Labour migration in Asia and the Pacific

A Cambodian migrant worker in Thailand.

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Asia and the Pacific is the world’s most economically dynamic region. There are already more than 30 million migrant workers in the region and it is widely predicted that migration in the region will continue to increase. In line with global trends migration in the region is becoming increasingly feminized, with women making up 42 per cent of migrants in Asia and 50 per cent in Oceania (UN DESA, 2013).

In countries of destination for migrants, the structure of economies, relative labour shortages and demographic changes are key factors driving the demand for workers. This is matched by a ready supply of women and men in countries of origin attracted by wage differentials and better opportunities, or forced to leave home because of natural disasters or conflict.

Migrant workers make an enormous development contribution to the region’s economies – through skills, labour power, services and competitiveness in countries of destination; and financial remittances, skills and knowledge on return to their countries of origin. In destination countries many migrants fill labour market niches by doing jobs that nationals do not want or cannot fill. Despite this, many migrant workers are subject to labour exploitation and abuse and studies of recruitment processes and working conditions for low-skilled migrants consistently reveal indicators of abuse commonly associated with labour exploitation.

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.

In Asia and the Pacific the overall objective is to increase the protection of migrant workers and create more effective governance of labour migration. Within this context the ILO has set the following priorities on labour migration for 2014-15:
  • to improve the knowledge base and policies relating to labour migration;
  • to build the capacity of governments and social partners to manage labour migration; and
  • to promote bilateral and regional cooperation on labour migration.

Current Labour Migration Projects in Asia and the Pacific


South-East Asia

South Asia