Bilateral cooperation

Bilateral labour mobility agreements are seen as a promising mechanism for ensuring that the potential benefits of migration accrue to both origin and destination countries as well as to migrants themselves (IOM 2010). A number of them have already been set between countries in the subregion. Most of these agreements are in the form of memoranda of understanding (MOUs), which are not legally binding.

Many countries of South and South-West Asia have also signed bilateral labour mobility agreements with countries outside the subregion. Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Turkey have signed MOUs with destination countries in East Asia, Europe, South-East Asia and Western Asia, with the majority of them made with GCC countries, the area that has the largest concentration of migrant workers from South and South-West Asia. India has signed MOUs with more than 17 countries, including numerous European countries. Nepal has so far signed bilateral agreements with three destination countries, Qatar, the Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates, and is considering agreements with Bahrain, Israel, and Malaysia.

Turkey has signed a number of bilateral labour arrangements with European countries. Following an agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany in 1961, it inked agreements with Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1964, France in 1965 and with Sweden in 1967 (Hecker 2006).

Generally, bilateral labour arrangements aim to match supply with demand, promote friendly relations among States by encouraging orderly movements of labour and prevent the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon. In reality, the terms and conditions tend to favour the host countries because they are in a stronger position to enforce the arrangements agreed upon. The countries of origin in the subregion often struggle with political pressure from destination countries, which make it difficult to ensure protection of the migrants as set in the agreements.

As in South-East Asia, one of the challenges in a negotiating a bilateral labour arrangement for countries in the subregion is the reluctance of host countries to enter into any formal agreement that stipulates that foreign workers be subject to the same laws and regulations as nationals. Consequently, greater focus must be made in this area when negotiating these arrangements (Go 2007).