Regional Integration and Labour Mobility (Studies in Trade and Investment No. 81)

Book31 Dec 2013

Labour migration in the Asia-Pacific is dynamic and growing. Variable economic growth, deepening regional integration, and growing disparities in wealth, both within and among countries, have created strong incentives for workers to relocate across borders. Patterns of migration are also becoming more complex: the traditional concept of labour migration as being from ‘South’ to ‘North’ is no longer accurate to capture the nuanced patterns of flows across the Asia-Pacific. There is a broad consensus that international labour mobility can contribute positively to development and poverty reduction under certain conditions. The ability to earn higher salaries abroad is broadly good for migrants and their families, and for communities remaining behind in the sending countries. Further, contrary to widespread beliefs that inward migration is socially and economically harmful, receiving countries can also benefit from the skills and economic dynamism brought by new arrivals. But there are also costs involved with migration including: high transaction costs for migrants themselves, low levels of protection for workers’ rights, and high human and social costs associated with distance from places of origin. Migration, when not well-managed, can also raise social tensions. Unlike international trade, mechanisms for international governance of migration are underdeveloped. However, some regional initiatives, including regional trade agreements, are increasingly including provisions on migration.

This paper reviews recent labour migration trends in the Asia-Pacific region. This is followed by a discussion of the main channels which link labour migration and development combined with analysis of policies that can enhance the developmental impact of migration. Finally, regional co-operation initiatives in the area of migration are summarized and proposals for reform at the regional and bilateral level are advanced.