People travel to other countries every day for work and better living conditions. Some migrant workers carry their family members along. Others leave them behind and send money back home. Some migrant workers enter a country with all required legal and valid documents such as a contract of employment, visa, residence and work permits and all other required documents such as a medical examination certificate and a certificate of good character issued by the appropriate law enforcement entity.
Some migrant workers however, move to a country through illegal channels. Many at times, they enter a country without valid documents and/or are not documented. Due to their irregular status, they largely end up working in the shadow economies. While some of the migrant workers have positive experiences, some face difficulties depending on their circumstances.
If you are planning to take employment in another country other than your own, it is important that you obtain all relevant information about the laws governing you as a migrant worker in that country. Hence if you wish to move to Nigeria for work or you are presently working in Nigeria, then the information in this brochure is for you. It will provide you with important information on your rights as a migrant worker.
First of all, what qualifies you as a migrant worker?
If you are not a citizen in the country you are working, then you are a migrant worker. Whether you entered the country legally or without travel documents, you hold a work permit or not, you are issued an employment contract or not, what is important is that you crossed a national border to work and you are being paid for the work you are doing.
Migrant workers are sometimes hired in the private sectors. The very skilled ones work for instance as doctors, engineers, corporate managers and teachers. The less-skilled ones work in mining, construction, manufacturing, transport, sewing, baking, trading, carpentry, security services, shoe repairs and many more work in private homes as migrant domestic workers.
Why migrant workers?
Despite efforts made by the international community, governments and even the private sectors, many migrant workers still undertake great risks to take up jobs in other countries. By virtue of being a foreigner in a country, they remain vulnerable. As a migrant worker, you are exposed to various forms of abuse and violation of your rights from the point of departure, while in the course of the journey, at arrival and even within the work place, when compared to nationals. Many at times, you are not aware of the procedures for travel into the destination country and may largely depend on the recruitment agency for information.The reliance on only recruitment agencies potentially limits the accuracy of information you can obtain about the job and even other important information about your rights in the destination country. Domestic migrant workers for instance, particularly women are vulnerable to various forms of sexual and physical abuses, exploitation by virtue of the type of jobs they do in private homes where they do not receive respect and value as accorded to workers in other sectors.
Although the law in Nigeria protects both legal and irregular migrant workers, in reality, only those legally admitted are protected. The irregular migrant workers who constitute the majority are not adequately protected. Due to their irregular status, they are not members of any workers unions in the country. They are often exploited by employers who make them work for long hours and do not pay them the minimum wage. At times, they work in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. They constantly live in fear of expulsion and are of afraid to complain to the right authorities even when their basic rights are violated. They are not provided with benefits such as health care, good housing and pension.
Am I an Irregular Migrant Worker?
Every country defines the terms and conditions for entry and work for foreigners. You are an irregular migrant worker if you did not comply with the rules stated for Nigeria. For instance:
- You entered the country to work through an unauthorized port of entry, as such an immigration officer did not issue you an approval in your passport or travel document.
- You are employed in Nigeria without a Temporary Work Permit (TWP) or Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card (CERPAC).
- You entered Nigeria legally, secured a valid work permit. The permit expires and you do not renew it, however you continue staying to work without a legal permit.
- Your permit is missing and you have not obtained a police report and a new permit re-issued to you.
- You are a citizen of one of the ECOWAS member States and you are working in Nigeria without a residence permit.
Do migrant workers have rights in Nigeria?
Yes, as a migrant worker, you have certain rights. Whether you hold a residence and work permit or not, you are entitled to the fundamental human rights by virtue of being human. In Nigeria, the National Human Rights Commission states these rights to include: right to life; right to dignity of human person; right to personal liberty; right to fair hearing; right to private and family life; right to freedom of thought; right to conscience and religion; right to freedom of expression and the press; right to peaceful assembly and association; right to freedom of movement; right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of ethnic group, place of origin, circumstance of birth, sex, religion or political opinion and right to ownership of property.
Right of entry and stay
As a migrant worker, you have the right to enter Nigeria for work through an approved port of entry. Should you wish to take up long term employment, you are required to possess a valid passport, contract of employment and upon arrival, obtain a CERPAC which is valid for two years and renewable. The Card is obtained from the Nigeria Immigration Service for a fee depending on your categorization.
You also have the right to enter Nigeria for short term employment of a maximum of six months. In this case, you require a confirmed airline return ticket and an acceptance of immigration responsibility from your employer. You will be issued a TWP on arrival.
