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Migration a factor in the Asia-Pacific economy

18 March 20160 comments

Migration is a major driver of social and economic change in the Asia Pacific region but the economic gains from migration are often overlooked, according to a new UN report which also calls for policies promoting greater regional cooperation on issues of inequality and human rights abuses.

The report, titled ‘Asia-Pacific Migration Report 2015, Migrants’ Contributions to Development’ found that of 213 million migrants worldwide, more than 59 million were living in the Asia Pacific region.

Migration is a major driver of social and economic change in the Asia Pacific region

Migration is a major driver of social and economic change in the Asia Pacific region

More than 95 million migrants came from countries in the Asia Pacific region; a rise of almost 50 percent over the past two decades and a trend that is set to continue.

The report says the major cause of migration in the region was a flow of temporary labour migrants.

“There are nearly two million departures from the Philippines each year while more than half a million migrant workers leave Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Pakistan annually. Men and women migrate, although they work in different sectors, with male migrants dominating sectors such as construction and women being predom­inant in domestic work,” the report says.

Destination countries in the region, include Brunei Darussalam, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives, the Russian Federation, Singapore and Thailand and they derive substantial economic benefit from the migrant workers they host, the report says.

“Outside the region, migrants are found primarily in the natural resource-rich countries of the Middle East. While high-income countries are the destination of many migrants, migration in the Asia-Pacific region has a strong South-South tendency, with migrants moving between developing countries on a large scale,” it says.

“In general, migration is beneficial for most of those involved, resulting in higher GDP growth in countries of destination, increased wages for migrants, and benefits in terms of remittances for countries of origin,” the report says.

But it says the economic impact of migration is a contentious issue in contemporary political discussions in many countries and that there is a perception that migrants “take” jobs from nationals, and drive down wages.

But the reality is that as migrants make up a small part of overall labour markets, their contribution both positive and negative is very small and varies according to sector.

But restrictions imposed on migrant workers in some host countries impact migrant rights and limit their access to social protections, the report says, and such restrictions are often economically unjustified and are harmful to human rights.

The UN’s deputy executive secretary of its Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Hongjoo Hahm says that this despite the fact direct impact on local wages and inequality was also found to be quite small.

“What we find is the impact on wages, on inequality and employment is mostly predominantly determined and is a function of government policies – not on migrants, Mr Hongjoo said.

“When you provide migrants with decent work, when you treat migrants as your own, assimilate them into your economy and treat them as national labor – it really benefits your national economy.”

The report says that UN economists have come to the view that migrant trends in the future will also be influenced by regional demographic changes, especially in areas of an aging population, with a call for regional policies based on respect for human rights, decent work and social protection both for nationals as well as migrants.

It said that case studies from countries of the region showed that migration in different contexts led to different outcomes.

“In Malaysia, the employment of migrants supports job creation and assists in enabling Malaysian workers to access high­er-skilled and better-paid employment; while in Thailand, evidence suggests that migration contributes significantly to GDP growth, but also can have negative impacts on Thai workers in agriculture,” the report said.

“Migration alone is therefore not solely responsible for economic successes or for negative outcomes in destination countries, rather it is the prevailing economic and policy context which shapes the impact of migration,” it said.

The report said that outward migration from countries of origin could either in a positive manner by supporting the employment of people who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed, or in a negative manner when the loss of many skilled workers reduces national capacity to provide services or drive private sector growth.

“Remittances sent by migrants have positive effects not only for their families, but also for communities and the country at large,” it said.

“Countries of origin also benefit when migrants return with new skills that are useful to the national economy. As in countries of destination, however, policies can determine the impact of out-migration on countries of origin.”


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist