Labour migration in Asia and the Pacific

Safe Migration Campaign, GMS TRIANGLE Project, Myanmar.

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According to the most recent estimates, in 2013 there are 150.3 million migrants in the world who are economically active. Over half – 83.7 million – are men, and 66.6 million women. Asia-Pacific hosts 17.2 per cent of migrant workers worldwide (25.8 million persons). The Arab States have the highest proportion of migrant workers to all workers (35.6 per cent) and hosts 11.7 per cent of migrant workers worldwide, most of them from Asia (ILO, 2015).

Labour migration largely occurs under temporary migration regimes and for less skilled work. Migrants often fill jobs unattractive to nationals and some occupations are highly gendered. Asia is also an important source region for skilled workers (in particular China, India and the Philippines). In 2013, 3 out 10 new immigrants to the OECD came from Asia (OECD, 2015).

The region is marked by substantial remittance inflows. There were five Asian countries among the top 10 remittance receiving countries in 2015 (forecast,World Bank, 2016). Migrant workers make an enormous development contribution to the region’s economies – through skills, labour, services and competitiveness in countries of destination; and financial remittances, skills and knowledge upon return to their countries of origin. In destination countries many migrant workers fill labour market niches by doing jobs that nationals do not want or cannot fill. Yet many migrant workers in the region are subject to labour exploitation and abuse during recruitment and employment.

The ILO is the only United Nations agency with a constitutional mandate to protect migrant workers, and it does so as part of its overarching goal of achieving decent work for all. In addition to adopting International Labour Standards covering a wide range of employment-related areas (which apply to all persons in their working environment irrespective of their nationality) it has pioneered specific international Conventions to guide migration policy and the protection of migrant workers – including the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97) and the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143). All four sections of the ILO – standards, employment, social protection and social dialogue – work on labour migration and the ILO also promotes tripartite participation – the involvement of governments, employers and workers – in the formulation and implementation of migration policies and programmes.

The effective governance of labour migration poses big challenges and is shaped by powerful socio-economic and political factors. The implementation of policies and laws still have gaps in countries of origin and destination. Challenges and priorities in 2016-17 include protection and promotion of migrant workers’ rights; contributing to economic development and inclusive growth – in particular labour mobility, skills recognition and development impact; regional and inter-regional dialogue on labour migration; and improving harmonised data collection and statistics. Much of this needs to be done in the framework of contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and in particular goals eight and ten.

Current labour migration projects in Asia and the Pacific


South-East Asia

South Asia