Migration has long shaped the nature of societies in East and South-East Asia. The latter, in particular, has attracted migrants because of the opportunities it offers and as a safe haven during periods of dynastic and political change in other regions. The descendents of indentured labourers now constitute integral components of the populations of several countries in the region. Migrants from China have been an especially important element in forming the economic, social and political landscape of South-East Asia and key economies in East Asia.
While international and large-scale internal population movements have been significant components of economic and social development in the region for a long period, current international migration is characterized by a number of aspects that are more recent. These have included the degree of precision with which policy makers have attempted to guide that migration, the gradual evolution of migration as an issue for bilateral and regional discussion, the enhanced interest in the situation and rights of the migrants themselves, and the greater public debate involved in formulating and implementing migration policies.
The dominant direction of international migration appears to be directly related to the economic and demographic situation in a country. Countries in East and South-East Asia that have a relatively low per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and a high rate of growth among the working-age population are countries of out-migration. Thailand is currently the only country in East and South-East Asia with an intermediate per capita GDP and growth rate of working-age population, and it experiences significant levels of both in- and out-migration. The more economically advanced countries have low or negative rates of growth of working-age population and record net in-migration.
Once large-scale migration flows are established, it can be difficult for governments to alter them, due both to their commercial institutionalization and to informal networks. These aspects of migration have assisted in the partial development of a regional labour market, especially in certain occupations such as construction workers and domestic workers. When the demand for foreign workers is great and government enforcement is inadequate, some migration for employment becomes irregular.
The first part of this report provides a brief overview of the migration situation in each of 16 countries in East and South-East Asia by way of “country reports”. The second part comprises thematic chapters focusing on migration and its links to important social and economic issues, including policy development, labour migration, remittances, gender, health, children and indigenous peoples.
East and South-East Asia are regions with large economic disparities between countries. These disparities shape the migration flow and make it very difficult to establish coherent migration management policies. Governments in the region are trying to manage the supply of, and demand for migrant workers in a way that meets market needs and minimizes irregular migration. While progress is being made in this regard, opportunities for regular migration remain limited, and employer and migrants react by working outside the existing legal framework.
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