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Symposium 2014

Solution for Creating Virtuous Talent Triangles for Labor Migrants: An Asian Perspective

The Challenge

Migration and demographic trends are rapidly shifting. South-south migration has become as significant as migration from the south to the north. Talent pools in aging and demographically declining reg ...

Migration and demographic trends are rapidly shifting. South-south migration has become as significant as migration from the south to the north. Talent pools in aging and demographically declining regions are shrinking. Yet, the outcomes of migration can vary, and these outcomes can be influenced by a number of factors, which include but are not limited to the provision of rights to migrants, the level of preparedness of migrants, and language skills. Virtuous talent triangles aim at creating wins for the main stakeholders involved: migrants, emigration countries, and immigration countries. Asia has taken on the challenge: much has been undertaken to improve the rights of migrants and to ease the movement of labor. National governments have also taken steps to prepare migrants for life and work abroad, as have immigration countries, by helping newcomers integrate into their new home countries. Furthermore, international, national and nongovernmental stakeholders have worked to improve the data available on the scope, nature, and outcomes of migration.

Coordinated training for migrants in both home and host countries

Many prospective migrants from Asia have incomplete and imperfect information about job opportunities and living conditions abroad. Many recruitment agencies do not provide complete and honest information about job responsibilities, work conditions, or where and how migrants can turn for help while at the destination. There are also numerous reports, mostly from migrant NGOs, of employers confiscating passports and agencies forcing workers to stay with abusive employers. In the worst cases, migrants are harassed sexually or deprived of food and other vital necessities while in transit and at destination.

Protecting migrant workers in the region requires strengthening measures that prevent, as much as possible, these problems from occurring. Central to this renewed focus on prevention is an effective information dissemination strategy, catering both to migrants and to their employers. Governments, along with other stakeholders, should focus on distributing accurate information so that migrants can make informed decisions. Prospective migrants need to be knowledgeable about their rights at home and abroad, about safe recruitment, travel, and employment procedures, about risks associated with unauthorized movement, about available options for legal migration, about labor and migration regulations at origin and destination, and about what constitutes illegal recruitment. Allowing recruitment agencies to monopolize dissemination of this type of information is a recipe for migrant abuse.

More specifically, critical information can be shared through mandatory training and seminars before departure and after arrival. For instance, the Philippines require mandatory predeparture orientation seminars (PDOS) to help build skill sets and familiarize would-be migrants with the culture and practices of their host countries. Specific modules are customized for household workers, performing artists and entertainers, nurses, and seafarers, as well as for workers migrating to certain countries/regions, such as Hong Kong, Libya, the Middle East, South Korea, and Taiwan. In conducting these seminars, the government partners with members of the private sector and civil society (e.g., workers’ groups and nongovernmental organizations).

Information dissemination should also be extended not only at origin but also at destination.  Predeparture interventions are essential for protecting the rights of migrants, but they are not sufficient on their own. Various types of interventions need to occur at every stage in the migration cycle including while in transit, in the destination country, and upon return.  In the Philippines, two additional information-dissemination programs have been developed to supplement the current PDOS program. Preemployment orientation seminars (PEOS) cover decision-making in general, the process of legal application for overseas employment job opportunities abroad, and the risks of illegal recruitment. This course is designed to be completed before migrants attend PDOS. Once at the destination country, the government also offers post-arrival orientation seminars (PAOS) at embassies and consulates. Neither program is mandatory. The curriculum, implementation methods, and administrative framework have yet to be fully developed. The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) has developed a syllabus for PEOS and has taken the lead in cooperating with local government units to introduce PEOS into local communities. PAOS, by contrast, appears to be an ad hoc activity taken up by some Foreign Service posts. These additional post-arrival programs reinforce predeparture information programs, and these can be considered part of a comprehensive education program for migrant workers.

To improve the effectiveness of orientation programs designed to protect migrant workers, origin governments should also seek the cooperation of receiving countries in migrant workers’ orientation programs. To date, countries of origin have been the strongest advocates for improving migrant workers’ education. The cooperation of receiving countries would contribute to strengthening and expanding these programs. Receiving countries can provide input about their laws, culture, and working and living conditions; develop country-specific materials and resources to be used in predeparture information programs or migrant workers’ education programs on-site; involve local institutions in supporting migrant workers’ education; and potentially conduct employer orientations. (Singapore has such a requirement for employers hiring foreign domestic workers). Relevant government agencies responsible for workers’ education across origin and destination countries are encouraged to meet to discuss the design, content, and flow of information programs from origin to final destination.

Dovelyn Agunias, Senior Policy Analyst, Migration Policy Institute, USA