Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2012
A. Demographic trends
A.3. International migration

International migration has significant socioeconomic implications for the Asian and Pacific region. Destination countries benefit from the labour and skills of migrant workers while countries of origin benefit from remittances, investment, business exchanges and expertise provided by migrants living and working overseas. Developing countries in particular may have a lot to gain in terms of growth and poverty reduction if they can implement policies that distribute the benefits of employment generation and remittances effectively.

There were 53 million international migrants living in the Asian and Pacific region in 2010.

In 2010, just under one quarter of the world’s total international migrant population of 214 million people were living in the region. The largest number are low-skilled labour migrants who, with or without a work contract, move for temporary employment and who are generally not permitted to bring dependents with them. However, many other forms of migration are important in the region, including: (a) the migration of highly skilled workers; (b) migration for marriage; (c) migration for studies; (d) and asylum-seekers, refugees, and stateless and displaced persons.

Figure A.3-1
International migrants, Asia and the Pacific, 2010

Figure A.3-1 International migrants, Asia and the Pacific, 2010In 2010, roughly half of all international migrants in the Asian and Pacific region were living in four countries: the Russian Federation (12.3 million); India (5.4 million); Australia (4.7 million); and Pakistan (4.2 million). A notable absence from this list is China, which has a large population and land mass capable of accommodating international migrants and a growing economy that may attract them. Although China does not have the figures of the countries listed above, the number of international migrants living in China is increasing rapidly and has nearly doubled from the relatively low number of 376,000 in 1990 to 686,000 in 2010.

The percentage of international migrants of the total population living in Asia and the Pacific is less than half the global average. The highest concentration of international migrants in the region live in small, high-income countries and areas.

Despite the high number of international migrants living in Asia and the Pacific, they account for only 1.3 per cent of the population, less than half of the global average of 3.1 per cent. Furthermore, the proportion of international migrants in most countries in the region has been decreasing, in contrast with the increasing global average.

Higher percentages of international migrants are typically in smaller countries or areas in the upper-middle-income or high-income categories, such as Macao, China (56 per cent), Hong Kong, China (39 per cent), and Singapore (39 per cent), where there may be greater comparative opportunities and migrant-friendly policies. Hong Kong, China, for example, issues a number of visas that allow the holder to take up employment or employment-related training.

Figure A.3-2
Percentage of international migrants living in Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 1990 to 2010

Figure A.3-2 Percentage of international migrants living in Asia and the Pacific by income grouping, 1990 to 2010The percentage of international migrants living in high-income economies in the region has increased at a greater rate than the global average. While the global average increased steadily from 2.9 per cent in 1990 to 3.1 per cent in 2010, the percentage of international migrants living in high-income economies in Asia and the Pacific increased from 4.7 per cent to 6.4 per cent over the same period.

Box A.3-1
Women migrant workers in Asia and the Pacific

Women constitute 49 per cent of the global migration stock, but, in Asia and the Pacific, where temporary migration for employment constitutes the major form of migration, the proportion of women among migrants varies considerably from country to country. For example, women constitute about two thirds of the migrant workers deployed by Indonesia, approximately half of those deployed by the Philippines and Sri Lanka, less than one fifth of those deployed by Thailand and only about 5 per cent of those deployed by Bangladesh. The wide variation results not only from cultural factors but also from government policies that are a combination of measures to promote migration and measures to provide protection to migrants by imposing certain restrictions, as on age and on wages.a

The labour demand in destination countries is also an important factor in determining the proportion of female migrants in a country. For example, domestic work is typically perceived as a woman’s work in the developing world and is the largest employer in the low-wage sector for international women migrants originating from Asia.

Globally, 83 per cent of domestic workers are women.b According to the International Labour Organization, at least 52 million people around the world are employed as domestic workers and the Asian and Pacific region accounts for 21.4 million of these.c Women migrant workers may be especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in destination countries because of gender discrimination per se and because women tend to work in the informal sector (for instance, within private households as domestic workers), where they are not covered by labour, social protection or other laws. Given that many migrants are undocumented, such as those that are trafficked for sex work, their irregular status means they are more vulnerable and less likely to be covered by social protection schemes.

