Regional Mobility Trends: Asia Pacific

In Asia Pacific, international migration and mobility have become increasingly more complex, dynamic, and diverse, shaping the overall social, economic, and demographic conditions in the region. The UN estimated in 2017 that there were 80 million international migrants in the countries and areas comprising Asia Pacific.

International migration has strengthened labor market mobility, remittances, and trade across Asia Pacific. For example, the Philippines has obtained USD 33 billion in remittances from migrants, while other countries in the region — including China (USD 64 billion), Pakistan (USD 20 billion), and India (USD 69 billion) — have likewise received remittances that have been vital to their economies.

Due to the economic contribution of migration to development, countries such as Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka have strategically invested in skills training and qualification programs for workers seeking employment elsewhere in Asia Pacific or the Gulf, in a bid to enhance these workers’ productivity and wages. Overall, international migration has not only helped stabilize economic growth in Asia Pacific but also enabled many labor-sending South and Southeast Asian countries to sustain strong economic growth, even in times of crisis.

Low-skilled temporary migration has become an essential feature of the Asia Pacific region. In fact, international migratory paths to Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Thailand mainly involve low-skilled, single migrants working predominantly in highly segmented low-skill or low-status jobs that are often masculinized (for example, construction) and feminized (for example, domestic work and nursing).

International migration has not only helped stabilize economic growth in Asia Pacific but also enabled many labor-sending countries to sustain strong economic growth, even in times of crisis.

Irregular migration remains a major dimension of migration in Asia Pacific, which hosts the world’s largest flow of undocumented migrants, who mostly originate from neighboring countries. These irregular migration flows are characterized by mixed legal migration issues (visa overstays, cross-border movement) and they are also, to a certain extent, facilitated by global smugglers. Irregular migration flows in Asia Pacific have contributed to the rising number of migrants in detention and deportation centers across the region and pose bilateral and multilateral challenges for governments seeking more effective and humane migration-governance responses.

Refugees and displaced citizens also play an important role in Asia Pacific migration — Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran alone host 2.7 million Afghan refugees — but many countries in Asia Pacific have still not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Existing resettlement programs in the US, Australia, and European countries have proved extremely limited. Moreover, more and more second-generation migrants find themselves with an irregular status (having no national identity or international travel documents), which poses the risk of their potential statelessness.

While international migration in Asia Pacific has produced ongoing policy challenges, it has also generated multiple opportunities for governments to deepen diplomatic relations and address migration issues. The current ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers was signed in 2017 to deal with migration governance and protection issues. The ongoing Colombo Process pilot initiatives in skills recognition and certification, recruitment, and migration technology have guided governments in addressing labor violations in origin, transit, and destination countries within the region.

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