Rethinking labour migration: Covid-19, essential work, and systemic resilience

Bridget Anderson, Martin Ruhs, Friedrich Poeschel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
169 Downloads (Pure)


Many of the ‘essential workers’ during the Covid-19 pandemic are migrants, playing an important role for the continued functioning of basic services – notably health services, social care, and food supply chains. We argue that this role should be taken into account when assessing the impacts of migrant workers and in the design of labour migration and related public policies. Existing studies highlight how the employment of migrant workers in essential services is shaped by interests of employers, sectoral policies, and national institutions. Considerations of how migrants may affect the systemic resilience of essential services – in a pandemic or similar crises – are pervasively absent, not only in policy-making but also in research. Drawing on several disciplines, we outline the concept of systemic resilience and develop implications for the analysis and regulation of labour migration. We call for shifting the focus from the role of migrants in specific occupations and sectors in particular countries to transnational systems of production and service provision. To study how migrant workers affect systemic resilience, we propose an agenda for comparative research along three lines: comparing migrants to citizens within the same system, comparing migrants’ roles across systems, and comparing strategies for resilience adopted in different systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45
Number of pages19
JournalComparative Migration Studies
Issue number1
Early online date30 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MR and FP acknowledge funding received from the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies within the European University Institute (EUI). This funding did not exert any influence on the content of this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Structured keywords

  • Migration Mobilities Bristol
  • Covid19


  • Covid-19
  • essential services
  • systemic resilience
  • migrant workers
  • labour migration polices


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