Intra-Regional Migration of Labor Resources in Southeast Asia

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-3-111-119
N. Rogozhina (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation


The regional labor market in Southeast Asia is second only to China and India. Its development is subjected to the movement of labor force within the region. The flow of intraregional migrants has begun to grow since the 1990s, reflecting imbalances in the distribution of labor among the countries of the region and the existence of significant differences between them in household income, wages and competitiveness, working conditions and employment opportunities. The number of labor emigrants in 2015 was 10.2 million people, of which 6.8 million found work in the region itself. The positive results of labor migration are indisputable for both importing countries and exporters of labor. The first, which include Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, by attracting foreign workers cover the shortage of labor force in their labor market, especially in labor-intensive industries. The bulk of migrants from neighboring countries are semi-skilled and unskilled labor. Its main suppliers are Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam. In these countries, due to higher rates of population growth and its rejuvenation, excess labor has emerged, which does not have the opportunity to find employment in still underdeveloped economies. Intraregional migration facilitates the solution of the problem of poverty and employment in these countries, raising the level of skills of the workforce, and the flow of funds into the economy through the remittances of migrant workers. However, intraregional migration brings not only economic benefits to the countries of the region, but also creates certain difficulties for them, since it is often accompanied by exploitation, violence of migrants, especially illegal ones. Although labor migration in labor-importing countries is regulated by laws that restrict the entry of migrants from neighboring countries and the duration of their stay in the country, these measures are not sufficient to stop the flow of illegal migrants. Costly and time-consuming bureaucratic procedure for obtaining a visa, the high cost of services of labor agencies, brevity and rigidity of labor contracts – all these factors encourage migrants to seek informal channels to move to another country. To combat illegal migration, various means of policy are used: the deportation of illegal migrants, their criminal prosecution (applies also to the entrepreneur who hires an illegal worker), periodically conducted campaigns for their registration and amnesty. However, these measures are ineffective in terms of reducing the influx of illegal migrants, and most importantly, are detrimental to the economy. The migration policies carried out in Malaysia and Thailand do not satisfy the needs of their economic development. In Singapore, the solution to these problems is ensured by the presence of an effective migration management system. Given the prospects for the development of integration processes in Southeast Asia, the problem of improving the management of intraregional migration is of particular importance. The ways to solve it are seen not so much in the tightening of migration policies in host countries, but in the removal of those barriers that impede the free movement of labor force within the region through legal channels. The task of the countries is to make amendments to their migration systems, including the elimination of any forms and types of exploitation of migrants.


South East Asia, labor emigrants, migration policy, illegal working force, human trafficking


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For citation:
Rogozhina N. Intra-Regional Migration of Labor Resources in Southeast Asia. Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 2020, vol. 64, No 3, pp. 111-119.

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