This chapter examined labour migration trends and patterns, management structures, conditions of employment abroad, and migration challenges and opportunities for 10 Asian countries. Four of these countries, Bhutan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Maldives, and Turkey experience net in-migration or minimal levels of net out-migration. The other six, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, have clear net out-migration.
Host countries face a variety of issues, such as lack of skilled labour in Bhutan and the Maldives. Overseas migrants from the countries with net out-migration are mostly low-skilled men, but there is a significant variation, from entire families often leaving Afghanistan to the wide range of skills among migrants leaving India. Sri Lanka sends the highest share of women abroad, mostly to be domestic workers in GCC countries.
Labour migration can be mutually beneficial for employers and migrants as well as for most residents of countries of origin and countries of destination. Achieving mutual benefits requires well-managed migration that protects the rights of migrants by providing them with complete and accurate information about foreign jobs, regulates and reduces recruitment costs and minimizes irregular migration, ensures that migrants are treated equally while abroad and helps the return and reintegration of migrants.
The challenge most amenable to unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral cooperation in the near term may be reducing recruitment costs, which may be more than 25 per cent of what a migrant with a three-year, $200 a month contract can expect to earn. Cutting $2,000 recruitment costs in half could be far more beneficial to migrants than cutting remittance costs in half. A South Asian migrant earning $200 a month abroad earns $7,500 over three years. If remittances are two-thirds of earnings or $5,000, reducing remittance costs from 10 per cent to five per cent saves the migrant $250, as remittance fees drop from $500 to $250. However, cutting recruitment cost in half saves the migrant $1,000 and more if interest on loans—that are often taken—is considered.
The options to reduce recruitment costs include, among other things, educating migrants, regulating recruiters, promoting competition and ethical recruiter behavior and establishing government recruiting agencies. However, education, regulation and competition have so far not significantly reduced recruitment costs, especially in Asia, which has some of the fast-growing labour migration flows. Despite the benefits of migration to host countries, only a few of them provide significant resources to educate migrants, regulate recruitment effectively, and improve coordination between government agencies concerned with labour migration.
There are many reasons why it is easier to reduce remittance costs than recruitment costs. First, remittance transfers occur more often than recruitment transactions, making it easier to educate migrants. Second, remittance transactions are far more standardized than job-worker matches, which make them more transparent to participating migrants as well as to NGOs and enforcement staff. Third, remittances normally leave a paper trail, from an employer paying for work that was done to a migrant transferring some of his or her earnings to family and friends at home.
Remittance costs are on a declining trajectory because of migrant education, revised banking rules and competition, and technology such as mobile phones. On the other hand, recruitment costs are not on a similar declining trajectory for many reasons. Recruiters in some countries are well-connected politically, making it hard to prosecute them for violating recruitment regulations; in many cases, charges are dropped by workers after the recruiter provides a contract or makes a payment. In some cases, payments for recruitment are hard to discern because they are made early in the process or reflect what recruiters in one country pay to obtain job offers in another. In some countries, governments set unrealistically low maximum recruitment charges and tolerate overcharges.
Strategies to reduce recruitment costs starts with establishing realistic regulations and efficient government agencies to implement them. It should be possible to use technology to link government databases and reduce the need for paper documentation from job-seekers, such as police clearances, birth certificates, skills certifications, previous employment records and social security memberships. The continued reliance on paper documents provides opportunities for forgers and a market for facilitators and intermediaries.
Many governments have set maximum recruitment fees that are often violated with the full knowledge of regulators. Higher-than-maximum recruitment fees arise from the many layers of intermediation involved in foreign employment, including foreign recruiters or sponsors and secondary or tertiary agents at home who recruit workers as well as high profit margins. Cooperation among host governments is necessary to curb the practice of selling visas, but the practices of the local recruitment industry can be influenced by governments of countries with net out-migration by making information about foreign jobs available through mass media.
The cost of excessively high recruitment transactions can be much higher than their monetary value. When abusive recruitment practices are discovered, there are several reactions, including halting the recruitment of workers from particular countries or stopping the deployment of particular types of workers. Recruitment bans negatively affect the availability of needed workers, migrants’ expected earnings, and the recruitment industry. A recruitment ban is, however, likely to improve the working conditions of those already employed.
Government checks of job offers and migrant contracts are also helpful but provide no panacea. Such checks have costs that must be paid by migrants or from general tax revenues. Government staff in embassies abroad dealing with large volumes of both job offers and migrant departures, cannot identify all problematic offers and contracts.