Managing International Labor Migration in ASEAN: Themes from a Six-Country Study

Aniceto Orbeta, Jr., Kathrina Gonzales
JEL codes: 
PIDS Discussion Papers No. 2013-26

The study presents a summary of the six-country study on managing international labor migration in the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)3. The countries are grouped into sending (Cambodia,
Indonesia, Philippines) and receiving (Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand). The objective was to share
international migration management issues from the perspective of a sending or a receiving country.
The country research teams were asked to identify and study a specific migration management issue
that is deemed current and reflective of the primary migration management experience of the country.
For sending countries, the Cambodia research team studied the high frequency cross-border crossings
into Thailand that is dominated by irregular migrants. The Indonesian research team looked at the role
of local governments in migration management as the country embarked into substantial
decentralization process. The Philippines research team look at the management of massive deployment
flows spanning thirty years with special attention to the most vulnerable group – the household service
workers. For receiving countries, the Malaysian research team looked at their experience in the
continuing running battle with irregular migrants. The Singaporean research team look at the close
interaction between the needs of the economy for migrant workers and their desire not to be too
dependent on them. The Thai research team described the experience at the crossroad of being both a
receiving and still a sending country.
The studies have highlighted seven important themes on international labor migration management in
ASEAN, namely: (a) the importance of integrating international migration into national and regional
development efforts; (b) the importance of both bilateral and multilateral agreements; (c) the
importance of recognizing differences in labor market policies in sending and receiving countries in
designing protection for migrant workers; (d) the need to consider general administrative capacities in
designing migration regulatory efforts; (e) the importance of involving sub-national bodies in migration
management; (f) the need to broaden cooperation in handling irregular migration; and (g) the
recognition that the protection envisioned by the state need not be the one “desired” by the migrant,
hence, the need to check often to find out the effectiveness of protection measures.