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Asian Migration at Crossroads: Towards Regional Economic Grouping


By Dr. Sakkarin Niyomsilpa

The economies of East Asia have become deeply linked together as intra-regional trade now makes up more than half of foreign trade of all countries in the region combined. This economic interconnection has been the driving force behind the moves towards regional economic grouping as in the establishment of free trade areas and economic partnership agreements that have not only opened up participating countries’ markets to trade, investment and services but also allowed movements of capital and labor among them.

The rise of these regional economic groupings is a factor that has significantly contributed to migration, particularly international labor mobility, in East Asia in three patterns: 1) labor migration from other parts of Asia to East Asia 2) migration from East Asia to Southeast Asia 3) migration among Asean countries.

However, migration in East Asia has arrived at a crossroads as a result of the acceleration of regional economic cooperation fuelled by the rapid economic growth of China and Asean. Other factors at play in this development include increasing labor shortage in many countries, the ageing of population in the region and improved transportation infrastructure that has increased cross-border travel. These factors have been altering the patterns and directions of international labor migration in the region in the following manners:

(1) Rapid and massive international labor migration that has spread throughout the region and is difficult to control (2) a more complex employment structure that has linked labor demand and supply among countries especially Asean members (3) changes in foreign policies that have opened up labor markets to international migrant workers to alleviate worsening labor shortage at home (4) a surge in the inflow of international migrant workers in some countries with ageing population, particularly Japan five years from now (5) the ongoing migration of a huge number of Chinese workers within and from China to other countries including Thailand, which is a destination as well as transit (6) an increasing number of migrant professional workers now heading to Asian destinations, especially China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam instead of the West as in the past.

These trends will be reshaping labor migration in Asia, and Thailand needs to make major adjustments to its policies on education and employment and to improve the linkage of labor demand and supply between the country and Asean.

Post Date : August 2, 2011

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