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Bilateral agreements

The most effective collaboration between countries of origin and destination takes the form of bilateral agreements — formal agreements or memoranda of association to ensure that migration takes place in accordance with agreed principles and procedures.

The most common mechanisms for regulating interstate labour migration are various types of bilateral agreement. A formal bilateral agreement sets out each side’s commitments and may provide for quotas. Less formal is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Most countries of destination prefer MOUs, probably because as non-binding agreements they are easier to negotiate and implement — and to modify according to changing economic and labour market conditions. Countries may sign such agreements for political reasons, to reflect friendly relations or to reinforce cooperation in managing irregular migration.

For the destination countries, bilateral agreements help achieve a flow of labour that meets the needs of employers and industrial sectors, while providing for better management and promoting cultural ties and exchanges. For the countries of origin, these agreements ensure continued access to overseas labour markets and opportunities to promote the protection and welfare of their workers.

A number of destination countries have entered into bilateral agreements, including:

The Republic of Korea — For the the hiring of foreign workers under its Employment Permit System the republic of Korea has MOUs with the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka.

Malaysia —There are MOUs with Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam and Indonesia to regulate recruitment processes and procedures.

Thailand — There are MOUs with Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Cambodia and Myanmar

The country of origin with the most bilateral agreements is the Philippines with 13 — 12 labour-receiving countries and one labor-sending country, Indonesia — though this does not include the principal destinations for overseas Filipino workers such as Singapore, Japan and Saudi Arabia.

These agreements require special administration to ensure their smooth operation — including the recruitment, testing and certification of applicants for the programme, and timely data flow and information sharing between the two countries. For most of these agreements, however, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms tend to be weak and typically they concentrate more on recruitment procedures and less on welfare and protection.

What the ILO can offer

Having close contact with both countries of origin and destination, the ILO is in a strong position to advise on the usefulness and design of bilateral agreements that will serve both parties, and in particular can protect the interests of migrant workers.


Online publications

  1. Social protection for ASEAN migrant workers
    Strengthening Social Protection for ASEAN Migrant Workers through Social Security Agreements. Edward Tamagno. ILO/EU WP10 [pdf - 1.3 MB]
  2. Inter-state cooperation on labour migration: lessons learned from MOUs between Thailand and neighbouring countries – Pracha Vasuprasat. ILO/EU WP16 [pdf - 0.5 MB].
  3. Asian Labor Migration: The Role of Bilateral Labor and Similar Agreements. Stella Go [pdf - 67 Kb]
  4. MOU between Malaysia and the Indonesia [pdf - 0.6 Mb]
  5. MOU between the Republic of Korea and the Philippines [pdf - 1Mb]
Last update: May 3, 2009 ^ top