International migration policy is still largely set by the destination countries, which decide who they will admit and for what purposes. But many countries have found that it is better to manage migration in cooperation with countries of origin, through various types of international agreement.
International migration can be managed best within overall multilateral and regional frameworks. Then within these frameworks pairs of countries of origin and destination can come to bilateral agreements. The most comprehensive international agreementis is the ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration. This highlights principles
and guidelines to help countries develop more effective
labour migration policies.
Cooperation between pairs of countries can take the form of bilateral agreements, which are
formal, legally binding treaties. Or it can take the form of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) — which simply set out broad frameworks to address common
concerns. Bilateral agreements should in principle be preferable to MOUs, but more important probably than the type of agreement is its actual implementation and monitoring.
Thus far, both are relatively rare. The resistance comes mostly from countries of destination which argue that they already cover migrant workers in their national laws. And, for unskilled labour in particular they can see an ample supply that can be tapped by the private sector without government intervention.
What the ILO can offer
ILO is in a strong position to help countries cooperate on migration. In addition to participating in numerous international bodies and processes we have provided advice on the design and content of bilateral agreements.