Internal migration is increasingly rural-urban. The main destinations of migrants are the mega cities and other urban areas, in search of better or more diversified livelihoods, better access to services or just a better life. Yet governments are ill-prepared to receive this large influx of people and unwilling to penalise employers who disregard labour laws and, as such, internal migrants to urban areas are exposed to a new set of risks and vulnerabilities. These risks include poor working conditions – such as long hours, low pay and an unsafe working environment – exploitation by recruiters, employers and middlemen, low-quality and uncertain housing, lack of sanitation and safe water, irregular or no access to utility services and generally poor access to basic and social protection services.
Despite having a great need for social protection, migrants to urban areas are less likely to have access to social protection, even when not crossing borders. This is both because of lack of entitlement for social protection (e.g. the hukou system in China prevents internal migrants from accessing state benefits) and lack of ‘physical access’. The latter can be determined by lack of knowledge or ability to apply for the programme, bureaucratic obstructions and non-coverage of informal urban areas. While it is important that policy makers concerned about poverty reduction understand the characteristics of these migrant groups, their risks and vulnerabilities, levels of access to services and social protection and barriers that obstruct access, little is known about these issues at present. This literature synthesises the literature on this subject. The focus is on the levels of access to social protection services for internal migrants and on the social protection policy features (design and implementation) that facilitate or act as obstacles to social protection participation and adequate coverage of internal migrant workers.