Bilateral agreementsAn effective collaboration mechanism between countries of origin and destination takes the form of bilateral agreements — formal agreements or memoranda of association to ensure that migration takes place in accordance with agreed principles and procedures. Having close contact with both countries of origin and destination, the ILO is in a strong position to advise on the usefulness and design of bilateral agreements that will serve both parties, and in particular can protect the interests of migrant workers.
The most common mechanisms for regulating interstate labour migration are various types of bilateral agreement. A formal bilateral agreement sets out each side’s commitments and may provide for quotas. Less formal is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Most countries of destination prefer MOUs, probably because as non-binding agreements they are easier to negotiate and implement — and to modify according to changing economic and labour market conditions. Countries may sign such agreements for political reasons, to reflect friendly relations or to reinforce cooperation in managing irregular migration.
For the destination countries, bilateral agreements help achieve a flow of labour that meets the needs of employers and industrial sectors, while providing for better management and promoting cultural ties and exchanges. For the countries of origin, these agreements ensure continued access to overseas labour markets and opportunities to promote the protection and welfare of their workers.
A number of destination countries have entered into bilateral agreements, including:
- The Republic of Korea — For the hiring of foreign workers under its Employment Permit System the Republic of Korea has MOUs with the Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, and Sri Lanka.
- Malaysia —There are MOUs with Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Viet Nam and Indonesia to regulate recruitment processes and procedures.
- Thailand — There are MOUs with Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Myanmar.
These agreements require special administration to ensure their smooth operation — including the recruitment, testing and certification of applicants for the programme, and timely data flow and information sharing between the two countries. For most of these agreements, however, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms tend to be weak and typically they concentrate more on recruitment procedures and less on welfare and protection.
Regional agreementsIn addition to various bilateral arrangements there are also a number of regional and sub-regional agreements on various aspects of migration. Regional agreements on migration typically involve a series of meetings that allow participants to share experiences and develop relationships and a common understanding of mutual problems.
One example is the annual ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML), which is an open platform for review, discussion and exchange of good practices and ideas between governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, and civil society stake-holders on key issues facing women and men migrant workers in South-East Asia, and develop recommendations to advance the implementation of the principles of the ASEAN Declaration on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The Forum provides opportunity to share stakeholder activities to implement the various Recommendations from AFML meetings as well as the experience of developing the draft ASEAN Instrument on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.
ILO has been a key player in these and other regional processes. It has also organized a number of round tables at which countries of origin and destination have been able to discuss issues of common interest. In addition we work with other regional institutions to encourage them to accept and integrate the ILO’s Multilateral Framework on Migration into their own programmes.