Best Free Reference
Web Site 2007
Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region
By Stephen Castles, University of Oxford
Mark J. Miller, University of Delaware
Japan is an immigrant destination in Asia, along with Brunei, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Over half the world's population lives in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2005,
Asia hosted 53 million out of the world's 191 million migrants according to
the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
In the 1970s and 1980s, international migration from Asia grew dramatically.
The main destinations were North America, Australia, and the oil economies
of the Middle East.
Since the 1990s, migration within Asia has grown, particularly from less-developed
countries with massive labor surpluses to fast-growing newly industrializing
Indeed, all countries in Asia experience both emigration and immigration — and
often transit migration. But it is possible to differentiate between mainly
destination countries (Brunei, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan),
countries with both significant immigration and emigration (Malaysia and Thailand),
and mainly source countries (Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia,
Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam).
Migration agents and labor brokers organize most recruitment of Asian migrant
workers both to the gulf and within Asia. Their dominance is partly due to
the unwillingness of receiving states to make bilateral temporary-worker agreements
with countries of origin. Although countries like the Philippines regulate
such agencies, some recruiters have engaged in the smuggling and trafficking
Asian governments seek to strictly control migration, and migrants' rights
are often very limited. Policymakers encourage temporary labor migration but
generally prohibit family reunion and permanent settlement. While most migration
in the region is temporary, trends toward long-term stay are becoming evident
in some places.
This article examines the main Asian migration systems: movement to Western
countries, contract labor to the Middle East, intra-Asian labor migration,
movement of highly skilled workers, student mobility, and refugee movements.
Most of these movements include substantial illegal migration. This often
takes the form of tourist visa-holders overstaying their permits, but smuggling
and trafficking of people is also frequent.
Asia includes the Middle East, but we focus here on South Asia (the Indian
subcontinent), East Asia, and Southeast Asia, with some discussion of Australia,
New Zealand, and the Pacific islands.
The Development of Asian Migration
About This Article
This article is based on the chapter "Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region" in
The Age of Migration, fourth edition. A more detailed version can be found in
the book. The Age of Migration website contains more material, including a virtual
symposium on the global financial crisis and migration.
Asian migration is not new: westward movements from Central Asia helped shape
European history in the Middle Ages, while Chinese migration to Southeast Asia
goes back centuries. In the colonial period, millions of indentured workers
were recruited, often by force.
Chinese settlers in Southeast Asian countries and South Asians in Africa became
trading minorities with an important intermediary role for colonialism. This
often led to hostility — and even mass expulsions — after independence.
However, it also helped create the ethnic networks that encouraged more recent
migrations. In the 19th century, hundreds of thousands migrated from China
and Japan to the United States, Canada, and Australia. In all three destination
countries, discriminatory legislation was enacted to prevent these movements.
Migration from Asia was low in the early part of the 20th century owing to
such legislation and the restrictive policies of colonial powers.
Movements within Asia continued, often connected with political struggles.
Japan recruited 40,000 workers from its then colony, Korea, between 1921 and
Some 25 million people migrated from densely populated Chinese provinces to
Manchuria between the 1890s to the 1930s; about 8 million remained there to
defend China from Japanese expansionism.
In the often-violent mass population transfers following Indian independence
in 1947, about 5 million Hindus and Sikhs left Pakistan for India, and about
6 million Muslims moved to Pakistan from India.
This article does not cover internal migration, but it is important to note such patterns in Asia as international movements are often linked to internal migration.
India is experiencing large-scale internal migration and urbanization. Accurate figures are not available, but there are an estimated 100 million migrant workers, many of them poor rural-urban migrants who return temporarily to their villages when agricultural labor demands are high and permanently in old age.
In China, massive flows from rural areas in the center and west to the new industrial areas of the east (especially Beijing, Shanghai, and the Pearl River Delta) have created a "floating population" of 100 to 150 million people.
Forced internal displacement is also a major problem. In 2006, there were 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Asia, not including the 2.7 million in the Middle East. The main causes were conflict, violence, or human rights abuses.
