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ICCS WPS42 Labour Migration and the Plight of Migrants in the Asia-Pacific,

Author/Speaker|Jorge V. Tigno

Publication Date|2021-08



Labour migrants in the Asia-Pacific region are facing numerous challenges pertaining to the protection and promotion of their rights and welfare. These challenges are compounded by the fact that much of labour migration in the region falls outside of existing official and regular mechanisms. Further complicating these challenges is the involvement of a complex and myriad network of private (and oftentimes informal) recruitment entities and brokers. This essay presents some of the key observations on the circumstances of migrant workers specific to their rights and welfare. It also briefly enumerates some of the challenges that need to be confronted to address the plight of migrants in the Asia-Pacific region.


How significant is labour migration? The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that a third of the world’s international migrants (around 82 million) live in the Asia-Pacific region. The International Labour Organization (ILO) states that migration for employment is the dominant form of migration in the region. It is important to note that migration has transformed many countries in the world, whether sending or receiving. Migration brings about a great deal of cultural diversity. No country in the world today can say they have not benefitted from the cultural and other material contributions of migrants be it fashion, healthcare, and labour. Whether one talks about immigration or labour migration, many countries that both send and receive migrants are better off multiculturally and economically than before migration. Not only is the region enriched by migration culturally but also financially through the remittance incomes of millions of these migrants. Such migrant incomes make migration a multi-billion-dollar business.


What drives labour migration? The migration situation in the Pacific rim area has not only increased and intensified but has also diversified. Labour migration is a function of the development disparities found between different societies and economies. Migration for employment is fuelled largely by the economic disparities between sending and receiving areas most notably in terms of the wages of workers.


The region is largely made up of migration corridors between net labour-sending and net labour-receiving countries. What we find in the region is that net sending countries are usually countries with high population growth rates (relatively young labour force), economically poor, and in some cases, unstable socio-politically, while net receiving countries are typically those with low population growth rates (an ageing population), financially rich, and relatively stable socio-politically. Many of these flows are characterized by the movement of young women. The United Nations estimates that half of the international migrants in the Asia-Pacific region are women. For certain countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, that percentage can be much higher. In East Asia, the major labour-receiving countries are Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia while the key labour-sending or source areas are Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines.

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