Human Mobility, COVID-19, and Policy Responses: The Rights and Claims-Making of Migrant Domestic Workers

Publication Year


Publication Author

Smriti Rao, Sarah Gammage, Julia Arnold & Elizabeth Anderson

Publication DOI

Publication Title

Feminist Economics

Publication Pages

pp. 1-17.


Originally published on March 1, 2021 in Feminist Economics, accessed via Taylor & Francis

This article aims to explore policy responses to the early phase of the COVID-19 crisis, with a particular focus on disparate outcomes for international migrant domestic workers (MDWs). Through an analysis of interviews conducted with health and humanitarian organizations and experts in key migration corridors, it surfaces the central role that MDWs play in social provisioning and in mediating care responsibilities between the state and the family, particularly during lockdown and shelter-in place orders, and calls attention to the essential but excluded nature of migrant labor. The study investigates how states’ responses to COVID-19 intersected with existing institutions of social provisioning and immigration laws, and with claims-making by MDWs to shape the impact of this crisis upon the well-being of these workers. It emphasizes that understanding what is happening to migrant care workers can help rebuild stronger, more effective social protection systems after the crisis.


  • Migrant domestic workers (MDWs) perform labor essential for social protection systems.

  • The COVID-19 crisis revealed their exclusion from those social protection systems.

  • Stronger pre-crisis social protection systems were more inclusive of MDWs.

  • Countries of origin largely failed to advocate for these workers during the crisis.

  • Claims-making by worker organizations emerged as workers’ main source of support.

  • Greater social protection for MDWs is a public health and human rights imperative.