Millions more are displaced by development projects, such as large dams, while others flee environmental change and natural disasters like volcanoes and floods. In some places, vulnerable groups (especially indigenous peoples or ethnic minorities) may experience multiple types of displacement.
Movement to the West started to grow in the 1960s for complex reasons. Discriminatory
rules against Asian entries were repealed in Canada, the United States, and
Australia. Increased foreign investment and trade helped create the communicative
networks needed for migration.
The US military presence in Korea, Vietnam,
and other Asian countries forged transnational links, with some servicemen
bringing home Asian brides.
The Vietnam War caused large-scale refugee movements. The openness of the
United States, Canada, and Australia to family migration meant that primary
movements from Vietnam, whatever their cause, gave rise to further entries
of permanent settlers.
The huge construction projects in the gulf oil countries caused mass recruitment
of temporary contract workers. Rapid economic growth in several Asian countries
led to movements of both highly skilled and unskilled workers.
Emigration for employment from countries within the region has grown at about
6 percent annually over the last two decades, with about 2.6 million people leaving
their homes in search of work each year.
In the early 21st century, some 6.1 million Asians were employed outside their
own countries within the Asian region according to Australian demographer Graeme
Hugo. He roughly estimated the number of illegal migrants in Southeast Asia
countries in the early 2000s at about 3.8 million.
Huge estimates about 8.7 million Asian migrants in the Middle East and over
20 million Asian migrant workers worldwide.
Asian Migration to Western Europe, North America, and Oceania
Three European countries experienced large Asian migrations connected with
decolonization after World War II: the Netherlands from the former Netherlands
East Indies (Indonesia); France from Vietnam; and the United Kingdom from the
Indian subcontinent and Hong Kong. There were also some smaller movements,
like those from Goa, Macau, and East Timor to Portugal. Such movements had
declined considerably by the late 1970s.
In the 1980s, Vietnamese workers were recruited by the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia,
and the German Democratic Republic. Although often called trainees, these migrants
shared many of the characteristics of contract workers. After German reunification
in 1990, many remained.
Asian migration to countries across Europe, a recent trend, has grown. Top
European destinations include Italy, Hungary, and the United Kingdom. China,
India, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand are all significant source
The migrants include medical and information technology personnel, female
domestic workers (especially in Southern Europe), and manual workers who often
In 2005, three Asian countries made the top 10 source countries for foreign
residents in Italy: China (127,800 immigrants), the Philippines (89,700), and
India (61,800). Indian nationals made up the largest group within the UK foreign-born
population, with an estimated 627,000 residents in 2008; Pakistan was in fourth
place with 416,000.
Most Asian migrants live in the traditional immigration countries: the United
States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In the United States, the number
of migrants from Asia increased from 17,000 in 1965, the year the US Congress
dismantled the quota system, to an average of more than 250,000 annually in
the 1980s and over 350,000 per year in the early 1990s.
Most Asians came to the United States through family reunification provisions, though
refugee or skilled worker movements were often the first link in the migratory
chain. According to the US Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey, immigrants from the Philippines (1.70 million) made up the
second largest group after Mexico. Indian immigrants (1.50 million) were the
third largest group, followed by Chinese immigrants (1.36 million).
Asian immigration to Australia developed after the repeal of the White Australia
Policy in 1973, with additional stimulus from the Indo-Chinese refugee movement
at the end of the 1970s.
Among Australia's top 10 source countries in 2005 were China (third after New
Zealand and the United Kingdom), India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka,
and Hong Kong. The 2006 Australian census put the Asia-born population at about 1.2 million, over one-quarter of all immigrants.
In Canada, nondiscriminatory selection criteria and an emphasis on family and
refugee entry opened the door to Asian migration in 1976. Since 1993, over
half of all immigrants have come from Asia, mainly China, India, and the Philippines.
