Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015: Migrants’ Contributions to Development
by Francesco Vecchio
On 29 February 2016, the report entitled Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015: Migrants’ Contributions to Development was presented in Bangkok by the deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The report was prepared by the Asia-Pacific RCM Thematic Working Group on international migration, which includes 15 agencies of the United Nations.
The report is divided into five chapters, which present the general migration trends in the region, the economic contribution of migration, and suggestions on how the positive contribution of migration to the development of the region could be increased.
The report indeed stresses that migration has become a structural factor in the region, and that the number of people engaging in migration will only increase in the years due to growing demand for skilled and lower skilled foreign labor, as well as the increased supply of labor-power from people increasingly aware of the opportunities available in countries other than their own. In 2013, there were in the Asia-Pacific about 59 million of the estimated 231.5 million migrants in the world. Over 95 million were instead the migrants originating from Asian and Pacific countries, or about 50% more than in 1990.
The largest migrant flow is undoubtedly the one for temporary work. For example, the report shows that nearly two million Filipinos every year leave their native country to work overseas. However, there were only 5.4 million Filipinos overseas in 2013, denoting the circularity of this movement. India was the country with the highest number of citizens working overseas in 2013, namely more than 14 million. It was followed by Russia (10 million), China (9.3 million), Bangladesh (7.7 million) and Pakistan (5.6 million). Many of these countries are also labor importers, such as Russia (over 11 million). Australia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Kazakhstan and China followed in this chart.
Most labor flows are regulated by states. However illegal migration remains prominent in the region, the report stated. This is because intra-regional mobility, and mobility from the region to other continents, is largely regulated by private agencies, which are not always able to operate regularly, or are unwilling to do so, in order to bypass official migration regimes that may be too restrictive and thus heightening the costs of migration. Considerations over the cost of migration may affect the nature of mobility in addition to their legality, such as the case of temporary labor migrants travelling as refugees, spouses and international students.
One of the major issues raised by the report is that many of the countries of destination for labor do not allow family reunion, while others, such as Korea, restrict the stay of foreign workers, allowing them to stay only a number of years before forcing their return to their home country. Migration flows are also impacted by the restrictions imposed by countries of origin to female migration, and the type of work offered in countries of destination. Men for example are mainly employed in construction and transport. Women instead work in the care or domestic sector. Interesting is the case of Bangladesh, where women’s contribution to the volume of migration in the country has grown since restrictions on the migration of women for employment were lifted, namely from 2.3% in 2007 to 13.8% in 2013.
The main contribution of this study is provided by the data that demonstrates the economic contribution of migration, both for countries of destination and origin and the migrants themselves. In Malaysia, for example, the hiring of low-cost foreign labor has enabled locals to specialize and access qualified and better paid jobs. Migration policies in each country may, however, impact on the contribution of migration. In Thailand migrants contribute to the GDP, but have been reported to have had a negative impact on local agriculture.
Finally, the report provides a guide to the steps that countries, regional organizations and civil society could take to improve this contribution, particularly when the rights of migrants and their access to social protection and decent work were guaranteed.