A three-day roundtable on "Labor Migration in Asia: Recent Trends and Prospects in the Postcrisis Context" was jointly organized by the Asian Development Bank Institute and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development at the ADBI Tokyo headquarters from 18 to 20 January 2011. This event involved the participation of policy makers responsible for migration policy and representatives of economic planning ministries from developing Asia, policy makers from some OECD countries, and migration specialists from the International Organization for Migration and the International Labor Organization.
Migration has played a very important role in human development throughout history. And since the end of the Cold War, labor mobility has increased substantially. Today, more than 200 million people around the world are living outside their home countries. As a labor exporting region, developing Asia is very sensitive to the changes in the global economic landscape, and many migrants have been hit hard by the global economic crisis. But well-managed migration can be a positive force for economic and social development.
The first session focused on trends in labor migration in 2009-10. The recent global economic crisis dramatically has changed the picture of the international labor market. It has had negative impacts on international labor mobility, as migrant quotas were reduced, and migration rules and regulations were tightened in many developed countries, putting migrants in situations of vulnerability. Declines in migration rates caused huge social problems in some labor excess countries, such as in Central Asia, as the demand for migrants from the Russian Federation declined in line with oil prices.
Migration policies in the postcrisis context were addressed in the second session, with a focus on appropriate policy development and implementation for both sending and receiving countries. Migration can have both positive and negative impacts on receiving countries. In order to maximize the benefits of migration, receiving countries must balance the requirements of the local labor market with the need to protect migrants' rights for a decent life and secure jobs. It requires a long-term approach which includes such aspects as illegal migration control, education and retention of migrants, and smooth integration of migrants and their families to the society of the hosting country.
The third session addressed issues related to migrants' remittances. The level of remittances on a global scale has been increasing steeply in recent years, reaching an unprecedented $440 billon in 2010. Despite the severe consequences of the global economic crisis, the level of money transfers from migrant workers did not decline. On the contrary, for some countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam remittances have increased. The main focus of the discussions was how to optimize the benefits of these remittances for economic and social development. At this stage, the evidence shows that the vast majority of remittances finance private consumption rather than productive investment.
Highly skilled migration and the globalization of higher education was theme of the fourth session. Developed countries often try to target highly skilled workers. But their success varies greatly between countries. For example, in the case of Japan, a very specific corporate culture and the importance of the local language act as an important deterrent. The globalization of higher education can open great opportunities for both sending and receiving countries. While sending countries can benefit from the new skills of the international student, for receiving countries such students can be potential migrants who can join the labor market and integrate smoothly into society. Brain drain thus poses a problem for the sending country, but brain circulation is also increasing allowing the sending country to benefit even more from students' human capital. The United States and Australia are the main destinations for students from the Asia-Pacific region. But the People's Republic of China is also now attracting a large number of international students from both developed and developing countries.
The fifth session tackled the international mobility of health workers in Asia. According to the OECD estimates, by 2015 the number of people entering retirement in OECD countries will exceed the number of people who enter the labor market for the first time. In this context, the rapidly aging population in most developed countries has accelerated another type of migration, namely health workers' migration. This is having some adverse effects on the health sector in some developing countries through brain drain in light of the big wage differences between countries. Some doctors from developing countries retrain to become nurses to work in the US, Europe or Singapore. At the same time, the demand for health workers has stimulated nursing and caregiver education in developing countries. Therefore the health workforce migration should be monitored very carefully in both receiving and sending countries – in order to minimize the negative impacts for developing countries' health care system, and to ensure that migrant health workers enjoy decent working conditions in developed countries.
Public opinion and migration was the topic of the final session, and is one of the most crucial issues in the postcrisis context. While most countries welcome migrants when the economy is booming, many are quick to discriminate against migrants when an economic downturn arrives. There have been cases of xenophobic and nationalist reactions against migrants. In reality, well managed migration is important for the long term economic welfare of developed countries. Government has an important role to play in promoting a more positive and balanced public opinion through an objective discourse on the economic contribution of migrants, by facilitating better integration into the economy and society, and implementing antidiscrimination policies.
Participants were agreed that this inaugural round-table provided an excellent platform for an open and frank policy dialogue. Future round-tables could address issues like: social security schemes for migrants; protection of the labor rights of migrants; measures to attract highly skilled migrants back to home country; effective integration policies for migrant workers; coping better with aging populations through well designed migration policies; and measures to reduce migration cost and cost of remittances.