However, if you are a citizen of any of the ECOWAS member States, you are exempted from obtaining visas for entry into Nigeria. You are nonetheless expected to come in through a legally recognized port of entry with valid travel documents and obtain a residence card on arrival. The residence card is normally valid for five years and can be renewed every five years.
As a foreigner, if you are of good character and have lived in the country for a continuous period of fifteen years, you have the right to obtain the Nigerian nationality through the naturalization process.
By Nigerian law, every worker in the country has the right to minimum employment conditions, including migrant workers. You have the right to a safe and hygienic working condition, a written contract specifying all the terms and conditions of employment, same wage level as nationals, full payment of wages at intervals of not more than one month, rest breaks with pay, protection from unlawful workplace discrimination, payment of overtime, maximum work hours, freedom to join or leave unions and end a contract if desired. Working women also have rights to maternity leave of at least six weeks before and after delivery of a baby.
If working in a public or private organization that has 5 or more employees, you are entitled to a contributory pension scheme for the payment of retirement benefits. In addition, if you hold a full contract in an establishment of 50 or more employees, you are entitled to a minimum wage of per month. You are permitted to transfer money back home in accordance with the modalities specified by legislation.
If you have met all immigration obligations for entry and stay, you are considered a legal personality in Nigeria. If for instance, your contract of employment is wrongfully terminated or your legal documents are confiscated by your employer, you can seek redress in a court in accordance with the law. However, if you pose a security risk to the country or found guilty of not having the appropriate permits, you will be notified by the Immigration Service and you can be expelled. In this case, you will be granted some time to allow you collect your entitlements and settle any contractual agreements with your employer. Should you be wrongfully expelled, you can claim damages in court.
Right to Health Care
When you fall ill, you are entitled to health care services. Your employer may enroll you with the health insurance scheme by paying the appropriate premium to an authorized Health Maintenance Organization. A card will be issued to you by the Health Maintenance Organization bearing your vital details. With this case, you can access free health service when the need arises in a hospital of your choice that is within the Organization’s health provider list. The card is usually valid for three years renewable. If you do not present your health insurance card, you will have to pay the medical bills in order to receive medical attention.
Right to Education
Your child needs not miss out on education. He or she has right to education at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. The government runs a Universal Basic Education Programme which provides free and mandatory education for 9 years to all children in primary school as well as the junior secondary schools. You can find out about public schools running the programme in your locality.
There are also many private primary, secondary and university institutions in the country as well as public secondary schools and universities where you can enroll your child. The fees of the government owned schools are relatively cheaper than those of the private schools.
You too have right of access to professional training and education in any institution of your choice.
Social and Cultural Rights
As a legal resident, you have the right to live anywhere you desire so long as you can afford it. You are also permitted to bring your family members who must also fulfill the necessary conditions of entry and stay. You have the right to practice you religion freely, wear your traditional clothing and bring your local food.
If you are abused or exploited at work or you are aware of, or suspect someone is being abused or exploited, report it to the International Labour Migration Desk situated within the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity at 2nd Floor, Federal Secretariat, ShehuShagari Way, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. You can also report online on.
For more information on employment related rights, contact the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity office in any of the 36 states of the country or the Head office situated at the 2nd Floor, Federal Secretariat, ShehuShagari Way, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
For more information on immigration requirement and procedures, contact the Nigeria Immigration Service Office in Abuja on 09 -7806771 or visit www.immigration.gov.ng
For more information on the National Health Insurance Scheme, contact the National Health Insurance Scheme office on 234-1-4130026-7 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit their website on www.nhis.gov.ng
For more information on the Universal Basic Education, contact UBEC Building at No. 7 Gwani Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja or at +234-9-5232506 or visit www.ubeconline.com
For consular support, contact your country’s Embassy or Consulate.
Despite the contribution of labour migration to economic development of both destination and home countries, many migrant workers remain vulnerable and face significant risks during the migration process. Majority of them are often confronted with various forms of abuse ranging from confiscation of passports, confinement, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days, and very low wages or non-payment of wages. In some cases they are in situations of forced labour.
The ill-treatment and exploitation of migrant workers have led to the stipulation of several standards, norms and laws articulated in international and national instruments; and today there are Acts and legislations that deal directly or indirectly with the rights of migrant workers.However, a rights-based approach to labour migration is crucial to the realization of the benefits. Trade Unions are encouraged to sensitize migrant workers on their rights and obligations as enshrined in national, regional and international labour instruments. Furthermore, relevant authorities and employers of labour are urged to promote and protect these rights.
NLC Focal Person on Migration and Labour Migration: Comrade Eustace Imoyera James, Assistant General Secretary, NLC Head Office, Abuja