International migration of workers is growing. The global economic slowdown of the late 2000s and the early 2010s put a brake on employment opportunities in many countries across the world, and the crisis is not fully behind us. Nonetheless, the number of labor migrants is still increasing, and this publication shows that 2015 may well be a peak year for labor migration from Asian countries, both within the region and toward OECD countries outside of Asia. Neither political shifts nor persistent low oil prices have yet put a dent in the legal movement of Asian workers to employment in other countries.
These large-scale flows are nothing new, yet policies are in flux, both for the management of labor migration and for the protection of migrant workers. Asian countries are making constant adjustments to their policies to better match the flows of migrant workers to the needs of their countries, to protect migrant workers, and to strengthen compliance mechanisms.
There is increasing attention to migrant workers in multilateral frameworks. Two of the UN Sustainable Development Goals targets relate directly to the need to lower costs borne by migrant workers, especially those who leave their families to support them by working temporarily abroad. There has been a growing focus on fair recruitment practices—those which do not charge fees and related costs to migrants and allow them to keep a greater share of their earnings.
Another important issue in protecting workers is to ensure that they are not exploited at the workplace, and this extends equally to those who are undocumented. The publication provides evidence on the extent of irregular migration in Asia. Reducing irregular migration requires a comprehensive approach, and cannot be limited to immigration enforcement measures only. The need to improve labor protections for all workers can be matched with mechanisms to ensure that legal matching between workers and employers can occur without exorbitant costs, and that appropriate channels are in place for orderly and safe migration.
One of the most vulnerable groups of labor migrants are women working in domestic work and home-based care work, particularly since their work is often not recognized as real work with economic value, and as they work in isolation in the household of employers. The chapter in this year’s publication highlights the importance of gender responsiveness in managing labor migration and in developing policies to protect all migrant workers.
Since 2011, the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have organized an annual Roundtable on Labor Migration in Asia. Since 2013, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has also participated, and the three organizations have put together an annual report on the themes of the roundtable. The February 2016 event, held in Tokyo, focused on Safeguarding Labor Migrants from Home to Workplace. The question of how best to ensure that migrants are not subject to harm as they move abroad to work is one on which governments in Asia are working, on behalf of their own citizens and those who have come as migrants. This publication is intended to help make a contribution to the work of policy planners, experts, and practitioners in the region.