Studies on migrants in an irregular situation are sparse because of the nature of irregular movements and such migrants tend to prefer to remain unnoticed or are isolated. Despite the lack of statistics and research data, there are ample reports that highlight the significant health risks associated to irregular migration. Migrants working in informal sectors, such as domestic work, are less protected by labour laws and easily end up in an irregular situation which increases their vulnerability to ill-health as a result of substandard living and dangerous working conditions, lack of access to health and social services and exploitation and abuse (physical, sexual and emotional). These were part of the findings of a study among Asian migrant workers employed in Arab States (UNDP 2008).
In many countries, irregular migrants are subject to administrative detention over violation of immigration laws. Detention of migrants has been associated with adverse health outcomes, especially for the already vulnerable, such as children. Mental health problems, including self-harm, have been documented, particularly in cases involving prolonged detention (Silove and others 2007).
As previously mentioned, a migrant’s legal status is one of the most significant factors in determining their access to health services in the destination country (Chatterjee 2006). This is particularly true for international migrants. Irregular migrants in host countries are unlikely to be provided with health care or insurance from their employers and are usually only afforded access to emergency medical care under national health care schemes. As a consequence of these two factors, combined with the risk of deportation if their status is discovered (Nygren-Krung 2003), irregular international migrants tend to seek health care or treatment in a destination country only when the disease is significantly advanced or life-threatening (Chatterjee 2006).