Countries wishing to employ migrant workers need to establish fair and transparent systems for selecting and admitting workers. ILO can assist by gathering information on best practice that conform to international labour standards.
Governments in the region have a number of options for regulating the admission of migrant workers. One is to apply 'economic means' tests to determine which migrant workers are required. An employer might, for example, be required to advertise the vacancy to national workers for a certain length of time and report on the results, or provide evidence that the job has been declined by available national workers.
Once the need has been established, the admission of workers is generally regulated through visas and work permits — the latter often in the form of block permits to the employer. The number of work permits will usually be limited by quota — expressed as a percentage of the labour force, perhaps, or of employment in a given sector or enterprise.
Nevertheless, the strongest influence on the number of workers admitted is usually the demand from employers. One way of influencing this demand is to charge the employer a fee for each migrant employed. Employers may, however, be tempted to pass these fees on to the workers. If this results in lower take-home pay, it would be counter to internationally enshrined principles of equal pay
for equal work. They may also try to avoid the fees by employing irregular workers.
Generally governments grant work permits which tie temporary migrant workers to specific employers. This may give them greater control but it restricts the rights and bargaining power of workers who cannot threaten to leave to obtain better terms. In Europe,
migrant workers can change jobs after 3 to 5 years of employment, but in Asia virtually no country has
a similar policy.
There can also be other forms of restriction. Many Asian countries deny entry on the basis of an HIV test, and may not even inform the migrants of the results.
What the ILO can offer
ILO specialists can assist governments in designing rational and fair admissions policies. These should ensure on the one hand that migrant workers do not displace national workers, while also guaranteeing that as far as possible legal migrant workers receive equal treatment with nationals.
We can draw upon many examples of admissions policies in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere and report on practical experiences and best practices that serve the purposes of the destination countries while also protecting migrants.