By the 2006 census, the roughly 2.3 million residents of Asian origin (not
including Oceania or the Middle East) made up over a third of the total immigrant
population of 6.5 million.
New Zealand began opening up in the 1950s, as economic and political links
with nearby Pacific islands gave rise to new inflows. From 1991, policies encouraged
immigration of people with professional skills and capital for investment.
Most of these came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan.
According to New Zealand's 2006 census, China was the second most common birthplace
after England. India and Korea were also in the top nine, as were Samoa and
Contract Labor Migration to the Middle East
Labor migration from Asia to the Middle East developed rapidly after the oil-price
rises of 1973. Oil-rich gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab
Emirates imported labor first from India and Pakistan, then from the Philippines,
Indonesia, Thailand, and Korea, and later from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
In the 1970s, mainly male migrants worked on construction projects. The governments
of India, Pakistan, and the Philippines actively marketed their labor abroad
and made labor-supply agreements with gulf countries.
Korean construction companies took on contracts in the Arab region, which included
provision of labor. The Asian labor-sending countries also allowed private
agencies to organize recruitment.
The gulf countries made it clear, however, that these workers would not be
allowed to permanently settle or bring their families, a situation that has
By 1985, there were 3.2 million Asian workers in the gulf states according
to economist Manolo Abella, but some 450,000 Asians returned to their countries
of origin after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the 1990-1991 gulf war.
After the war, gulf countries' recruitment of Asian workers increased again,
partly due to reconstruction needs but also because the gulf countries wanted
to replace "politically unreliable" Palestinians in Kuwait and Yemenis in Saudi
Arabia. Israel began to recruit Thais and Filipinos for agriculture, construction,
and domestic work, after security measures blocked entry of Palestinians from
the West Bank and Gaza.
The temporary decline of the construction sector after 1985 encouraged more
diverse employment of contract workers. The demand for domestic workers, nurses,
sales staff, and other service personnel surged, leading to a marked feminization
of migrant labor flows, with Sri Lanka and Indonesia as the main sources. In
later years, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel also became labor-importing countries.
Around 2002, Hugo estimated the number of Asian workers in the Middle East
at 3 million Indians, 1 million Pakistanis, 1.8 million Bangladeshis, 0.9 million
Sri Lankans, 1.5 million Filipinos, and 0.4 million Indonesians.
While all workers in the Middle East have limited rights, female domestic workers
are highly vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse, and it is difficult
for the authorities of their countries of origin to provide protection.
The governments of Bangladesh, Iran, Nepal, the Philippines, and Pakistan banned
some types of female migration to the gulf but found the ban impossible to
enforce due to the activities of illegal recruitment agents. The bans have
mostly been lifted although some limitations remain.
Asian migration to the Middle East has become more differentiated over time.
While many migrants remain low-skilled laborers, others have semiskilled or
skilled jobs as drivers, mechanics, or building tradesmen.
Others came with professional or paraprofessional qualification (engineers,
nurses, and medical practitioners). Asians fill many managerial and technical
posts but sometimes report to senior personnel recruited from Europe or North
In many cases, Asian labor migrants were not part of the unemployed rural and
urban poor at home. Rather, they tend to have above-average education levels,
and they are attracted to the gulf by the relatively high wage levels promised (though
not always delivered).
In 2004, Asians made up between 40 and 70 percent of the workforce in gulf
countries according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
With growing populations of young people who need jobs, gulf states have attempted
to reduce dependence on Asian labor since the late 1990s by recruiting local
workers, restricting new entries, and deporting illegal migrants. The completion
of some large construction projects has further reduced labor inflows, especially
of male manual workers.
Labor Migration within Asia
Since the mid-1980s, rapid economic growth and declining fertility have led
to strong demand for labor in the new industrial economies of East and Southeast
Asia. Labor migration within Asia grew exponentially in the first half of the
1990s. Some migrants returned home during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1999,
but labor migration resumed quickly.
