Migration laws and policies affect women in different ways. Not all migrants can choose how to migrate, the job to take, where to live, and who to live with. These choices are often made for them. Usually, the options available depend on a migrant’s gender, race, and class. Women make up a significant number of migrants worldwide. However, their realties and contributions are often overlooked. Migration policies often benefit from migrant women’s labour and remittances, but fail to ensure their most fundamental rights. Women often migrate to take up work. Globally, the demand for migrant women workers is increasing. Despite bringing a range of skills, migrant women are usually confined to certain occupations (e.g. cleaning, catering, domestic, health and social care). These jobs are typically low paid with poor conditions. The contracts they receive often provide them fewer rights and protections then citizens. Many are unable to change employer and risk becoming undocumented if they flee exploitation. Women also migrate as part of a family unit, or to re-join a partner or spouse. Current ‘family reunification’ or ‘marriage’ visas make the foreign spouse economically and legally dependent. Foreign spouses rarely have the right to work, have limited access to support services, and their visa is only valid if the personal relationship continues. Women with this visa may be forced to remain in violent or abusive relationships in order to retain their status. Women may have more opportunities to migrate, many have less options and protections when doing so. Restrictive and discriminatory policies mean they can easily lose their status and become undocumented.
- Lack of independent permit The laws and policies governing entry, residence, and employment put some migrants at risk of becoming undocumented. Often, the permits available are for a temporary duration and only for a specific job with a named employer. This creates a number of challenges. Work or residence permits may be withdrawn following redundancy, administrative delays, or misinformation. Migrant women who leave a violent partner, or an exploitative employer, are at risk of losing their status.
- Refused protection. Migrant women may also become undocumented following an unsuccessful claim for asylum. Women face many difficulties in the asylum system. Those fleeing gender-based violence face a particularly high refusal rate.
- Irregular entry. Finally, entering a country without the required documentation is another route through which migrant women can become undocumented. Efforts to detect, arrest and deter undocumented migrants often ignore human rights and protection needs. Women travelling through unofficial channels face particular discrimination, risks and barriers to obtain justice. This has resulted in high levels of impunity for violence and assault.
Women have very specific needs. Health, education, fair work, and justice are recognised standards in ensuring equality for women worldwide. However, if a woman has an irregular migration status, these rights and protections are systematically denied to her. Laws and policies targeting undocumented migrants often have a disproportionate impact upon women. Migrant women and girls are agents of change, and should not be viewed solely as victims of human rights violations. They have rights and should be given every opportunity to exercise those rights and to give leadership in shaping public policy.
- Recognise the rights of all migrant women – as women, first and foremost
- Women’s access to services, protection and justice should be entirely delinked from immigration enforcement.
- Migrant women should be granted an independent migration status, which is not tied to a spouse, partner, or employer.
- Establish a better regulated EU labour market by creating more entry and stay opportunities for female migrant workers across skill levels and labour sectors.
- Provide sufficient labour migration channels for women, and ensure they are provided with the same rights and protections as national workers.
- Enforcement regulations and practices – apprehension, detention and deportation – must be assessed with regards to their impacts on women’s rights and redress systematic and individual rights violations.
- Detention for migration control purposes frequently violates human rights and places women at risk of violence. Certain categories of migrant women – those who are pregnant, those who have experienced sexual or gender based violence, or those who have children – should never be detained.