The Impact of the Crisis on Migration in Asia
International Conference organized by the Scalabrini Migration Center in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration and the International Labour Organisation with the support of the Asia Foundation, the Southeast Asia Regional Canada Fund and the United Nations Population Fund. Manila, 14-15 May 1998
Graziano Battistella and Maruja Asis
The financial crisis which swept through Asia and caught many by surprise has not waned from the discussion of experts and policy makers. Not only is the crisis still not over but its impact is expected to be particularly felt in the coming months. What has emerged, in the meantime, is some consensus on the causes of the crisis, which are considered different from previous crises that hit some Latin American or European countries. Unlike previous crisis, fiscal and monetary profligacy and high unemployment were not the main reasons, and macroeconomic vulnerabilities were few. What triggered the crisis was the 1996 export slowdown, which led to skepticism about the strength of economic growth, the decrease of inflow of foreign capital, badly needed to sustain the increasing current account deficits, and market concerns on the prevailing exchange rates. The Thai baht was the first to collapse, followed by the Philippine peso, the Malaysian ringgit, the Indonesian rupiah and the Korean won. "Once the crisis unfolded," the Asian Development Bank explains, "investors realized that there were no implicit government guarantees for investment and asset prices bubbles burst. Falling asset prices resulted in insolvency of the financial intermediaries, leading to a full-fledged financial crisis."
Projections on the impact of the crisis and the time required to come out of it vary among experts. There is a general agreement that growth will decrease considerably this year and that a modest recovery will be experienced beginning next year. However, growth at the level of the pre-crisis time will take some years to come back. Discussion has also flourished in Asia on whether rescue packages obtained from the IMF can really help countries emerge from the crisis. Some argue that such packages, modelled after previous crises, which were different in nature from the Asian crisis, will cripple economies and cause turmoil in societies, since costs will be unevenly distributed. In fact, unemployment and poverty will rise across the region. Furthermore, Asian countries are not sufficiently equipped with safety nets to withstand the impact of rising unemployment, either because they could not afford such safety nets or because unemployment was hardly experienced before. The political consequences of such turmoil have already found manifestation particularly in Korea, but most of all in Indonesia, forcing the resignation of President Suharto. Whether political and social consequences can be contained will depend very much on the management of the crisis and a proportionate distribution of its costs on all sectors of society.
Impact of the crisis on receiving countries
Thus, far, the crisis has affected the economies of the receiving countries in varying degrees of severity. Thailand is believed to be hardest hit by the crisis, followed by Korea and Malaysia. Korea’s descent, from being the world’s 11th largest economy to IMF patient, is perhaps the most dramatic and unexpected. As the crisis unfolded, Hong Kong began to manifest signs of distress early in 1998: rising unemployment, a general slowdown in the economy and the closure of a variety of business establishments. The Japanese economy, which has yet to recover from the collapse of the bubble economy, has not been as adversely affected by the crisis. However, Japan cannot also be expected to help in the economic recovery of the region. Further weakening of the yen and a stagnating economy is expected to slow down demand for imports from and Japanese investments in the region. Singapore, too, has been relatively unscathed in 1997, but because of economic integration in the region, particularly in Southeast Asia, Singapore’s economic fate is also very much linked to that of the region. At the other end of the spectrum is Taiwan. Having experienced an economic crisis in 1995 and 1996, Taiwan was, in fact, on its way to economic recovery in 1997. The upturn in the economy in 1997 combined with the following factors – directing more investments in the manufacturing sector rather than in non-productive sectors, installing an inspection program before liberalizing capital accounts, adopting the right sequence towards liberalization and less government intervention in pursuing industrial policy – contributed towards steering Taiwan away from the financial crisis.
The prospects for recovery in these countries are equally varied. Employment-generating possibilities are particularly daunting in light of slow or negative growth prospects. For 1998, South Korea faces the prospect of 1.5 million workers (7 percent of its labor force) losing their jobs; an estimated 2 million Thais (5.6 percent of its labor force) are expected to be unemployed; and Japan registered an unemployment rate of 3.9 percent as of March 1998, which translates into 2.7 million unemployed Japanese. Singapore faces good prospects in 1998. Although the appreciation of the Singapore dollar against the other regional currencies will reduce its competitiveness in labor-intensive industries, it will be able to sustain its edge in capital-intensive industries. 1998 also looks bright for Taiwan, mainly because of strong domestic demand. According to economic forecasts, Taiwan could achieve 5.95 percent and 6.39 percent growth rates in 1998 and 1999, respectively. However, Taiwan cannot sustain such growth rates if the crisis persists. How Mainland China fares in reforming its financial institutions and how relationships will be with China will also have a bearing on Taiwan’s economic prospects in the long-term.