Early flows were mainly low-skilled workers. In recent years, flows of the
highly skilled have increased throughout the region, and demand for health-care
workers is increasing (see section on highly qualified migrants).
Yet Asian migrants do not dominate the workforces of other Asian countries
they way do in gulf countries. According to estimates from ILO, in 2004-2005,
migrants made up less than 2 percent of the workforce in Japan, 12 percent
in Malaysia, and 28 percent in Singapore.
While existing flows from countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines
have continued, new source countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma
have become more significant. It is impossible to detail here the complex experience
of each Asian country. Instead we will discuss some general trends.
Feminization of Migration
The demand for female domestic workers surged first in the Middle East, and,
from the 1990s, within Asia, particularly Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In
2002-2003, women made up 65 to 73 percent of labor migrants departing from
the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangaladesh according to Hugo.
Figures for destination countries are not always available, but ILO reported
in 2006 that there were 202,900 women migrants in domestic work in Hong Kong
in 2000, while Malaysia had 155,000 documented and "many more undocumented
migrant domestic workers" in 2002.
Beyond domestic work, most migrant women within Asia have "typically female"
jobs: entertainers (often a euphemism for prostitutes), restaurant and hotel
staff, and assembly-line workers in clothing and electronics. These jobs offer
poor pay, conditions, and status, and are associated with patriarchal stereotypes
of female docility, obedience, and willingness to give personal service. As
in gulf countries, Asian countries rarely allow them to permanently settle
or bring over their families.
Another form of female migration is for marriage. Since the 1990s, foreign
brides have been sought by farmers in rural areas of Japan and Taiwan due
to the exodus of local women to more attractive urban settings. This is one
of the few forms of permanent immigration permitted in Asia.
In the last decade, marriage migration to Korea has increased, with international
marriages accounting for almost 14 percent of all marriages in Korea in 2005;
percentages are higher in rural areas. Indian men now recruit brides in Bangladesh,
and Chinese farmers, due to severe gender imbalances resulting from the one-child
policy, seek wives from Vietnam, Laos, and Burma.
Illegal migration has grown rapidly and affects many countries in the region.
Up to one in four migrant workers in Asia may have illegal status according
to ILO. Labor flows from Indonesia to Malaysia have been largely illegal, as
have the movements of Thai workers to Malaysia and other countries. Thailand
itself hosts up to 1.7 million illegal workers, mainly from Burma, according
to the International Organization for Migration.
The growth of illegal migration in Asia is linked to governments' unwillingness
to effectively manage migration and to employers' desire for easily available
and exploitable workers. Spontaneous illegal migration can meet labor
needs effectively, but it creates a situation of insecurity and rightlessness
Unlike some Western countries (especially Spain and Italy), which have regularized
illegal migrants, Asian countries have tended to turn a blind eye to illegal
workers at times of economic growth with campaigns of mass expulsion in economic
However, deportations have often been limited both by lack of institutional
capacity and employer demands to retain migrant workers in low-wage sectors
such as catering, domestic work, and plantations.
Malaysia is a good example: mass expulsions have been announced on a number
of occasions, particularly during the 1997-1999 financial crisis and more recently
in response to the global recession. Irregular migrants have been blamed
not only for unemployment but also for crime and disease. Vigilante
groups have been encouraged to support the authorities in seeking out irregular
migrants, leading in some cases to violence.
Recently, Asian governments' desire to combat drug trafficking and terrorism
have led to attempts at multilateral cooperation to prevent illegal migration.
For instance, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has adopted
a Plan of Action on Immigration Matters designed to encourage skilled migration,
facilitate legal movement between ASEAN countries, and combat people smuggling
The broader regional association, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, held
a meeting of high-ranking officials in August 2008 to discuss use of new technologies
in migration control.
Highly Qualified Migrants and Students
Most Asian migration is of low-skilled workers, but mobility of
professionals, executives, technicians, and other highly skilled personnel
has grown in the last 30 years. This "brain-drain" can mean a serious loss
of human capital in medicine, science, engineering, management, and education.
