Migration laws and policies often create barriers and inequalities for migrant women.


Women globally migrate at a rate similar to men, but migration affects them differently. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination

Women make up a significant number of migrants worldwide, but their realties and contributions are often overlooked. Imm are often designed to benefit from migrant women’s labour and remittances, but fail to ensure their most .

Women often migrate to work. Globally, the demand for migrant women workers is increasing. , migrant women are usually confined to certain occupations (e.g. cleaning, catering, domestic, health and social care). These jobs are characterised by low paid and poor working conditions. The contracts they receive often provide them with fewer rights and protections than . Contracts are often inflexible, making it difficult to change employers, or leaving situations of mistreatment, without the of risk becoming undocumented.


Women also migrate as part of a family unit or to re-join a partner or spouse. Current ‘family reunification’ or ‘marriage’ visas tend to make the foreign spouse economically and legally dependent on her partner. Foreign spouses rarely have the right to work, have limited access to support services, and their visa is only valid if the spousal relationship continues. Women whose right to live in a country depends on this kind of visa may be forced to remain in violent or abusive relationships to retain their status.


Do you think that all women should be able to live in safety and seek justice in the case of violence and abuse?

WE do.

How do women become undocumented?


Women may have more opportunities to migrate than ever before, but many have few options and protections when doing so. Restrictive and discriminatory policies mean they can easily lose their status and become undocumented.


i) Lack of independent permit
The laws and policies governing entry, residence, and employment put some people 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 Work or residence permits may be withdrawn following redundancy, administrative delays or because of misinformation. Migrant women who leave a violent partner or an exploitative employer are at risk of losing their status.


ii) 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.


iii) Irregular entry.
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 traveling through unofficial channels face particular discrimination, risks and barriers to obtain justice. This has resulted in high levels of impunity for violence and assault.

Once in an undocumented situation, migrant women face a specific set of difficulties.


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 on 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.

PICUM’s recommendations


  • 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.