Call for Papers: 'COVID-19: Labour, Migration, and Exploitation'


Guest Editor: Annalee Lepp

Over the past two and a half years, the world experienced successive waves of COVID-19 outbreaks. As governments imposed specific and varying measures in response to the pandemic, there is substantial evidence to indicate that internal and cross-border migrant workers in both places of destination and origin were disproportionately affected in virtually all aspects of their lives. We have heard countless stories of migrant workers who, at the beginning of the pandemic, were unable to return to their home countries, were forced to return, or experienced various forms of (criminalised) immobility. In each of these scenarios, migrants who stayed or returned had to contend with challenges in accessing employment and income, housing, social supports, and public health measures (e.g. COVID-19 tests, vaccinations, and quarantine) as well as with the harsh conditions of immigration detention facilities. Migrant workers were also impacted by escalating labour demand in some sectors, diminished labour demand in others, significant labour shortages in still others, and a rise in xenophobic nationalisms. Local workers too, especially in the informal economy but also in poorly regulated sectors such as manufacturing, construction, and agriculture, were affected by similar policy failures.

These dynamics increased the precarity and risks of exploitation for a vast number of people. At the same time, while many organisations raised concerns about human trafficking, official figures do not appear to show an increase in identified cases.

At the conceptual level, the pandemic generated (possibly a short-lived) recalibration of what constitutes ‘essential work’, including the indispensable contributions of migrant workers to national economies and the various forms of caring labour. There have also been calls for re-imagining mobility in the aftermath of the pandemic and the rethinking of migrant labour regimes, securitised models of migration governance, and more expansive migration pathways. Some groups of workers, however, have been excluded from these re-imaginings, such as sex workers and other informal workers.

This special issue of Anti-Trafficking Review aims to examine the interface between COVID-19, migration, labour, and exploitation, including the effects of COVID-19 on internal and cross-border migrant workers and on labour markets in their many complexities and dimensions. Ultimately, we hope that the issue will contribute to a (re)consideration of the meanings of ‘decent work’, ‘exploitation’, and ‘mobility’ and the ways in which nation states might address them in a post-COVID-19 world.  

We invite scholars, practitioners, workers, survivors, and advocates to consider the following prompts, but this list is not exhaustive:

  • COVID-19 policies related to housing, social protections, and access to public health, vaccination, and (in)adequate quarantine measures and how these responses impacted local and migrant workers and exacerbated existing inequalities. The experience of groups of workers who were excluded from government economic mitigation and relief packages, such as sex workers and other informal workers.
  • COVID-19-related border securitisation and visa regimes that impacted migrant workers in countries of destination and origin, including border restrictions, criminalised situations of immobility, and destitution due to closed borders or business closures.
  • Immigration detention in the context of the pandemic, including living conditions (e.g. vulnerability to infection and lack of access to adequate healthcare) or government practices of release and non-arrest.
  • Varying government responses to labour shortages in specific sectors in countries of destination as they relate to migrant workers (e.g. waiving temporary migrant workers’ visa and work permit renewal requirements, or COVID-19 entry restrictions).
  • Analyses of government or NGO data on identified victims of human trafficking.
  • Experiences of migrant workers who remained in countries of destination and were prevented from returning to work. What alternative employment or income generating activities have these immobilised workers been compelled to rely on if any?
  • The experiences of migrant workers or trafficked persons who returned during the pandemic, including forced returns and deportations as well as opportunities for sustainable reintegration (e.g. employment and social supports).
  • Analyses of various labour market shifts, including considerations of the concept and recalibration of ‘essential work’ in differing contexts during the pandemic and its aftermath; the ‘great resignation’ and its impact on workers, employers, and markets; and the significant increase in gig work (e.g. cooking and delivery). What are the implication of these developments for the future of work?
  • Re-imagining mobility in the aftermath of the pandemic, including alternatives to current exploitative labour regimes, securitised models of migration governance, and migration pathways.

Deadline for submissions: 1 December 2022

In addition to full-length research-based, case-study, and conceptual articles, we invite short, blog-style articles or collaborative interviews related to the issue’s theme.

Word count for full article submissions: 5,000 - 7,000 words, including footnotes, author bio, and abstract.

Word count for short article submissions: 1,200 - 1,500 words, including footnotes and author bio.

We advise those interested in submitting to check out the journal’s style guide and submission guidelines and/or email the editorial team at with any queries.