of rights to all migrant workers and members of their families, irrespective of their migratory status. Many of these articles specify the application to migrant workers of rights spelled out in the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the other core human rights treaties. The Convention also includes a number of rights addressing specific protection needs and providing additional guarantees in the light of the particular vulnerability of migrant workers and members of their families.

Other rights of migrant workers and members of their families who are documented or in a regular situation

The Convention assigns additional rights to migrant workers and members of their families who are documented or in a regular situation. These rights include the right to be fully informed by their States of origin and employment about conditions applicable to their admission and concerning their stay and the remunerated activities they may engage in, the right to freely move in the territory of the State of employment and freely choose their residence there, the right to form associations and trade unions, and to participate in public affairs of their State of origin, including voting and election.

The Committee on Migrant Workers

The implementation of the Convention rests with its States parties. It provides that this process is monitored by a committee—the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families—consisting of 10 experts to be elected by the States´ parties and serving in their personal capacity, the number is rising to 14 when 41 States will have become participants of the Convention. 
Members of the Committee are elected by the States´parties by secret ballot, with due regard to fair geographical distribution, including both States of origin and States of employment of migrant workers, and to representation of the world’s main legal systems. Members serve in their personal capacity for a term of four years.

For the complete convention see:

or the PDF above.

Compiled by Anne von Oswald/Andrea Schmelz, Network Migration in Europe, 2010