Implications for migration
Among others, the crisis prompted these countries to promote more urgently than ever "national interests", the pursuit of which affects migrant workers and immediate prospects for migration in the region. Remarkable economic growth in the Asian NICs and other new NICs in the 1980s propelled a dramatic increase in intra-regional migration in Asia. Before then, Asia was mainly a sending region of migrants to the more developed regions. Development and the need to sustain economic growth transformed Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and later, Malaysia and Thailand into labor-importing countries. As these countries approached full employment, and as their own population moved into better-paying jobs, a vacuum was created in the so-called 3-D (dirty, difficult, dangerous) jobs. To fill the demand for workers at the low-end and unskilled jobs in manufacturing, the plantation, agriculture and fisheries, and domestic services, receiving countries (some reluctantly, some more openly) turned to foreign workers.
Among the Asian receiving countries, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan have established policies and mechanisms for the importation of foreign workers, particularly less-skilled migrant workers. At the other extreme is Japan, which does not consider itself as a labor-importing country and which, as a policy, allows the entry of unskilled workers only if they are of Japanese descent. Korea, too, is not very keen in allowing the entry of less skilled workers. Both Japan and Korea instituted the foreign-trainee program wherein foreign trainees supposedly receive on-the-job skills training and trainees’ allowances (not wages) in Japanese and Korean companies. Observers note that this scheme is simply a roundabout way of bringing in unskilled workers without tampering with the official policy not to admit unskilled workers. Thailand, which until recently was a labor sending country, did not actively seek out migrant workers. During the high growth years in the 1980s, urban-based industries attracted rural migrants, leaving agriculture and the fisheries sector to migrants from neighboring countries. There was not a lack of migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Aside from the economic push factors in these countries, political and ethnic troubles have, time and again, led to refugee movements. Thailand’s proximity makes it a logical destination for both economic and political refugees. The fact is, whether they liked it or not, and whether or not policies were in place, these countries found themselves hosting migrant workers, including undocumented migrant workers. The stock of documented migrant worker populations in the various receiving countries are as follows (most recent estimates): Korea, over 200,000 (other estimates cite more than 300,000); Japan's foreign population is estimated at 1.4 million, including some 680,000 registered Koreans; Malaysia, 1.14 million; Thailand, 316,000; Singapore, 506,000; Taiwan, 210,783. In addition, there are the undocumented workers, which may be larger than the documented population in some countries (most recent estimates): Malaysia, 560,000; Thailand, 943,000; Korea, 123,299 (overstayers); Japan, 276,810 (overstayers).
Faced with a potential increase of emigration pressures in the sending countries a fairly common response among the receiving countries has been to step up border controls, enforcement and surveillance, and impose fines and sanctions (including caning in the case of Malaysia and Singapore) for migration-related offenses. The major challenge is to stem undocumented migration. To drive home the message that there is no place for undocumented workers in Malaysia or Singapore, both countries have summarily sent back migrants attempting to illegally enter their countries. The more affected countries – Korea, Thailand and Malaysia – have carried out or plan to undertake repatriation of migrants (including documented ones). Korea offered an amnesty program for undocumented to voluntarily leave the country between December 1997 and March 1998 – 46,569 undocumented migrant workers left the country under this program. Malaysia targets to repatriate a large number of documented migrant workers, about 900,000, in 1998. No massive repatriation of migrant workers has taken place yet. These 900,000 will be repatriated in batches. The number includes some 200,000 workers who are likely to be laid off in 1998, mostly in construction, and some 700,000 whose work permits will not be renewed when they expire in August. Thailand also planned on repatriating over 900,000 undocumented migrants, with the first 300,000 scheduled for repatriation on 1 May. Upon the request of the fisheries industry and rice mill operators – which had difficulty hiring local workers – the proposal has been shelved. Although Singapore is not as affected as Malaysia or Thailand, it is nonetheless very apprehensive about the potential of massive influx of illegal immigrants from Indonesia. If in the past Singapore was able to turn back the boat people from Indochina, Indonesia is dangerously close – one launching pad in Indonesia, Batan, is a mere 30-minute boat ride away from Singapore.
