ESCAP: Benefits but Costs also in International Migration in Asia-Pacific
Bangkok (UN Information Services) – International migration in the Asia–Pacific region leads to both benefits and widening social costs – especially to families, marital stability and children left behind, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) reports in its latest regional survey.
The Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2008 also points to a trend of “feminization” in shaping migration patterns, especially in temporary labour migration where restrictions rule out family members from traveling to the country of employment.
The Survey reports that there were 58 million international migrants in Asia and the Pacific as of 2005. Of this total there were 53 million in Asia and the remaining five million in the Pacific.
“Women constitute a large majority of migrant workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka,” the Survey says. “Demand for female migrants has been persistent in relatively affluent economies where local women are drawn into the labour force or the need for elderly care is on the rise due to ageing populations.”
Recorded remittances to ESCAP developing countries were estimated at $106 billion in 2007, an increase of 11 per cent over 2006. The main recipients in 2007 were India, China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Pakistan which together accounted for $82 billion in 2007.
But international migration is more than flows of labour and remittances. “Migration affects the lives of those involved and the broader community-impacting marriages, families and governance. These dimensions often receive too little focus,” the Survey says.
Migrant workers, especially from the Philippines, are regularly highlighted in their contribution to the economy by their remittances to families. But the Survey notes that there are some three to six million children “left behind” by Filipino parents. In Indonesia an estimated one million children are left behind while in Thailand to figure is put at half a million.
“The social cost to children left behind includes poor performance in school, violent behaviour, delinquency and psychological problems,” the Survey says. In the Philippines and Sri Lanka, both key sources of large numbers of women migrants, there are indications that families face more adjustments when mothers migrate in comparison to when fathers work overseas.
However, this trend is also seen against the backdrop of benefits for those families left behind. “Families with migrant members tend to have better housing and higher ownership of consumer durables. Some families have adopted more modern ways of living strengthening the family by using remittances to build houses or educate children,” the Survey says.
At the same time, children who travel with their parents may also confront “serious institutional, social and psychological barriers, especially when parents occupy marking positions in the destination country.”
Legal identity, access to education and cultural barriers all can form barriers for the children. “Migrant children who do not connect in some meaningful way with their peers, family or school were at an increased risk of suicide, substance abuse, school failure, drop-out, health problems and criminal activity,” the Survey says.
Evidence also points to more women from the region’s developing countries traveling abroad for marriage. “Japan, the Republic of Korea and Taiwan province of China have experienced a dramatic increase in international marriages, mostly involving foreign women and local men,” the Survey says. In the Republic of Korea alone, 14 per cent of all new marriages in 2005 were between a Korean and a foreign spouse.
The Survey notes that a factor behind the trend is the “continuing urbanization in high-income economies, coupled with the impending depopulation due to low fertility and ageing populations.” Studies show that men from rural areas, in charge of family farms, are unable to find brides because local women prefer urban work and lifestyles.
Foreign brides are sought through advertising services, while in cases in Japan and the Republic of Korea, some local governments are assisting farmers “to sponsor searches for overseas brides in nearby countries.” For women, international marriage can be a chance for economic security and social mobility, the Survey says.
But there are also fears. “Brokers and agencies fostering marriage migration have raised concerns over fraudulent marriages and the trafficking of women. Facing restrictive policies, aspiring migrants may use marriage to gain residence in another country,” the Survey notes, adding that health issues and human trafficking are also matters of concern.
The Survey is calling for governments to formulate well-balanced policies to reduce the “social costs of family separation, marriage migration, and the effects of migration on public health merit attention alongside the economic benefits of migration.”
The key, the Survey says, is to protect the rights of migrants by ensuring equal treatment under the law in the receiving country. Also, more nations need to sign on to key protocols supporting human rights and especially migrant workers.
As the region's most comprehensive annual review of economic and social developments, ESCAP's Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific provides the only independent source of analysis covering all countries in this vast and diverse region, and considers both the social and economic spheres of development. The 2008 Survey, entitled "Sustaining Growth and Sharing Prosperity" looks at the most critical issues, challenges and risks our region faces in the months ahead.
Headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand, ESCAP is the largest of the UN's five Regional Commissions in terms of membership, population served and area covered. The only inter-governmental forum covering the entire Asia-Pacific region, it aims to promote economic and social progress.