Centre for Excellence

  • ISSA Guidelines:
  • Information and Communication Technology

Centre for Excellence

  • ISSA Guidelines:
  • Information and Communication Technology

Information and Communication Technology -
C.2. ICT-based Implementation of International Social Security Agreements

International social security agreements make possible the portability of benefits for millions of insured people and generate the export of billions of dollars in cash benefits around the world among signatory countries. This involves significant cross-border data exchange and back-office information processing. The effective and reliable implementation of agreements therefore requires an intensive application of ICT to ensure the integrity of the process. In spite of the increasing application of ICT in social security, the ICT-based implementation of international agreements remains challenging, in large part because of a lack of standards.

International social security agreements constitute a key legal instrument that enable the portability of social rights to migrant workers by ensuring that periods of employment are taken into account for granting benefits in the signatory countries. International agreements also aim at preventing the “double contribution” of temporary workers in a host country, enabling costs savings without reducing social protection.

While most international social security agreements are bilateral – being concluded by two countries – there are some multilateral agreements allowing several countries to coordinate parts of their social security schemes.

These guidelines address the implementation of the operational aspects of international agreements by using ICT, and focus on data exchange processes and related functions.

The overall development of a social security agreement involves two streams of activities. First, it involves carrying out preliminary discussions and negotiations, preparing the agreement text, signing and ratifying the agreement, and defining when the agreement will start to be applicable (so-called entry into force). Second, it requires setting up the administrative procedures to respond to requests related to the agreement as well as defining the roles and responsibilities for these tasks. The latter are usually established in the so-called administrative arrangements attached to the social security agreement.

The implementation of international agreements requires reliable mechanisms for data exchange among the involved institutions. This includes, among other matters, defining the data to be exchanged, the authentication mechanism (e.g. electronic signature), the protocol for request-response exchanges specifying maximum delays, as well as implementing the ICT-based systems to support these operations. Moreover, it also involves carrying out the daily operation of the agreement, through automated processes to the greatest extent possible, which mainly consists of receiving and sending information and notifications of changes as well as processing benefits claims.

As the operational tasks involve cross-border data exchange and information processing, intensive usage of ICT is necessary to achieve effectiveness and reliability in the application of the agreement.

In spite of the increasing application of ICT in social security, the ICT-based implementation of international agreements remains challenging. The lack of standards on data and processes is the main reason. In addition, the complexity of developing inter-institutional and cross-border systems constitute a barrier for implementing ICT-based systems supporting international agreements.

While several recommendations, frameworks and guides have been developed to address the policy- and legal-related activities leading to the entry into force of the agreement, there are no similar materials supporting the operational implementation and the daily operations of international agreements. The following guidelines support the ICT-based implementation of social security agreements by focusing on the operational aspects.


The overall implementation of international social security agreements involves stakeholders whose roles are usually mentioned in the texts of the agreements. The following definitions provide the context in which they are used in these guidelines:

  • Competent authorities refers to the ministries authorized under the social security legislation of a party participating in the agreement to administer that legislation. For example: the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Spain; the Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States; the Minister of Employment and Social Development of Canada; the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs; the Minister of Labour and Social Security of Uruguay; in Argentina, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security and the Minister of Health; the Minister of Human Resources Development of the Republic of Korea; etc.
  • Liaison agencies (or liaison institutions) refers to the organizations that ensure the coordination and exchange of information between the institutions of the parties participating in the agreement. Countries may define one or more liaison agency for all the different matters covered by an agreement. For example: the Federation of Administrative Bodies of Spanish Social Security; the Social Security System of the Philippines; the Japan Pension Service; Service Canada and the Revenue Agency for Detached Workers; the Social Security Administration of the United States; in France, the Centre for Social Security of Migrant Workers and the National Independent Social Security Fund for Miners; the Social Insurance Bank of Uruguay; in Argentina, the Superintendence of Health Services for health schemes, the National Administration of Social Security for pensions and family benefits, and the Superintendence of Labour Risks for workplace accidents; etc.
  • Competent institutions refers to the institution(s) responsible for administering the legislation to which the agreement applies, particularly social security schemes. Many agreements use the generic phrases “the competent authority” and “the institution which is competent according to the legislation applicable”. For example: the Minister of Employment and Social Development of Canada; the National Pension Service of the Republic of Korea; the Japan Pension Service; the National Social Security Fund of Morocco; the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation of India; the Social Insurance Bank of Uruguay; the Federation of Administrative Bodies of Spanish Social Security; the Social Security System of the Philippines; the National Old-Age Insurance Fund for Employees of France; etc.
  • Structure

    The following guidelines address:

  • The design and implementation of the operational processes and data exchange mechanisms using ICT, which includes the notification of changes to relevant information;
  • The daily operation of the agreement, by applying the implemented processes and mechanisms to specific cases. This consists of receiving and sending information, notifying changes and processing benefit claims.
  • The guidelines are based on a number of assumptions in the context of the overall process of implementing an international agreement:

    • The text of the agreement has been signed and has entered into force. The issues involving the socio-economic design and preparation of the text of the agreement, as well as negotiations for the agreement to be signed and entered into force, are out of the scope of these guidelines.
    • There are well-defined national regulations on data protection as well as conditions established in the agreement. Although the guidelines may provide insights on these matters, they do not aim at influencing these elements.
    • There are well-defined organizational structures at the international, national and institutional levels to manage the policy, regulatory and procedural aspects of the agreement as well as the relationships with other social security services. Therefore, these guidelines do not aim at designing such structures.

    While some of the guidelines focus on institutional aspects, others address issues to be jointly defined at the international level by the institutions participating in the agreement.

    The guidelines cover diverse scenarios and can be used in various ways according to the characteristics of the international agreements and the role the institution plays in their implementation. While implementing multilateral agreements requires taking into account all the recommendations, the implementation of bilateral agreements can be done by following a subset of the recommendations. In turn, institutions playing a liaison role should use those guidelines addressing features at the international and national levels, while those having the “competent institution” role would need to apply those guidelines focusing on the institutional level.

    The following guidelines are organized in six sections:

    • Section C.2.1, Governance and Management, begins with a definition of the mission, roles and governance structure for the ICT-based implementation of the agreements, and follows the establishment of a strategy and action plan. The last guideline in the section addresses the definition of the main administrative principles for the agreement.
    • Section C.2.2, Architectures, addresses the specification of architectures at the international, national and institutional levels. The goal is to define the components enabling the implementation of effective and secure interactions among the institutions. Defining the architectures is one of the first and key steps in the implementation of an international agreement.
    • Section C.2.3, Interoperability for International Agreements, addresses the key aspects of applying interoperability techniques for the implementation of international agreements. These guidelines, which further develop the related guidelines found in the current set of Guidelines, present the steps for defining an interoperability framework for the implementation of international agreements.
    • Section C.2.4, Security and Authentication for International Agreements, addresses the key issues in the authenticating operations of the international agreement, complying with data protection regulations and putting into practice a secure environment for the institutions’ interaction. These guidelines refine the section on data security and privacy, in this set of Guidelines.
    • Section C.2.5, Operational Processes and Information Models, addresses the specification of the processes and information models involved in the implementation of international agreements.
    • Section C.2.6, ICT Operations of the International Agreements, includes recommendations concerning ICT service delivery practices for the international agreements. These guidelines focus on the definition of service quality indicators (service-level agreements, or SLAs) and on setting up the system operations that will enable the carrying out of specific transactions in the context of the agreement.