Likewise, no massive repatriation has taken place in the less affected countries of Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. Singapore presents an interesting case because the government had said that in case of a retrenchment, the better workers, regardless of nationality, should be retained. This is a departure from the previous policy, which favored Singaporeans over foreign workers. Singapore’s rationale for this change of policy is to enable it to maintain competitiveness. In the case of Japan, the number of overstayers has been declining since 1993; however, it is the result of stricter controls rather than the impact of the crisis. In the same manner, prior to the crisis, there had been a slowdown in the entry of foreign workers in Hong Kong, except for domestic workers, because of the paring down of foreign labor needs under its labor importation schemes. However stable the current demand for foreign workers in these less affected countries, there is no guarantee that this will not change in the future. Increases in levies for foreign workers in Malaysia and Singapore for less skilled workers, Singapore’s inclination to recruit more foreign talent as soon as the regional economy recovers, and Taiwan’s continuing programs of economic restructuring portend that migration in the future will involve more of the highly skilled.
The vulnerability of migrant workers in these bad times depends on the sector they belong to. For example, in Malaysia, of the 500,000 documented migrant jobs which will be lost between July 1997 and the end of 1998, some 315,000 are in construction, 43,000 will be in manufacturing, and 148,000 in wholesale, retail, hotels and restaurant subsectors. By comparison, the domestic services sector in various host countries has been relatively sheltered from the vicissitudes of the crisis. In part, this demonstrates that the demand for workers in domestic services is relatively more stable compared to other sectors. In the future, should the crisis drag on further, future demand for domestic helpers cannot continue to be unaffected by the general economic downturn in the receiving countries.
Although massive repatriation has not occurred, this does not mean that migrant workers are faring well in their host countries in these troubled times. Some of the impacts of the crisis on migrant workers may be hidden (e.g., longer working hours, deterioration in working conditions, pay cuts or a freeze on wage increases, etc.). There is also the possible hostility of the local population to migrant workers who may be perceived to be taking away jobs from locals. In Korea and Taiwan, for example, the locals have been reported to be calling for the repatriation of migrant workers. These sentiments do not necessarily square with reality. That migrants occupy a different labor niche vis-a-vis local workers is evidenced by the persistence of labor shortage in low-skilled occupations, even in the midst of a crisis.
Impact of the crisis on sending countries
Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh, by virtue of their direct involvement and/or insertion in the migration system in the region, are among the migration sending countries most affected by the current turmoil.
Indonesia, in particular, has emerged as the worst affected nation. From 5 percent in 1997, GDP growth is projected to be negative in 1998 (-5); from 2,500 to the dollar before July 1997, the rupiah adjusted to approximately 11,000 to the dollar these days. The price of primary foods has increased by 50 to 70 percent; inflation has reached approximately 40 percent; and unemployment has risen to perhaps 10 million people. However, the number of people who can now be considered below the poverty line (30 million in urban areas and 70 million in rural areas) is more indicative of the severity of the crisis than unemployment.
The rescue package negotiated with IMF brought severe measures to correct imbalances and bring the crisis under management. Although Indonesia initially resisted IMF measures, it eventually gave in, including an increase in the cost of energy. People's reaction to the perceived corruption of the political leadership brought an end to the Suharto regime, which led the country for the past 32 years. However, the coming months will determine whether Habibie will be able to lead Indonesia out of the crisis.
Of the five countries most affected by the crisis, the Philippines has been considered in a better position to withstand it. Because of more transparency in the banking system and less inflow of portfolio investments, the Philippine economy was less affected by volatility and the impact of the crisis will be less severe. In fact, the Philippine peso suffered a slightly lower devaluation (40 percent) than the other currencies and it has since stabilized. Nevertheless, the Philippines will go through a severe reduction of growth (GDP is expected to grow only 2.5 percent in 1998), which will translate to increasing unemployment. The consequences of the crisis will also be aggravated by the drought caused by El Nino, with potential social consequences because availability of staple food is threatened.