Depending on the origin country's labor needs, losing such people can present
a major obstacle to development.
At the same time, highly skilled migrants can be a source of remittances and
investment for countries of origin and help homeland producers gain new markets
abroad. Today, a key debate centers on what states can do to minimize brain
drain and to facilitate "brain circulation," or the return of talent, permanently
or temporarily. Here we will look at some of the Asian trends.
Country studies show substantial skill losses for Asian countries in the 1980s
and 1990s. In the Philippines, 40 percent of permanent emigrants had a college
education, and 30 percent of IT workers and 60 percent of physicians emigrated
according to the work of demographer B. Lindsay Lowell and others. For Sri
Lanka, academically qualified professionals comprised up to one-third of outflows
in the 1980s and 1990s.
The opposite side of the coin is developed countries' reliance on immigrant
professionals. In the United States, the 2000 census revealed that half of
the graduates who arrived in the 1990s were from Asia, with India and China
as the largest sources. Almost one-third worked in natural and social sciences,
engineering, and computer-related occupations.
Another form of highly qualified migration concerns executives and experts
transferred within multinational enterprises, or officials posted abroad by
international organizations. China had some 200,000 foreign specialists in
2000, while Malaysia had 32,000 and Vietnam about 30,000. They came from other
Asian countries, but also from the United States, Europe, and Australia.
Student mobility is often a precursor to skilled migration. Between 1998 and
2003, 2.6 million Asian students studied in other countries. The Chinese
were the largest group (471,000), followed by South Koreans (214,000), Indians
(207,000), and Japanese (191,000).
Australia changed its immigration rules in 1999 to take advantage of foreign
students, mainly from China and India, educated at Australian universities. Rather
than having to leave Australia on graduation and wait three years before applying
to migrate, they are allowed to remain in the country as they pursue their
immigration applications. By 2002, as social scientist Lesleyanne Hawthorne
found, over half of Australia's skilled-migrant applications came from former
However, fewer Chinese and Indian students are going abroad as the quality
of universities at home rise. Asian countries are also recruiting foreign students.
China's foreign student inflows (especially from Thailand) are increasing.
Japan has seen substantial growth in foreign students: by 2008, 118,000 were
enrolled, and the Japanese government planned to increase this number to 300,000
An important emerging trend is the growth of highly skilled mobility within
Asia. Regional migration flows are becoming far more diverse. India, Japan,
Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and Malaysia are all seeking to attract overseas
professionals either on a temporary or permanent basis. Like developed countries,
they have introduced privileged immigration and residence regimes for this
Often Asian countries are seeking to lure back their own diasporas — the professionals
and students who left when there were few opportunities at home. Taiwan has
been especially successful in maintaining contacts with expatriates and drawing
them back as industrialization progressed.
China and India are following this example. The Chinese diaspora has been a
crucial source of capital and expertise in China's economic growth. India began
formalizing its relationship with its diaspora in 2000. In 2004, the government
established a Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to court the diaspora with
special investment measures and "overseas citizenship" that allows for lifelong visa-free travel to India, among other benefits.
In terms of refugee movements, East Asia and the Pacific have stayed relatively
peaceful in recent decades compared with the Middle East, South Asia, and Central
At the end of 2008, war-torn Afghanistan — which millions of people first fled
in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded — remained the biggest global source
of refugees, with 2.8 million (one-fourth of the global refugee population)
in 69 different asylum countries according to the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR). Pakistan hosted the most refugees of any country in 2008,
with 1.8 million, nearly all from Afghanistan.
Before Afghanistan, the region's main refugee situation arose when the Vietnam
War ended in 1975. More than 3 million people fled from Vietnam, Laos, and
Cambodia, many as "boat people," sailing long distances in overcrowded small
boats, at risk of shipwreck and pirate attacks.
