Cross-Border Labour Migration in Mainland Southeast Asia

This is the abstract of the paper I am going to present at the conference on mainland Southeast Asian nation relations to be held at Salaya Campus of Mahidol University, next month (June 24th-25th):

Cross-Border Labour Migration in Mainland Southeast Asia


As new stages in the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) are approached, a great deal of attention has been placed on the possibilities for migration in certain categories of skilled labour. Yet this phenomenon is dwarfed in size and importance by the movement of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the region. Millions of workers from neighbouring countries have travelled to Thailand to take advantage of better wages available there, while there are smaller but still important movements of Vietnamese workers and traders to Laos and Chinese investors, traders and workers in all countries. These movements offer opportunities and threats to those included but are not unproblematic from social or political perspectives. Successive governments in Thailand, for example, have sought to regulate the movements of migrant workers and bring more of them into the formal sector of the economy through documentation. At the same time, the construction of increasing numbers of special economic zones in all the countries of the region has provided new magnets for labour migration, including cross-border migration under the border region zones being proposed for Thailand. This paper seeks to identify the principal causes and effects of labour migration in mainland Southeast Asia and the various societal and political implications that arise from their presence. Migration, it is argued, is a rational response to uneven development and one that can lead to a number of benefits to all involved. However, in an era of occasionally intemperate nationalism, there is considerable scope for negative outcomes and these should be addressed. Some policy options are provided as the result of the analysis.

Keywords: informal sector; economic development; labour migration; mainland Southeast Asia; special economic zones;

John Walsh, Shinawatra University


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