The third sending country, Bangladesh, was practically untouched by the crisis. Considering that only 2 percent of its export is toward the countries of East and Southeast Asia, even later effects will only be minor. However, Bangladesh is already among the least developed countries, with serious challenges and little resources to achieve higher development.
Implications for migration
The official number of Indonesian migrants abroad was 502,977 in 1997, the vast majority in Malaysia (317,685) and in Saudi Arabia (116,844). The latter group is comprised mostly of domestic workers. As for the migrants in Malaysia, the number reflects the results of the recent regularization in Sabah. However, it excludes the more numerous Indonesians present in Peninsular Malaysia. Estimates vary, but could include between 1 and 1.2 million workers, employed particularly in the construction, manufacturing and plantation sectors. It is these workers in Malaysia who are most likely to be affected by the crisis. The Malaysian government has already announced four sets of measures that will affect Indonesian migrants: non-renewal of working permits for regular workers (who will have to return home); re-deployment of some workers from the construction to the plantation sector (affecting only a portion of Indonesian migrants); imposition of higher levies to discourage hiring new migrant workers; and deportation of undocumented migrants (17,000 have already been deported in the first two months of 1998).
Indonesian migrants expelled from the Malaysian economy face difficult reintegration in Indonesia, where the economic crisis is compounded with a civil crisis, which the resignation of President Suharto has only temporarily stalled. Under the circumstances, irregular migration, however risky, will most likely be the only option for retrenched Indonesians.
Bangladesh has been sending more than 200,000 workers abroad every year in the 1990s. Although over 80 percent of them go the Middle East, a consistent number of Bangladeshi migrants have entered Malaysia, and between 250,000 to 300,000 are estimated to be in that country. Employed mostly in the construction and service sector, they are in the same position of Indonesian workers. However, as their repatriation will be more difficult, chances are that the turning of Bangladeshis to undocumented workers will be higher.
The Philippine is the major labor exporting country in the region, and potentially subject to large repatriation of workers. However, such perspective is mitigated by the distribution of Filipinos abroad. A considerable number of Filipinos in Asia are in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, which were less affected by the crisis. According to Government estimates, the number of Filipinos in critical countries is approximately 978,000, of which 500,000 are in Malaysia, mostly in Sabah. It can be argued that Filipinos in Sabah will be less affected by the crisis, because they have reached a de facto long-term settlement, although those regularized last year also hold a temporary work permit. Nevertheless, according to estimates presented at the conference, it is possible that by the end of 1999 the Philippines will suffer a net decrease of 94,400 overseas workers.
At the conference, participants from other countries of origin looked at the Philippines to learn from repatriation schemes for returning migrants. The Philippines has indeed such schemes implemented by its Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, but with limited results. In addition, the Replacement and Monitoring Center mandated by the 1995 Migrant Workers Act has not yet been implemented. Therefore, there is little that the Philippines could suggest in terms of integration for returning migrants.
At the beginning of the research project which led to the conference, three possible scenarios were envisioned as possible consequences of the crisis on migration: first, massive repatriation from receiving countries; second, a potential increase of migration pressure from sending countries and third, the possible increase of undocumented migration, resulting from overstaying of laid off workers as well as irregular entry of new workers in receiving countries.
The major research questions guiding the project were the following: Is massive deportation occurring from receiving countries? Are local workers taking jobs left by migrants? Are more migrants from sending countries trying to go abroad? Is the number of undocumented migrants increasing? Are international relations affected among countries in the region? Is there a reaction against migrants increasing in the local population?
At the end of the conference, not all questions have been answered, mostly because of lack of data. However, some facts have been established.
The financial crisis has directly affected only some receiving countries (mostly Malaysia, Thailand and Korea). The economies of other receiving countries (particularly Japan and Taiwan) are affected by structural changes, which also have implications for possible changes in the labor market and for overseas workers. While the trend in most receiving countries is a reduction of the foreign labor force, the trend in Singapore and Taiwan is toward an increase.
The crisis has not affected all sectors with the same intensity. The banking and financial sectors have been hit first. Only later, as a result of loan insolvency, were the construction and the manufacturing sectors affected. Therefore, some of the unemployment originated by the crisis cannot easily be absorbed in the unskilled jobs made available by the repatriation of migrant workers. Apparently, there is mismatch between sectors of unemployment and the migrant labor sector.
