Migrant workers bring substantial benefits to their countries of origin and destination, and if safe, orderly and regular, migration can be a key enabler of sustainable development. International migration is a structural and growing reality in Asia and the Pacific affecting all countries in the region. In 2019, almost 106 million people from Asia and the Pacific lived outside their countries of birth, while the region hosted about 65 million migrants. The latter represented an increase of more than 25 per cent since 19901 and about 5 per cent increase since 2017.
Figure 1: Immigrants to Asia-Pacific countries by subregion (2000, 2010 and 2019)
Figure 2: Emigrants from Asia-Pacific countries by subregion (2000, 2010 and 2019)
Over half of all migrants from Asia and the Pacific migrate to developing countries, either within or to neighbouring regions, especially the Middle East. Women migrants make up 51 per cent of the migrant stock, and 49 per cent of migrants from the region2.
Labour migration dominates migration flows in the region. According to ILO estimates, there were about 33.5 million migrant workers in Asian and Pacific countries in 20173, while large numbers of labour migrants move to the oil-producing countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is estimated that Asian and Pacific labour migrants sent over $327 billion4 to their countries of origin in remittances in 2019, over twelve times the $27 billion5 the region received as official development assistance in 2017. Migrants also make significant contributions to countries of destination, through their work,consumption and taxes. Migration helps to build bridges between countries of origin and destination, while it can also be empowering for migrants, enabling them to learn new skills and broadening their horizons.
Figure 3: Net remittances, net overseas development assistance and net foreign direct investment inflows received by Asia-Pacific countries (billions of current USD, 2009–2017)
These gains are offset however due to the realities faced by many migrants, whose migration experiences are unsafe, irregular and disorderly. Limited legal pathways to migration, high migration costs and a lack of cooperation between countries of origin and destination result in many migrants suffering exploitation and abuse, violating their human and labour rights and creating serious challenges to sustainable development. Women migrants are particularly vulnerable to these forms of abuse.
Figure 4: Status of ratification of main human rights instruments related to migration, Asia-Pacific countries
For migration to live up to its potential to benefit all – migrants and non-migrants alike – it is essential that it be safe, orderly and regular.
1 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) (2020). International migrant stock 2019. Available at www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimates19.asp.
3 International Labour Organization (2018). ILO Global Estimates on International Migrant Workers. Available at https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_652001.pdf.
4 World Bank (2019) Migration and Remittances Data. Available at https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/migrationremittancesdiasporaissues/brief/migration-remittances-data.
5 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (2019). OECD Stats. Available at https://stats.oecd.org/.
ESCAP’s Work on Migration
At the global level, the United Nations has established the United Nations Network on Migration to provide effective, timely and coordinated system-wide support to Member States.
At the regional level, the Regional UN Network on Migration for Asia and the Pacific has been formed to facilitate effective, timely and coordinated UN system-wide support to Member States in Asia and the Pacific on the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), where such a common UN system approach would add value. The Regional Network promotes migration policies that support the well-being and realisation of the human rights of migrants and their communities in a coherent, holistic and balanced manner. This includes policies and their implementation that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and regional and sub-regional initiatives of relevance, while progressing in the implementation of the 23 objectives of the GCM. The Regional Network is convened by IOM (as the Coordinator and Secretariat of the UN Network on Migration) and membership of the Regional Network comprises of an Executive Committee and other entities with clear mandates, technical expertise and capacity in migration-related fields, namely (in alphabetical order): ESCAP, ILO, IOM, OCHA, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UN DRR, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNODC, UN Women.
Migration and the 2030 Agenda
Migrants and migration are specifically recognised in the 2030 Agenda in the following Sustainable Development Goals and targets:
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Means of implementation 3.c. Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States.
Indicator 3.c.1. Health worker density and distribution.
The intent of means of implementation 3.c. is to prevent the “brain-drain” of trained health professionals from less developed to more developed countries.
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Means of implementation 4.b. By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries.
Indicator 4.b.1. Volume of official development assistance flows for scholarships by sector and type of study.
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Target 5.1. End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
Target 5.2. Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Target 8.7. Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
Target 8.8. Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment.
Indicator 8.8.1. Frequency rates of fatal and non-fatal occupational injuries, by sex and migrant status.
Indicator 8.8.2. Number of International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions ratified, by type of convention.
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
Target 10.7. Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies.
Means of implementation 10.c. By 2030, reduce to less than 3 per cent the transaction costs of migrant remittances and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5 per cent.
