PH can be ASEAN model for migration policies – World Bank

Patty Pasion
PH can be ASEAN model for migration policies – World Bank


A new World Bank study says ASEAN countries should reform their migration policies to boost labor mobility and promote the welfare of migrant workers in the region

MANILA, Philippines – Migration within Southeast Asia has significantly increased over the years but the workers’ welfare is not as protected, said the World Bank. 

According to its report “Migrating to Opportunity” released Monday, October 9, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries can adopt Philippine migration policies to boost labor mobility and welfare of migrant workers in the region. 

“The highly-developed support system for migrant labor in the Philippines can serve as a model for other countries, however, the country should continue its focus on improving reintegration of returning migrants,” said the World Bank study.

The Philippines has 5 national agencies that facilitate the needs of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). (READ: How OFWs can avoid getting buried in debt

However, there are still OFWs who fall victims to recruitment agencies engaged in illegal activities. Coming home permanently to the country is also an issue among OFWs who are prone to bankruptcy and lack of social protection. (READ: How Duterte gov’t plans to bring OFWs back home

Migration in the region has increased significantly between 1995 and 2015 that it has turned Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand into regional migration hubs. Some $62 billion worth of remittances was also sent to ASEAN countries just in 2015.  

The study said that the ASEAN can reap more benefits from its economic integration if countries ease restrictions on labor migration, which would ensure workers’ welfare. 

“No matter where workers wish to migrate in ASEAN, they face mobility costs several times the annual average wage. Improvements in the migration process can ease the costs on prospective migrants and help countries respond better to their labor market needs,” said World Bank Economist for Social Protection Mauro Testaverde. 

“The lengthy recruitment process, restrictive quotas on the number of foreign workers allowed in the country, rigid employment policies” are the causes for migration costs and constrained welfare of the workers.  

The study also found that the high costs of working in another country drive the increase of undocumented migration since workers try to cross borders through unlawful means.  

Reducing migration barriers, the study said, would boost workers’ welfare by 14%. With better and safer labor mobility comes opportunities for individuals in poorer countries to earn higher, which will boost the region’s economy. (READ: The bleak future of undocumented migrant workers in ASEAN

Policy recommendations 

World Bank’s policy recommendations for each country, as specified in the study, include:

  • Indonesia – streamline procedures and improve coordination among agencies involved 
  • Vietnam – develop a national migration strategy that will guide program reforms of past programs  
  • Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar – lower-income countries can simplify their processes to help reduce cost 
  • Malaysia – revise its levy imposed on foreign workers 
  • Thailand – formalize undocumented migrants 

Meanwhile, Singapore should continue to monitor the welfare of the migrant workers it is hosting even if it has already developed a “highly sophisticated and well-functioning migration system”. 

More than 9 in 10 intra-ASEAN workers are less educated and less skilled, making them more vulnerable to risks and costs of migration. The ASEAN Economic Community has taken steps to improve labor mobility but largely focused on interventions for high-skilled workers. – 

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Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.