Migrant labor has not only been "niched" in unskilled jobs, but also in low paying jobs. Undesirable jobs should be more appropriately considered jobs shunned by all nationals expect the very poor. Part of the shunning is not just the undesirability, but also the low wage they command. The more developed an economy, the more such jobs, which are here to stay, are given to foreigners, even in time of crisis. The request of the Thai fisheries to keep migrant workers is just an example. Current data do not allow measuring whether unemployed nationals have accepted jobs left available by migrants. The issue is also related to the extent that safety nets are available to unemployed workers, or to the possibility they have for retraining and the level of accumulated savings.
It has been pointed out that the crisis will not only affect international migration but also internal migration. In some instances, perhaps, internal migration
With some major receiving countries not affected by the crisis and the relative displacement of migrants because of niched markets, the crisis is likely to impact not only the international, but also the internal migration movement. Unemployed in the city, workers in Thailand have been moving back to the provinces. However, how large and in what countries will such movement occur is not really clear. A return to agriculture appears rather improbable.
If massive deportation has not occurred yet, there are no indications it will not happen in the coming months, particularly from Malaysia and Thailand. Whether a concomitant increase of migration pressures is occurring in sending countries is not totally clear from available data. However, governments in the Philippines and Thailand have indicated the intention to facilitate additional emigration, either by setting targets (Thailand intends to export 210,000 workers in 1998) or by exploring previously avoided destinations such as Algeria in the case of Philippines.
All indications (increasing supply of available migrants and increasing restrictions to enter receiving countries) point to an increase of undocumented migration. Again, no data are available to quantify such a trend, but the issue, not only within Asia but also from Asia to other regions has reached such relevance as to be included in the final concerns at the recent G8 meeting in Birmingham.
The impact of the crisis cannot be limited to a change in the dimension or direction of the flow of migrants. A relevant impact will be in the deterioration of living and working conditions for migrants. Both in Hong Kong and Taiwan employers have put pressure for adjusting the salaries of migrant workers, considering that the nominal value of their remittances has increased because of more favorable exchange rates. In Hong Kong salaries have not been lowered; they were simply not raised, while in Taiwan wages have not been de-linked from the minimum wage as mandated by law. If the crisis will result in a general devaluation of migrant workers' wages, the Philippines might suffer more than other sending countries, as it is known that Filipino migrants command a better salary in Asia. As a result of the deteriorating conditions experienced by all workers, Filipino migrants might find themselves priced out in the Asian market. In this regard, the Philippine government has already advised migrants to renegotiate contracts even at lower conditions to keep their jobs.
Recommendations on how to emerge from the crisis have been spelled out in many fora. Structural reforms to improve the financial system and corporate governance are considered the key measures. Greater transparency must be introduced in both the public and private sectors, also to restore investors' confidence. In addition to such measures, IMF is also recommending steep increases in interest rates and tight monetary policies. Two lines of discussion have emerged from recovery measures. One tends to re-examine the traditional Asian way to conduct business. The other tends to criticize the intervention of IMF and demand a re-evaluation of its role.
Whether one espouses an optimistic or a pessimistic approach, recovery will bring economic transformation in the region, engendering major dislocations of the workforce and frictional unemployment. It is relevant that governments take the courage to consider alternative approaches to economic development. The growth that must be pursued is a growth which creates jobs. This implies a shift of resources from non-tradable to tradable sectors. Provisions must be made for retraining and empowering workers with multiple skills; information must be considered a public good and made available to workers; and internal labor mobility must be facilitated by decreasing incentives which currently favor a capital, rather than labor intensive development. At the regional level, some form of protection against excessive volatility of short-term investments, perhaps similar to the tax on portfolio investments adopted by Chile, might be considered.
Specifically in regard to migration the conference discussed the following recommendations, without necessarily reaching consensus as different interests were represented.
