Of the six million migrant workers in Asia, around one-third are 'irregular', perhaps because they entered the country without going through the formal immigration process or because they overstayed or do not have the appropriate work permit. They, like all workers, migrant and national, are still entitled to basic rights at work — though they are the least likely to achieve them
Irregular migration in the region, including smuggling and trafficking
in persons, is taking on new forms and dimensions. This is not only raising concerns
about the exposure of migrant workers to exploitation and abuse, but is also fueling fears
about national security and public order.
Typical examples of irregular migrant workers are: overstayers on tourist visas; students engaged in employment; trainees overstaying their visas; regular migrants continuing beyond the contract period; regular migrants running away from their designated employer before expiry of contract; and persons trafficked into the sex industry.
Though they are officially spurned, irregular migrants generally make a vital contribution to the countries in which they work — alleviating market imbalances, and enhancing labour market flexibility by providing a reserve labour pool that can be tapped when needed. The importance of this manpower reserve is clear whenever there is a crackdown on irregular migrants since protests from employers often cause the policies to be reversed.
By virtue of their unlawful status, irregular migrants are very exposed to exploitation, and have little or no avenue for legal redress. They are usually very poor and live in squalid housing conditions and may resort to crime when unemployed. And since they bypass the health screening systems, they have also been accused of causing public health problems.
What the ILO can offer
The ILO can help countries minimize the number of irregular workers. This can be achieved, for example, by enabling them to make more realistic estimates of labour requirements and design appropriate admissions policies. The ILO can also assist countries of origin in developing employment policies to reduce the pressures to migrate.
Once irregular migrants have arrived, however, countries of destination have to make appropriate responses. One option is regularization. In the this case, ILO can offer advice on optimum solutions — balancing the objective of gaining more control over the migration process with that of achieving the maximum registration rate. ILO can also advise on processes for the return of irregular workers.