How Do People in Asia and the Pacific Migrate Legally for Work? An Overview of Legal Frameworks: GATS Mode 4, PTAs and Bilateral Labour Agreements (TIID Working Paper Series 3/11)

Working paper16 May 2011

The movement of goods and services across borders has gradually been liberalized over the past few decades, thanks in large part to multilateral legal frameworks negotiated in global fora such as the World Trade Organization. In contrast, the movement of people across borders remains severely restricted worldwide. To date, there is no multilateral framework, nor is there an international negotiating forum tasked to regulate global migration flows, despite ever increasing numbers of international migrants and a keener understanding of the contribution that migration and remittances can make to the prospects of developing countries. This paper will examine the patchwork of multilateral, regional and bilateral legal instruments through which migrants from Asia and the Pacific currently legally cross borders in search of employment. It concludes that the existing frameworks are very inadequate: in almost all the multilateral and preferential agreements focusing predominantly on trade (GATS Mode 4 and Preferential Trade Agreements), countries have made binding commitments only with respect to the temporary entry of high-skilled service providers. Given the regulatory vacuum at multilateral and regional levels, countries in Asia and the Pacific have entered into dozens of bilateral agreements in the area of labour and migration. While these agreements do typically cover semi- and unskilled labour migrants, they rarely provide binding market access commitments or enforceable protections for migrants. As a result, most semi- and unskilled labour migrants today still cross borders through unilateral guest and seasonal worker schemes which provide the migrant-sending country with no leverage and the migrant with little protection. In conclusion, there is significant scope for further cooperation among nations in the area of labour migration, which could result in greater global welfare gains and distributive justice.