Around 25 million Asian workers are currently employed outside their home countries. More than two million leave every year, while a similar number return. In the past the majority went to the Gulf countries, but nowadays the largest flows are within the Asia-Pacific region — with a number of countries serving as both origins and destinations.
Over the past decade many countries across Asia and the Pacific have experienced rapid economic growth, but there are still wide disparities between them in labour demand and in wage rates. As a result workers are increasingly moving from one country to another on short-term contracts, and labour markets are becoming ever more integrated.
Around half of the 2.6 million Asia-Pacific workers who leave home come from South Asia. Typically they follow well-worn paths to the Gulf region to perform all kinds of service and maintenance jobs, serve as store-keepers or guard establishments to build houses. In addition a large number of South Asian professional and technical workers head for North America and Europe. Some South Asians also go to Southeast Asia to work in plantations in Malaysia, for example, as domestic helpers in Singapore, or as construction workers in the Republic of Korea.
Another 1.3 million migrant workers are from Southeast Asia. These are mostly Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Burmese, and Vietnamese. Young Indonesian men, for example, find their way to Malaysia to take up unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in construction, say, or agriculture, while the women go to Saudi Arabia to work as domestic helpers. The Philippines and Thailand also send large numbers of workers to fill skilled and unskilled jobs in neighbouring countries and in the Gulf.
What the ILO can offer
The ILO is in a strong position to help countries track and document these international flows. It maintains the online
International Labour Migration Database (ILM), which hosts statistical
time-series data from 86 countries. The database has a public part, which is available to all users, and a private part which allows relevant persons and organizations around the world to submit information directly to the database.
The ILO is also a major source of analytical publications, working papers, reports, and books, on international migration. These are available from bookshops and online from the ILO in Geneva. For convenience, a selection of these are presented on this site, for downloading as Adobe Acrobat pdf files.