The south-east Asian region is characterized by the important number of relative small countries, all very close to each-other and a high population rate.
In the beginning of the 80’s international labour migration expanded across sovereign national borders in this part of the continent. This expansion is due to the economic and demographic differences between countries in the region, the role played by migrants’ networks, transformations in communications and lowered transports costs. That was also a period of fast growth in the demand for skilled and less-skilled migrants, in particular occupational categories. Some countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have become countries of destination for migrant workers.
Two characteristic regional migration systems are currently identifiable in Southeast Asia: the archipelagic ASEAN system and the Mekong sub-regional system.
In the first system, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei were the major destination countries, importing workers predominantly from Indonesia and the Philippines. The specific overseas labour deployment policies of Indonesia and the Philippines—along with their cultural and religious affinities with destination countries—have played a key role in this migration system. The export of labour has become an important part of these states’ strategies for addressing poverty, easing domestic unemployment pressures, generating foreign exchange and fostering growth. Both Indonesia and the Philippines include targets the number of workers they hope to send abroad in their economic development plans. These targets have increased over time. In the Philippines, the state developed a highly regulated overseas contract workers management system through the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). The POEA provides oversight over recruitment and deployment and monitors the working the conditions under which these migrants may obtain citizenship.
In the second migration system, Thailand has emerged as the main destination for migrant workers from countries through which the Mekong River flows, namely, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Here is the point which seems to agree with the gravity model. Indeed cultural and religious affinities and geographic proximity have assisted migration into Thailand. One of the reasons of the high rate of inside-region migrations is the proximity; although the improvement in communications technologies as radio, television, and news information played as well a main role. By using these technologies, future migrants could get information about jobs market in their neighboring countries and be able to choice the right destination for them.
A third system, ‘the Asia-Pacific’ migration system, involves predominantly (but not solely) skilled migrants from India, Australia and developed countries. The demand for workers with a high level in professional and technical skills in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and the composition and volume of the market for these skilled migrants also reflects the wiliness to change the national priorities.