Major trends

The major trends, policies, conditions and migration issues facing these ten South and South-West Asian countries are summarized in table 1. The six countries with the largest number of out-migrants face similar challenges, such as:

  • Encouraging more skilled and fewer low skilled and low skilled women migrant workers to move abroad, under the theory that more skilled workers earn higher wages and can better protect themselves.
  • Increasing bilateral and multilateral cooperation with destination countries to improve working conditions and the treatment of migrants.
  • Enhancing the development impacts of remittances and the return of migrants with skills acquired abroad.
  • Reducing the cost of migration, minimizing recruitment fraud and abuses and extending labour-law protection to all workers, including domestic workers.

The host countries in the subregion face different challenges. Examples of these are the following:

  • Bhutan—regulating the entry of construction workers from Nepal and India.
  • The Islamic Republic of Iran—regularizing the status of Afghans working in the country.
  • Maldives—allowing employers to recruit migrants to work in the tourism industry and fill health-care related and teaching positions while encouraging members of the national population to obtain the education needed to fill jobs now occupied by migrants.
  • Turkey—gaining admission into the European Union (EU) while managing in- and transit-migration.

The governance of labour migration in the Indian subcontinent dates back to the Emigration Ordinance of the British colonial period. However, as demand for migrant workers in Western Asia picked up starting in the mid-1970s, Governments of Western Asian countries embarked on renewed efforts to regulate the recruitment of foreign workers in their countries. Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have since enacted laws and established institutions to better protect their citizens at home and abroad, and currently these four countries have in place the following:

  • Restrictions on direct recruitment of nationals by foreign employers or their agents, including on advertising job offers;
  • licensing and regulating private fee-charging recruitment agents or ‘employment-promoters’ by requiring security bonds, setting maximum fees and imposing penalties for violations;
  • checks on departing migrants to enforce minimum standards for contracts of employment.

Examples of other country initiatives related to migration are: establishing state corporations to compete with private recruitment agencies (Pakistan and Bangladesh and in five states in India); setting up dedicated agencies to provide insurance and welfare services to migrants and their families (Overseas Pakistanis Foundation and similar agencies in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal); and posting labour attachés or welfare officers in countries with migrants to provide on-site services.

There is no quick fix to improving the governance of labour migration. Some effective incremental steps could be including enforceable regulations and standards, upgrading the quality of personnel at government agencies and providing them with the resources to carry out their work effectively, regulate the recruitment industry with the aim to encourage cooperation, responsible behavior and accountability and taking note of feedback on the effects of regulatory efforts. Migration is inherently a multilateral concern, and desired outcomes are most likely to be achieved if countries of origin and destination meet regularly to discuss labour-migration issues and the best way to resolve them. Regular bilateral and regional meetings, with discussions guided by international principles and norms, offer the best hope for improving labour migration governance in South and South-West Asia.