Migrant Forum in Asia
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Enhancing the Effectiveness of Legal Pathways for Labour Migration in ASEAN

Migrant workers play a crucial role in supporting economies, and contributing to development,
both in their home countries through remittances and in host countries through filling gaps in
labour markers. However, if the migration process is not governed well, it could pose various
challenges that can lead to exploitation, abuse, and vulnerability to human trafficking.

In response to the complexities of global mobility, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and
Regular Migration outlines several key objectives in promoting regular pathways. These
objectives include adapting options for regular migration to facilitate labor mobility and decent
work, minimizing factors that drive people to leave their home countries, providing accurate
information at all stages of migration with a focus on gender-specific considerations,
addressing and reducing vulnerabilities in the migration process, and strengthening
international cooperation for safe and organized migration, with a particular emphasis on
protecting the rights and well-being of migrant women and children.

The concept of regular pathways for migrant workers centers on establishing structured and
lawful avenues for individuals to seek employment opportunities in foreign countries or to
enable undocumented migrant workers to be legalized in the country of destination. This
approach ensures that migrants’ rights, safety, and dignity are upheld throughout their
journey. The aim is to replace irregular and perilous migration routes with well-organized and
regulated channels, including effective and accessible legalization programs benefiting both
sending and receiving nations.

Governments hold the responsibility to regulate labour migration flows intake. Overly
restrictive policies can drive migrant workers toward risky, unauthorized routes in search of
a better life. Regular pathways not only ensure safe migration but also promote societal
inclusion and protection, fostering a more secure and equitable world for all.

The recommendations put forward in this document came out of MFA-organized parallel event
during the ASEAN People’s Forum attended by civil society organizations from the ASEAN
region.

Sub theme 1: Improving labour migration programmes in ASEAN

1. In order to promote the utilization of regular migration channels, it is vital to
streamline the migration process, making it accessible, efficient and seamless.

2. ASEAN Member States must establish policies, qualification requirements and strict
standards for the licensing and operation of private, for-profit recruitment agencies,
with a view to encouraging ethical practices and eliminating costs to jobseekers as
stipulated in the ILO Guidelines on Fair and Ethical Recruitment. Member States
should also ensure that licensing standards are enforced.

3. By adhering to the standards set forth by the International Labour Organization (ILO),
which encompass decent working conditions, appropriate accommodation, fair wages,
and social protection, and by providing migrant workers with the flexibility to switch
employers, jobs, and sectors without the fear of retaliation or unpaid debts, we can
significantly reduce instances of labor violations, worker abscondment, and
undocumented migrant workers. It is imperative to establish regulations that grant
migrant workers and employers in destination countries the freedom to change
employers and terminate contracts in cases of contract breaches. Employees should
have the ability to seek alternative employment and switch employers without
requiring permission from the previous employer and without transitioning into an
irregular immigration status.

4. ASEAN Member States should ensure that all migrant workers in all sectors enjoy full
respect for their labour rights according to ILO’s four pillars of the Decent Work
Agenda – employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue.

5. Migrant workers right to self-organization and/or to join workers’ associations in
destination countries must be recognized. This recognition is pivotal in safeguarding
workers’ rights, promoting fair labor practices, enabling collective bargaining, and
empowering workers to actively participate in shaping their employment conditions.
Governments and labor authorities should proactively support and protect these
fundamental rights to ensure the well-being and dignity of all migrant workers.

6. Countries must crack down on traffickers including enforcement officials colluding
with traffickers by bolstering law enforcement efforts and by providing more support
to survivors of trafficking, including the choice to return or seek employment. This
involves diligent monitoring of all actors involved in recruitment and employment of
migrant workers and imposing sanctions on those who are proven guilty of exploiting
migrant workers.

7. ASEAN Member States should incorporate digitalization as a key technology for the
gathering of data in the migration process. Collection and analysis of migration data,
including specific cases are crucial to informing evidence-based migration policies,
though the safety and confidentiality of data must be maintained. Member States
should establish digital platforms and ensure their easy accessibility to migrants so
that the latter can seek information on safe migration practices and report
exploitations.

8. In addition, given the prevalence of cyber scams in the ASEAN region, particularly in
the context of human trafficking affecting both men and women, it is imperative to
implement robust monitoring and vigilance measures in the recruitment process. This
underscores the necessity for a coordinated effort among ASEAN countries to combat
these challenges, encompassing activities such as information dissemination,
prosecution, and protection.

Sub theme 2: Ensuring legal migration pathways that are inclusive and responsive
to the labour market

1. To realize ASEAN’s aspiration of a Caring and Sharing Society, countries of origin and
destination should eliminate migration barriers such as gender, age, family
restrictions and unjustifiable occupation restrictions, allowing individuals, including
differently abled/special needs migrants whose impairment is unrelated to their ability
to perform the job overseas.

2. The issue of migrants in undocumented status has to be addressed through
regularization of their status, and the process of regularization should be inclusive,
low-cost, and streamlined. The process should neither require reliance on agents or
middleman nor mandate their return to their home countries.

3. Destination countries to establish effective firewalls around line agencies responsible
for fundamental human rights such as access to healthcare, education, and justice,
so that all migrants, irrespective of immigration status are not deprived of these
fundamental rights.

4. Origin countries should take decisive actions to promote the availability of decent and
well-paying jobs within the country. By doing so, the root causes of migration, as
detailed in GCM Objective 2, can be effectively mitigated.

5. ASEAN Member States should enhance the management of data related to labour
demand, encompassing collection, processing, and analysis aspects. This
improvement will align policies for admitting migrant workers with the actual labour
and skill demand in countries of destination.

6. The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights should call on countries
to facilitate humanitarian visas to migrant workers from countries experiencing crises
including civil unrest, it is recommended that countries expedite the application
process for protection and ensure the provision of essential support to these
individuals.

7. Institutions in origin countries should be empowered to provide migrants with predeparture orientation, awareness campaigns, and language and skill development
programs. These initiatives not only deter irregular migration by educating migrants
about the perils of unsafe routes but also optimize outcomes for both migrants, their
families and their employers. Support can be further extended through
institutionalizing post arrival orientation programs through migrant resource centers,
consular offices and labor attachés at destination countries.

8. There should be strict regulations to ensure fair labor practices and prevent slavery
in the fishing industry. These regulations should encompass recruitment procedures,
working conditions, and wage standards. Such measures are essential in addressing
the pervasive labor exploitation issues within the fishing sector and protect the rights
of both fishers and industry workers. This issue should be viewed in the context of
the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant
Workers adopted 2007.

9. Migration processes need to be regularly reviewed and updates to address evolving
migration trends on the countries of destination, such as seasonal worker programs
and visit visas.

10. Member States should legitimize, promote, and institutionalize the active involvement
and consultation of all stakeholders, including civil society organizations and migrant
community organizations in designing and reviewing migration governance policies.

 

* * The above statement was prepared by Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) for the ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour (AFML)

About Us

MFA is a regional network of non-government organizations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers.

It is guided by a vision of an alternative world system based on respect for human rights and dignity, social justice, and gender equity, particularly for migrant workers.

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