Mi­gra­tion trends in Asia

Enterprise - - Trade Watch -

With more than half of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, Asia also hosts more than half of the world’s mi­grant work­ers each year. La­bor mi­gra­tion within Asia grew ex­po­nen­tially in the first half of the 1990s. Rapid eco­nomic growth and de­clin­ing fer­til­ity led to strong de­mand for labour in the new in­dus­trial economies of East and South­east Asia. Nearly all coun­tries of Asia ex­pe­ri­ence both em­i­gra­tion — and of­ten tran­sit mi­gra­tion.

But it is pos­si­ble to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween mainly desti­na­tion coun­tries (Brunei, Hong Kong, Ja­pan, Sin­ga­pore, South Korea, Tai­wan), coun­tries with sig­nif­i­cant em­i­gra­tion (Malaysia and Thai­land), and mainly source coun­tries (Bangladesh, Burma, Cam­bo­dia, China, In­dia, In­done­sia, Laos, Nepal, Pak­istan, Philip­pines, Sri Lanka, and Viet­nam).

At the pol­icy level, mi­gra­tion has al­ready be­come an ac­cepted part of the de­vel­op­ment dis­course. This is be­cause mi­grant re­mit­tances work against the con­ven­tional, top-down, bu­reau­cratic ap­proaches and let the most needy peo­ple di­rectly en­joy in­come and op­por­tu­ni­ties. But debt is crit­i­cal to labour mi­gra­tion. There is a si­mul­ta­ne­ous debt econ­omy build­ing up with this ex­ten­sive labour mi­gra­tion tak­ing place in Asia. There are a num­ber of fi­nan­cial costs the labour mi­grants have to bear apart from the brunt of for­eign worker levy of the for­mal mi­gra­tion sys­tem. • Fees charged by re­cruit­ment agents and mid­dle­men in both send­ing and re­ceiv­ing coun­tries (in­clud­ing hid­den charges in the form of short pay­ment of agreed wages). Reg­is­tra­tion fees; pass­port fees. Visa fees, exit per­mit fees, etc. Travel and trans­port ex­penses be­fore de­par­ture, air tick­ets, ex­penses in tran­sit. In­ter­est on loans and mort­gages to fi­nance over­seas travel. Var­i­ous govern­ment levies and le­gal costs. Repa­tri­a­tion costs. A ma­jor­ity of mi­grant work­ers are forced to pay their first year’s en­tire earn­ings to cover these costs, while the traf­ficked labour be­comes a vic­tim of life­time debt bondage.

Due to a fierce com­pe­ti­tion of re­sources, the labour class is forced to move ahead of their per­sonal sav­ings and opt for ex­ter­nal fi­nan­cial re­sources. This cre­ates a niche for vested in­ter­est groups to take profit from. This cre­ates a sys­tem for debt mi­gra­tion econ­omy.

In gen­eral, there are two kinds of debt con­di­tions for Asia’s in­ter­re­gional mi­gra­tion. One is debt bondage mi­gra­tion in which mi­grants do not pay their re­cruit­ment and travel ex­penses up front, but rather work them off with em­ploy­ers af­ter ar­riv­ing in the desti­na­tion coun­try; it is also called ‘ad­vanced sale of labour’. The other is debt mi­gra­tion, in which mi­grants pay their re­cruit­ment and travel ex­penses up front, bor­row­ing from money-lenders and rel­a­tives and/or sell­ing fam­ily as­sets, such as land, houses, gold or­na­ments and live­stock. This form of debt mi­gra­tion is com­mon among mi­grants from Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, In­dia and Pak­istan, where money and as­sets are re­ceived in in­her­i­tance.

But, un­for­tu­nately all the mi­grants are not able to work them­selves out of the debt. Nearly 97 per­cent of mi­grants opt for mul­ti­ple fi­nan­cial re­sources; their per­sonal sav­ings hardly make up three per­cent of their re­quired fi­nances. Re­search re­veals that even af­ter work­ing for a pe­riod of 2 to three years, about 66 per­cent of mi­grants still have out­stand­ing loans. The ma­jor part of these loans comes from the tra­di­tional money lenders, who charge around 10 per­cent in­ter­est a month and if not paid, the amount keeps dou­bling on yearly ba­sis.

The low skilled class from South Asian coun­tries such as In­dia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pak­istan un­dergo sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences in the GCC and other Asian coun­tries. This sit­u­a­tion may change in the form of credit from for­mal fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions. The pol­icy an­a­lysts sug­gest low-cost loans to all po­ten­tial mi­grants, on sim­i­lar strat­egy as of hous­ing loans with fixed re­pay­ment time frame.

As a ma­jor fac­tor, the trade unions in the con­cerned coun­tries have not played an ac­tive role in the pro­tec­tion of mi­grant work­ers. De­spite a rel­a­tively stronger po­si­tion of trade unions within the Asian coun­tries, they face a num­ber of in­sti­tu­tional prob­lems to re­move the ob­sta­cles. Ac­cord­ing to ILO study, • It is dif­fi­cult for trade unions to ap­proach the mi­grants to of­fer ser­vices while they are abroad. • Due to ab­sence of proper doc­u­men­ta­tion, the trade unions lack ac­cess to rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion re­lated to mi­grant work­ers. • The trade unions are gen­er­ally non­rep­re­sented in pol­icy mak­ing for mi­grant work­ers. • The mi­grants work for such a wide range of em­ploy­ers abroad that the lan­guage and cul­tural bar­ri­ers cause com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lems. • The il­le­gal mi­grant work­ers are not keen to con­tact trade unions for fear of de­por­ta­tion by au­thor­i­ties. Also, in cer­tain cases the trade unions dis­play in­suf­fi­cient or­ga­ni­za­tional fa­cil­i­ties and un­trained per­son­nel. The dom­i­na­tion of mi­gra­tion agents and labour bro­kers is partly due to the un­will­ing­ness of re­ceiv­ing states to make bi­lat­eral tem­po­rary-worker agree­ments with coun­tries of ori­gin.

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 con­se­quences. Lib­er­al­iza­tion of poli­cies and bi­lat­eral agree­ments be­tween the Asian coun­tries may truly strengthen the epoch of rapidly grow­ing mi­gra­tion and pop­u­la­tion di­ver­sity in Asia

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