During the next 20 years, 2.5 million found new homes elsewhere, while a half
million returned. Over a million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians were
resettled in the United States, with smaller numbers in Australia, Canada,
and Western Europe. China accepted about 300,000 refugees, mainly of ethnic
Chinese origin. Other Asian countries were unwilling to accept settlers.
The Afghan emergency in 1979 came just after the Indo-Chinese exodus, and Western
countries showed little willingness to provide homes for new waves of refugees.
Indeed, most Afghans went to Pakistan and Iran, which were willing to provide
refuge for extended periods.
When Russia left Afghanistan, in 1992, about 1.5 million Afghan refugees returned
home. However, Taliban rule, a four-year drought, and the devastated condition
of the country delayed the return of others. To help fund the costs of rebuilding
their villages, increasing numbers of Afghans went to work in the gulf states,
while others sought asylum in Western countries.
The US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks was
designed to destroy Al-Qaida and the Taliban, establish a legitimate government,
and permit the return of refugees. In March 2002, the Afghan Transitional Authority
and UNHCR started a mass return program. By July 2002, more than 1.3 million
Afghans had returned, 1.2 million from Pakistan and 100,000 from Iran. This
unexpectedly rapid repatriation put severe strain on UNHCR finances.
Meanwhile, the governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, and other Western
countries began sending back Afghan asylum seekers, even though it was far
from clear that conditions were safe in Afghanistan. The intensification of
hostilities between US-led forces and the Taliban from 2005 hindered further
returns. Pakistan and Iran continued to host the largest refugee populations
in the world.
Apart from these two huge refugee movements, Asia has seen many smaller exoduses
smaller in numbers.
After the failure of the democracy movement in 1989, thousands of Chinese sought
asylum overseas. Conflicts linked to the break-up of the former Soviet Union
led to mass displacements in the 1990s affecting many new states, including
Georgia, Chechnya, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan.
At least 50,000 North Koreans have fled to China, South Korea, and elsewhere.
Other long-standing refugee populations include Tibetans and Bhutanese in India
and Nepal, and Burmese in Thailand and Bangladesh. In 2005-2006, Muslims from
both southern Thailand and southern Philippines fled to Malaysia to escape
persistent internal conflict.
The long civil war in Sri Lanka led to mass internal displacement as well as
refugee outflows. In 2001, an estimated 144,000 Sri Lankan Tamils were living
in camps in India, while other Tamils were dispersed around the world. The
resurgence of fighting in 2006 led to new displacements, especially of Tamils
from the north of the island.
In January 2009, UNHCR counted 137,752 Sri Lankan refugees around the world,
and over half a million persons internally displaced within Sri Lanka. The
final offensive of April-May 2009 led to many civilian deaths and injuries
and to further large-scale flight. In early July 2009, 280,000 persons were
reported to be housed in government camps in northern Sri Lanka.
The majority of the population of East Timor was forced to flee violence at
the time of the vote for independence in 1999. Most were able to return after
the UN peacekeeping mission, but new violence forced 150,000 from their homes
The major political shifts in Indonesia after 1998 led to massive internal
displacements, as well as refugee flows from areas of civil war, such as Aceh.
Again, recent peace settlements have allowed many people to return.
Asian migration has become much more complex, yet some general features remain.
One is the lack of long-term planning: movements have been shaped not only
by government labor policies, but also by the actions of employers, migrants,
and the migration industry.
Second, illegal migration is very high, and agents and brokers play a major
Third, the weakness of migration management in some countries contrasts with
the dominant Asian model of migration: strict control of foreign workers,
prohibition of settlement and family reunification, and denial of worker rights.
Finally, East Asian authorities emphasize the importance of maintaining ethnic
homogeneity, while Southeast Asian governments wish to safeguard existing ethnic
balances. But the globalization of migration is bringing about rapid changes,
and it is far from clear that Asian governments will be able to prevent unforeseen
By the early 21st century, Asia was beginning to see signs of increasing dependence
on foreign workers for dirty, dangerous, and difficult (so-called 3-D) jobs
as labor force growth slows in industrializing countries and local workers
reject menial tasks.