Regional cooperation topped the list of recommendations. However, the perspective for such cooperation to be acted upon soon is not very rosy. First of all, it is not simple to select the proper institution for such endeavor. The Asian and Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has avoided migration and only settled for consideration of the issue of human resources, but with attention to highly skilled persons. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with a much longer tradition, does not embrace all countries involved in the current crisis. In addition, ASEAN also shunned migration in previous years, as conflicting approaches within the group would not allow much progress in discussion. Specifically queried on the possibility for ASEAN to be involved in the issue, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs gave little hope, also because current issues, such as the crisis in Indonesia and the nuclear blasts in India, appear much higher in the agenda. A much smaller grouping, the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), has dedicated attention to the crisis and might play a role, particularly since it involves three of the most affected countries, but perhaps not a very significant one. The reluctance to regional cooperation is motivated by the lack of homogeneity in the region. However, it is puzzling that a genuine international issue such as migration remains the domain of uncoordinated national policies.
Regional cooperation appears particularly necessary in regard to the repatriation of workers. As in previous cases, the current crisis emphasizes that migrants are a disposable commodity. Violations of the human rights of migrants when massive repatriation occurs are not rare. In this regard, the Migrant Workers Convention, ratified only the Philippines and Sri Lanka in Asia and not yet in force, recommends that "State Parties shall cooperate as appropriate in the adoption of measures regarding the orderly return of migrant workers" (Art. 67).
Cooperation appears also particularly relevant to stem the trafficking of migrants. Such trafficking organized by criminal gangs has become particularly notorious between China and Japan, but it involves also other sources and other directions. If the issue has deserved consideration in the G8 summit, much more consideration is needed by countries in the region, where migrants, in particular migrant women, are often victimized by unscrupulous traffickers. With the potential increase of undocumented migration because of the crisis, regional cooperation on this subject is becoming more urgent. Also, attention should focus more directly on traffickers and employers, rather than the irregular migrant workers, who in most cases are just victims.
A large number of irregular migrants have been present in all receiving countries in Asia, and for quite some time. Such migrants appear to be functional to the economy of the host countries and to enjoy some level of tolerance from authorities. In time of crisis, they continue to be functional as they are disposable people without ground for recourse. However, many of them have already reached a level of settlement in some countries and regularizing their stay should be considered more humane, more honest and possibly more effective than simply repatriating them.
The crisis is also exposing the shortcomings of a strictly temporary approach to labor migration. In Asian countries, migrant workers are either not admitted, or, if they are admitted, are strictly limited to a temporary stay, with no possibility for long term integration. The European experience has proven this principle wrong, not only because eventually some migrants remained, but also because workers are not merely disposable workforce, but people. In addition, migration history has proven that it is not so simple to open and close the tap of migration at will, since migration acquires its own dynamics, which elude simple demand and supply laws. A reconsideration of the philosophy underlining migration policies in Asia might be necessary.
Obviously, the conflicting interests between sending and receiving countries point to different and sometimes conflicting measures. While countries of origin would like to increase their number of overseas workers, particularly at a time of high unemployment as during this crisis, receiving countries intend to lower their dependence on foreign labor. In integrated economies of the globalization era labor markets might also be required to be dealt with from a wider perspective, as issues and interests become more interconnected.
Short-term measures must consider government services particularly in relation to pre-departure information and counseling. Best practices indicate that the Philippines has acquired some experience in this field, although the issue has been reviewed also in the Philippines, to avoid information services that simply encourage people to go abroad. Unfortunately, best practices cannot list services to returning migrants, as little success can be accounted for in this field. A welfare fund established with employer and migrant contributions has been a successful Philippine experience. But the effectiveness of such fund for the reintegration of migrants has been limited. Returning migrants tend to experience long unemployment, exhaustion of savings and then migration again. To put an end to the cycle, some measures must be offered, perhaps in cooperation with migrant associations and NGOs, and preferably at the very local level, where experience has shown they are most effective.
Specific measures related to migration, which have emerged in other discussions, call for interventions to decrease the cost of migration, better clarity and cooperation in implementing trainees programs, better legislation to increase the protection of migrants. A specific measure suggested was the cooperation among countries to ensure that social security contributions paid by migrants be accrued in the country of origin, where the migrant will eventually enjoy social security benefits. Experience has indicated that Asian countries are reluctant to enter bilateral labor agreements. Perhaps bilateral social agreements can be more attainable.
The conference was a timely event, as the crisis is still unfolding and migrants are now bearing its brunt. Some data are lacking to fully understand the impact of the crisis on migration, but some general directions have been indicated as well as major areas for policy intervention. More than identifying the right measures to be implemented, what appears sorely needed at this point is the political will to consider migration as an issue of common concern in Asia.