Despite the magnitude of the issue and the considerable research conducted on gender and migration, as well as migration and families in the region, gender-specific dimensions are rarely taken into account when it comes to policy design.

However, women migrants in Asia and the Pacific are attracting greater attention as awareness of the need to address their rights increases and as the contribution they make to socioeconomic development becomes more evident.

a International Organization for Migration, Gender and Labour Migration in Asia (Geneva, 2009).
b Ibid., Domestic Workers across the World: Global and Regional Statistics and the Extent of Legal Protection (Geneva, 2013). Available from global/publications/books/WCMS_173363/lang—en/index.htm (accessed 30 June 2013).
c Ibid.
Many countries in the region are net population “exporters”.

Many countries in the region have negative net migration; that is, they lose more people from international emigration than they gain from immigration. These “sender” countries could benefit in the short term if, through the absence of workers who migrate, new employment opportunities are created for unemployed or underemployed workers who remain, and in the longer term from migrants returning with new skills, products, ideas and knowledge.

In the region, countries with large, negative net migration rates are often small islands, fall under the low-income or lower-middle-income economic grouping, or have a recent history of civil unrest. From 2005 to 2010, the countries with the largest negative net migration rate per 1,000 people were the small islands of Tonga (-16), Samoa (-17) and the Federated States of Micronesia (-23), economies in the low-income or lower-middle-income economic grouping, such as Cambodia (-5) and Bangladesh (-5), and such countries as Afghanistan (-6), which have suffered from internal conflict. The net outflow from low-income and lower-middle-income economies has also increased in recent years.

Figure A.3-3
Net migration rate, top 20 countries and areas in Asia and the Pacific, 2005-2010

Figure A.3-3 Net migration rate, top 20 countries and areas in Asia and the Pacific, 2005-2010

Box A.3-2
A lack of a legal framework governing migrant protection

The Asian and Pacific region hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide. It accounts for almost 30 per cent of the global population of concern to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which totaled approximately 9.6 million people at the end of 2011.a

Although there is a long-standing tradition in the region of providing refugees with protection on an ad hoc basis, many countries do not have a legal framework governing refugee protection, and accession to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol remains limited. Some States that have not ratified these international protection instruments have nevertheless been providing ad hoc protection arrangements, but the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees often remains the de facto main protection actor in the region.

As of June 2013, only 9 countriesb out of 53 countries in the region have ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, but none of these countries is a major destination for migrant workers. The ILO Domestic Workers Convention (No. 189) will come into force on 5 September 2013 and, as of June 2013, it had been ratified by the Philippines, in addition to Mauritius and Uruguay.

a Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR Global Trends 2011 (2012). Available from
b Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste and Turkey.

Box A.3-3
Improved collection, dissemination and analysis of sex- and age-disaggregated data on international migration

Data on international migration are usually sourced from administrative records, population censuses and household surveys. The comparability and usefulness of the data could be further enhanced through the harmonization of concepts and definitions used in the various sources. Data need to be disaggregated by age and sex, with data collected on the specific situation of irregular migrants. Without this level of detail, it is difficult to assess the specific impact of migration on men, women and children within families and as a result, most research currently focuses on household-level impacts.

There is considerable potential for regional and subregional cooperation to improve the evidence base for gender-sensitive and effective policymaking. There is a need for data and analyses to underpin the development of coherent policies that link migration and development at the national level, and to gauge how migration impacts the development of countries of origin and countries of destination. The results of such studies can be used for policy development as well as to serve as a basis for advocacy on the positive contributions of migrants.

Data collection and use in this context should be protected by international standards on the right to privacy. Data could be widely disseminated through statistical publications and the Internet. This would allow the contribution of migration to development in both the country of origin and the host country to be carefully assessed, along with the associated costs.