In these circumstances, employers sought to retain "good workers," migrants
prolonged their stays, and family reunion or formation of new families in the
receiving country took place. Processes of permanent settlement were
beginning to become evident, especially for the highly skilled, but also often
for less-skilled workers willing to take on the jobs that nationals rejected.
Trends toward democracy and the rule of law were also making it hard to ignore
human rights. The growth of nongovernment organizations working for migrants'
rights in Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines indicated the growing strength
of civil society. It therefore seemed reasonable to predict that settlement
and increased cultural diversity would affect many Asian labor-importing countries;
yet Asian governments were only just beginning to think about the need for
plans to deal with long-term effects of migration.
The onset of the global recession seems to have interrupted the growth
of Asian labor migration. Early analyses predicted relative economic stability
in the gulf countries, where most migrants from the Indian sub-continent are
concentrated, but forecast large falls in economic growth in Southeast and
East Asian countries, where most migrants from Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia,
Laos, and Burma are employed.
Export-dependent economies have been hit particularly hard. As of July 2009,
economic forecasts for the gulf countries look less positive, while production
declines in East and Southeast Asia seem even more severe, with falls in output
of up to 40 percent in some sectors in Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.
Migrant workers are often the first to be laid off, and some countries (such
as South Korea) have suspended their migrant worker recruitment programs. Yet
conditions are often even worse in origin countries, so that unemployed migrants
are often reluctant to return home, while new migrants continue to seek ways
of moving abroad.
It is too early to predict the recession's long-term effects on Asian migration.
Much depends on the length, depth, and characteristics of the crisis. A long
recession might well lead to increased popular hostility against immigrants
and to protectionist measures.
On the other hand, processes of economic change resulting from the downturn
might well contribute to a shift in economic power to new industrial regions.
This could enhance long-term employment prospects in Asia. Despite recent growth,
migratory movements are still quite small in comparison with Asia's vast population.
Migrant workers make up a far smaller proportion of the labor force in countries
like Japan and Korea than in European countries (although the proportion is
large in Singapore and Malaysia).
The potential for growth following the recession appears obvious. The economies
of East and Southeast Asia seem likely to pull in large numbers of migrant
workers in the future, a trend that may have far-reaching social and political
The 21st century has been dubbed the "Pacific century" in terms of economic
and political development, but it may also be an epoch of rapidly growing migration
and population diversity in Asia.
Abella, Manolo. 2002. Complexity and Diversity of Asian Migration. Geneva:
Abella, Manolo and Ducanes, Geoffrey. 2009. Technical Note: the effect
of the global economic crisis on Asian migrant workers and governments' reponses.
Bangkok: ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Available
Arnold, Fred, Urmil Minocha, and James T. Fawcett. 1987. The changing face
of Asian immigration to the United States. In Pacific Bridges: The New
Immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands, eds. James T. Fawcett and
Benjamin V. Cariño. New York: Center for Migration Studies.
Asis, Maruja M.B. 2008. How International Migration Can Support Development:
A Challenge for the Philippines. In Migration and Development: Perspectives
from the South, eds. Stephen Castles and Raúl Delgado Wise. Geneva: International
Organization for Migration.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations. 2006. ASEAN Plan of Action for Cooperation
on Immigration Matters. Available
Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2007. 2006 Census Table: 20680-Country of Birth (region) of Person by Age by Sex - Australia. Available
Cohen, Roberta and Francis Mading Deng. 1998. Masses in Flight: The Global Crisis of Internal Displacement. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Fawcett, James T. and Benjamin V. Cariño, eds. 1987. Pacific Bridges:
The New Immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands. New York: Center
for Migration Studies.
