This paper reviews the literature on the portability of social security entitlements for migrant workers, who moved along North-North, South- North, and South-South migration flows. Portability of social security entitlements is the ability of migrant workers to preserve, maintain, and transfer benefits of social security programmes spatially and socially, among their families. The paper uses a gender perspective where possible as part of an intersectional approach. We find that North-North migrants have the best access to social protection and portability, due to generally higher income of migrants, the inter-governmental agreements and developed administrative capacities in the North. There is limited coordination between South/origin and North/destination countries on the portability of social entitlements (such as pensions) of South-North migrants. In general, these migrants are dealing with immigration discourses and discriminatory policies that treat them as second class citizens, even as they are providing much-needed labour to their host countries and contribute to their economy. This hinders bilateral agreements on social security portability. South-South migrants are seeing new regional mechanisms addressing portability. However, beyond legal agreements, many of the impacts of these mechanisms are not yet known. Knowledge gaps in the landscape of research on the portability of social security entitlements for migrant workers that future research should address relate to internal migration and South-South migration, the role of gender and other social identities, migrants' occupations as well as the legality of workers' immigration status.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Portability, migrant workers, migration, social security, social protection, research gaps, gender
Publisher International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)
Persistent URL
Series ISS Working Papers - General Series
Journal ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
Note This paper is one of a set of five literature reviews / annotated bibliographies that were undertaken as part of the research project on Migration, Gender and Social Justice (2010-2013), led by ISS (the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague) and funded by IDRC (International Development Research Centre, Ottawa). The main outputs of the project are available as an open-access book Migration, Gender and Social Justice, edited by T-D. Truong, D. Gasper, J. Handmaker, S. Bergh (Heidelberg: Springer, 2014), online at:
Taha, N, Messkoub, M, & Siegmann, K.A. (2013). How portable is social security for migrant workers?. ISS Working Paper Series / General Series (Vol. 573, pp. 1–37). International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS). Retrieved from