Indicator 10.7.1. Recruitment cost borne by employee as a percentage of yearly income earned in country of destination.
Indicator 10.7.2. International Migration Policy Index.
Indicator 10.c.1. Remittance costs as a percentage of the amount remitted.
Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Target 16.2. End abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.
Target 16.9. By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.
Indicator 16.2.2. Number of victims of human trafficking per 100,000 population, by sex, age group and form of exploitation.
Indicator 16.9.1. Percentage of children under 5 whose births have been registered with a civil authority, disaggregated by age.
While target 16.9. does not refer specifically to the children of migrants, they are often at high risk of not having their birth officially registered.
Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
Target 17.18. By 2020, enhance capacity-building support to developing countries, including for least developed countries and small island developing States, to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.
Indicator 17.18.1. Proportion of sustainable development indicators produced at the national level with full disaggregation when relevant to the target, in accordance with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.
International migration is also recognised in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for Financing for Development. The Action Agenda contains commitments to:
- Combat xenophobia and facilitate integration through education and communication strategies;
- Lower recruitment costs of migrants;
- Increase portability of earned benefits and recognition of qualifications;
- Enhance productive use of remittances
- Promote faster, cheaper and safer transfer of remittances;
- Cooperate internationally to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, with full respect for human rights; and to
- Increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age, geography, income, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts
The Global Compact on Migration
The Global Compact (General Assembly resolution 73/195) and General Assembly resolution 73/326 on the “Format and organizational aspects of the international migration review forums” set out a clear process within the United Nations framework for State-led review and follow up at local, national, regional and global level involving all stakeholders.
At the global level, an International Migration Review Forum will be held every four years, beginning in 2022. The Forums will involve member States and all relevant stakeholders and will adopt Progress Declarations identifying progress towards the implementation of the objectives of the Global Compact.
At the regional level, the Compact invites “the United Nations regional economic commissions … to review the implementation of the Global Compact, within their respective regions, beginning in 2020”. The reviews will enable member States and all stakeholders to
a. take stock of the overall progress made with regard to the implementation of the 23 objectives of the Global Compact in the Asia-Pacific region, with the participation of all relevant stakeholders;
b. identify key challenges, opportunities, gaps and emerging issues, as well as promising practices and lessons learned related to the implementation of the Global Compact that might be relevant to other regions;
c. discuss regional priorities and potential areas for regional cooperation on international migration;
d. compile resource requirements, capacity-building needs, policy advice, data gathering needs, technology and partnerships that are needed for the full implementation of the Global Compact at the national and regional levels; and
e. facilitate the formulation of key findings and recommendations to inform the International Migration Review Forum.
In response to this mandate, ESCAP and the Regional UN Network on Migration for Asia and the Pacific, of which ESCAP is a member, will carry out a first regional review on implementation of the Global Compact using the ESCAP platform. The first regional review will take place from 18-20 November 2020.
Want to know more about migration and the Global Compact? Watch this two-minute explainer.
Tools and Methodologies
This Report supports the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by providing an evidence base on migration in the region, including trends, key issues and recommendations, to guide action.
The database on annual migrant worker outflows compiles time series data on annual labour outflows from select countries of origin to respective countries of destination. These outflow data are compiled by ESCAP, based on official administrative records from countries of origin, to help understand the scale and direction of labour migration in the region.
The Population Data Sheet, published annually by ESCAP, provides an overview of key indicators on population dynamics - including population size and growth rates, fertility rate, life expectancy and age structure, at country, subregional and regional levels. It is a useful tool for reference by researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders active in the field of population and development.
ReliefWeb is the leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters. It is a specialized digital service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
We provide reliable and timely information, enabling humanitarian workers to make informed decisions and to plan effective response. We collect and deliver key information, including the latest reports, maps and infographics from trusted sources.
ReliefWeb is also a valuable resource for job listings and training programs, helping humanitarians build new skills and discover exciting new career opportunities.
The United Nations has established a Network on Migration to ensure effective, timely and coordinated system-wide support to Member States in implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, comprising all agencies with mandates and expertise relevant to migration.
Data are key to inform migration governance, improve programming and promote a better public understanding of migration. The Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) was set up to respond to calls for better international migration data and analysis. It aims to strengthen of data in global migration governance; support States’ capacities to collect, analyse, and use migration data; and promote evidence-based policymaking by compiling, sharing and analysing data.