Gamburd, M.R. 2005. "Lentils there, lentils here!" Sri Lankan Domestic Workers
in the Middle East. In Asian Women as Transnational Domestic Workers,
eds. Shirlena Huang, Brenda S.A. Yeoh, and Noor Abdul Rahman. Singapore: Marshall
Hawthorne, Lesleyanne. 2009. The Growing Global Demand for Students as Skilled
Migrants. In Talent, Competitiveness and Migration: The Transatlantic Council
on Migration, eds. Bertelsmann Stiftung and Migration Policy Institute.
Gütersloh: Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung.
Hugo, Graeme. 2005. Migration in the Asia-Pacific Region. Geneva:
Global Commission on International Migration. Available
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. 2007. Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2006. Geneva: IDMC and Norwegian Refugee Council. Available
International Labor Organization. 2006. Realizing Decent Work in Asia:
Fourteenth Asian Regional Meeting: Report of the Director-General. Geneva:
International Labor Office. Available
International Organization for Migration. 2000. World Migration Report
2000. Geneva: IOM.
–––. 2005. World Migration 2005: Costs and Benefits of International Migration.
IRIN Asia. 2009. Sri Lanka: Rains Raise Fears of Malaria Setback. June 30,
Khadria, Binod. 2008. India: Skilled Migration to Developed Countries, Labor
Migration to the Gulf. In Migration and Development: Perspectives from
the South, eds. Stephen Castles and Raúl Delgado Wise. Geneva: International
Organization for Migration.
Lidgard, J.M. 1996. East Asian Migration to Aotearoa/New Zealand: Perspectives
of some new arrivals. Population Studies Centre Discussion Papers: 12. Hamilton:
University of Waikato.
Lowell, B. Lindsay, A.M. Findlay, and International Labor Office. 2002. Migration
of Highly Skilled Persons from Developing Countries: Impact and Policy Responses:
Synthesis Report International Papers, 44. Geneva: ILO.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 1995. Trends in
International Migration: Annual Report 1994. Paris: OECD
–––. 2007. International Migration Outlook: Annual Report 2007. Paris: OECD.
Otake, Tomoko. 2008. Foreign students to fill the halls. Japan Times,
October 28, 2008. Available
People's Daily Online. 2008. APEC officials discuss migration control. August
14, 2008. Available
Sinn, Elizabeth, ed. 1998. The Last Half Century of Chinese Overseas.
Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Skeldon, Ronald. 1992. International Migration within and from the East and
South-east Asian Region: A Review Essay. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 1
–––. 2006. Interlinkages between Internal and International Migration and
Development in the Asian Region. Population, Space and Place 12.
Statistics Canada. 2008. Citizenship (5), Place of Birth (35), Sex (3) and
Immigrant Status and Period of Immigration (12) for the Population of Canada,
Provinces, Territories, Census Divisions and Census Subdivisions, 2006 Census
- 20% Sample Data. Available
Statistics New Zealand. 2007. QuickStats About Culture and Identity: 2006
Wellington: Statistics New Zealand. Available
Trlin, Andrew D. 1987. New Zealand's Admission of Asians and Pacific Islanders.
In Pacific Bridges: The New Immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands,
eds. James T. Fawcett and Benjamin V. Cariño. New York: Center for Migration
UK Office for National Statistics. 2009. Migration Statistics Quarterly
Report: May 2009. Newport: Office for National Statistics. Available
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2006. World Migrant Stock: The 2005 Revision
Population Database. New York: UN Population Division. Available
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 1995. The State of the World's
Refugees: In Search of Solutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
–––. 2002. Afghan Humanitarian Update, 63. Geneva: UNHCR.
–––. 2006. Global Report 2006. Geneva: UNHCR. Available
–––. 2009. 2008 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees,
Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons. Geneva:
UNHCR. Available online.
–––. 2009. Sri Lanka: Country Operations Profile. Available
Back to the top
If you have questions or comments about this article, contact us at
2002-2013 Migration Policy Institute.
All rights reserved.
Migration Information Source, ISSN 1946-4037
MPI · 1400 16th St. NW, Suite 300 · Washington, DC 20036
ph: (001) 202-266-1940 · fax: (001) 202-266-1900