Box A.3-4
Effects of public perceptions of migrant workers

The well-being of migrant workers in South-East Asia is highly influenced by public attitudes in destination countries. Perceptions affect the environment in which migrants work and socialize, and are translated into migration policies. Studies have shown that negative perceptions of migrant workers are commonly held by nationals of a destination country. For example, they commonly view migrants as disproportionately responsible for increasing crime rates and disease outbreaks. The fear of the unknown, which has been partially amplified by negative media reporting on migrants, is thought to be one of the key reasons for negative attitudes towards migrant workers.

According to a recent study that focused on the perceptions of migrants in Thailand,a migrant workers were seen by approximately half of the respondents as a threat to their human security. Undocumented migrants were seen as a bigger threat, with 75 per cent of respondents agreeing they were more likely to commit crimes while more than one quarter of respondents viewed undocumented migrants and their families (who were assumed not to undergo health screening before entering the country) as disease carriers. According to a study by ILO, even in countries experiencing labour shortages and very low unemployment rates in key economic sectors, only 55 per cent of respondents recognized the need for foreign workers to fill labour market niches.b Nearly 80 per cent of respondents in these countries believed that restrictions to admitting migrant workers should be increased.

Another ILO survey, conducted in Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore and Thailand, highlighted attitudes towards conditions for foreign and national workers.c Most survey respondents were of the opinion that registered migrants should not be entitled to the same pay or working conditions as nationals for performing the same job. This varied from 51 per cent of respondents in the Republic of Korea to 73 per cent in Malaysia. Attitudes towards unregistered migrant workers were even more severe. Nearly 80 per cent of respondents in three of the four countries agreed that unauthorized migrants could not expect to have any rights at work; the exception was the Republic of Korea, where only 40 per cent felt this way.

a Thai Association of Population and Social Researchers, Journal of Population and Social Studies, vol. 21, No. 1 (July 2012), pp. 47-58.
b International Organization for Migration, Communicating Effectively about Migration: World Migration Report 2011 (Geneva, 2011).
c Max Tunon and Nilim Baruah, “Public attitudes towards migrant workers in Asia”, Migration and Development, vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 149-162.

Further reading

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. International Migration from a Regional and Interregional Perspective. Santiago, 2012. Available from 46578/wDAProject_final.pdf.

ESCAP and Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. Interregional Report on Labour Migration and Social Protection. New York, 2013. Available from publications/edit/upload/E_ESCWA_SDD_2013_Technicalpaper2_E.pdf.

International Labour Organization. Domestic Workers across the World: Global and Regional Statistics and the Extent of Legal Protection. Geneva, 2013. Available from books/WCMS_173363/lang—en/index.htm.

United Nations. Regional cooperation in the economic, social and related fields: report of the Secretary-General(E/2013/15). 25 April 2013. Available from E201315.pdf.

Technical notes

Foreign population (thousands, percentage of population)
The estimated number of international immigrants, male and female, in the middle of the indicated year; generally represents the number of persons born in a country other than where they live. When data on the place of birth are unavailable, the number of non-citizens is used as a proxy for the number of international immigrants. The foreign population includes refugees, some of whom may not be foreignborn. Aggregate calculations: Sum of individual country values (thousands); weighted averages using population (WPP2012) as weight (percentage of population). Missing data are not imputed.

Net migration rate (per 1,000 population)
International immigrants minus emigrants divided by the average population of the receiving country over a period. Aggregate calculations: Weighted averages using population (WPP2012) as weight. Missing data are not imputed.


Source of foreign population data: United Nations, Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision (database, POP/DB/MIG/ Stock/Rev. 2008). Most estimates are based on data from population censuses held during the decennial rounds of censuses. Population census data are supplemented with data from population registers and nationally representative surveys. Data obtained: 25 August 2009.

Source of migration rate data: WPP2012. Estimated demographic trends are projections based on censuses, administrative data and surveys provided by countries through an annual questionnaire. Population data from all sources are evaluated by the United Nations for completeness, accuracy and consistency. Data obtained: 14 June 2013.

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