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Migration Research in the Asia Pacific - APMRN Working paper 3
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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network
Working Paper No. 3

Migration Research in the Asia Pacific: Theoretical and Empirical Issues

Papers presented at a workshop sponsored by the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia, Wollongong University, April 1997

Edited by Patrick Brownlee & Colleen Mitchell

Published by the APMRN Secretariat
Migration and Multicultural Program
Institute for Social Change & Critical Inquiry
University of Wollongong, Australia

ISSN 1328-2530
Copyright © 1998

Table of Contents


    1. Emigration Dynamics in Developing Countries:
    Case Study on South Asia (IOM/UNFPA Project)
    Reginald Appleyard - University of Western Australia

    2. International Migration and Labour Regulation
    Robert Castle, Chris Nyland & Di Kelly - University of Wollongong

    3. Asia-Pacific Migration and Emerging Civil Societies
    Stephen Castles - University of Wollongong

    4. Family Dimensions of Asia-Pacific Migration:
    Theoretical and Empirical Issues
    Graeme Hugo - University of Adelaide

    5. Internal Movement of Minority Nationalities in the People's Republic of China
    Robyn Iredale - University of Wollongong


The Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN) was initiated by a number of scholars throughout the Asia Pacific to develop institutional links and implement a research project entitled New Migrations and Growing Ethno-Cultural Diversity in the Asia Pacific Region. The research project, coordinated by the Centre for Multicultural Studies, University of Wollongong, was approved by UNESCO's Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme for seed funding and project support in 1995.

This series of working papers of the UNESCO-MOST Asia Pacific Migration Research Network is part of the mission of the APMRN to research and publish trends and developments in the population movements of the Asia Pacific region. The working papers aim to provide reports on current research being undertaken by APMRN members. The working papers will be available through the APMRN and will allow researchers the opportunity to publish work-in-progress for the benefit of their Network colleagues, as well as other interested scholars, policy makers and students.

Migration research is a relatively new field of study to the region. It combines several disciplines and the authors of the papers in this volume have varied academic and research backgrounds. It is clear that migration research is crucial to an area which is experiencing rapid economic and social transformation.

By applying innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to migration studies, and utilising the broad skill base of the Asia Pacific Migration Research Network, it is anticipated that the work of the APMRN will be a valuable contribution to social scientific inquiry and public policy, and ultimately, to an improved understanding of regional development in the Asia Pacific.

The papers in this volume were presented in draft form at a workshop sponsored by the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia (ASSA) in 1997. An initial grant from the ASSA provided the funds to bring together about thirty Australian researchers and public servants associated with the APMRN. This volume contains papers which deal with regional or international migration issues. A second volume (Working Paper #4), contains papers presented at the workshop which focus on the effects of migration in Australia and the state of migration research in that country.

The paper by Appleyard reports on an IOM sponsored project to discern emigration dynamics in a number of regions throughout the world. The paper focuses on South Asia, and makes the key point that migration in the region is demand driven. Once a migratory process begins, it usually takes on a momentum of its own irrespective of market conditions. This of course raises the question of the development of migration networks or systems which are discussed further in other papers of this volume.

There has been much speculation that the current financial crisis in Asia will drive down demand for migrant labour. Indeed, the threat of repatriation of large numbers of migrant workers may see a wholesale reduction in numbers of people working and living outside their country of origin. Appleyard’s findings point to a more powerful force - wage differentials. In the context of the crisis, relative poverty and the search for better income will maintain or perhaps increase emigration. The example of Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the region, reminds the reader of the ambivalence of emigration to external disincentives.

Overall, Appleyard’s paper also provides an insight into methodological considerations of migration research. The development of the IOM project is described along with some of the key policy recommendations.

The second paper in this volume tackles the difficult issue of protecting the rights of migrant workers in the context of a global market. Castle, Nyland and Kelly trace the development of international efforts to enshrine minimum standards for migrant workers through the International Labour Organisation (ILO). One of the central questions raised is the relevance and power of the ILO in relation to other bodies, notably the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which is the champion of global deregulation of all commodities transfer, including labour.

One of the key issues in the Asian region is the transformation of temporary labour migration into longer term settlement. Castle et.al, raise this theme through the earlier experience of Europe during the Oil Crisis of the 1970’s, where employers tried to distance themselves from human rights obligations and view migrants solely as human resources, to be returned to their source country in times of economic downturn.

The structure and machinations of the ILO in developing conventions on migrant labour rights are discussed in the paper. it is often the case that provisions in conventions or treaties have been separated so that signatory countries can pick and choose in order to limit the extent of a particular convention. The paper is also critical of the process which led to the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and their Families, arguing the ILO mandate had been side-stepped by a more generalised UN convention with less ability to police such conventions and treaties.

Castle, Nyland and Kelly then consider the implications of more recent attempts to enshrine global workers’ rights within the WTO, a body with a proven ability to enforce conventions. The authors argue that forging links between the ILO and the WTO in developing standards for migrant workers does have merit.

The third paper in this volume stresses the importance of understanding of the long term political impact of migration on the concepts of political and cultural rights, identity, citizenship and international relations within the rapidly changing Asia-Pacific region. Castles takes a macro-theoretical perspective on development and the emergence of socio-political rights, comparing European models of civil society to Asian experiences. The paper considers development theories and notes that middle-class interests are an important component and benefactor of globalisation in the region. But this should not necessarily mean that a democratisation based on demands for rights is inevitable in emerging civil societies.

Castles defines clearly the links between migration, development and liberal democratic nation-states. He argues that the nation-state, which demands and shapes social homogeneity, is at the same time threatened by the heterogeneous force of migration.

Raising the complex question of Eurocentric notions of the nation-state and their relevance to Asian development, the author considers different historical experiences of the region. Colonialism transported the nation-state to Asia after many centuries of evolution in Europe. Control of the nation-state became the core objective for many national liberation movements in Asia not its abolition.

Castles poses a series of research questions in order to build a framework for analysing socio-political change in relation to migration. He then considers each question in turn locating contemporary events in the region within this broad framework. The paper concludes by emphasising the importance of migration in regional political development.

Hugo’s paper identifies a gap in migration research methodology in Asia - the role of the family as an important unit of analysis. The family has a critical influence over migration decision making by individuals, precisely because it is both a beneficiary of migration and because it risks the bonds that define it. There are also new pressures brought to bear on the family unit as a result of globalisation. Hugo makes the point that it is difficult to generalise the concept of the family unit. He does, however, identify a number of key structures which are applicable to the region and which are vulnerable to the pressures of globalisation experienced through migration: kinship, marriage and familial hierarchies.

Hugo’s examination of regional migration dynamics through the role of family highlights the strength and resilience of the family unit and also its denial or ignorance of specific pull factors. In other words, once a migration network based on family structures is established, it is difficult to change.

The paper concludes that while traditional conceptions of the family are in the process of being transformed, their essential function as a network remains and is likely to become a critical component of increased population mobility in the future.

The final paper in this volume is a report based on fieldwork conducted by the author in China during 1996. Its focus is a comparative analysis of population mobility of minority nationalities in China with the majority Han Chinese. China’s migration dynamic is largely internal but as this paper notes it is more complex than a simple rural urban migration process. Two minority groups were examined in the pilot study, the Uygurs and the Tibetans, and their comparison reveals different migration pressures.

Iredale uses census data to map the migration patterns in China’s different regions. The varied nature of China’s migration is highlighted by regional growth factors and by government regulation limiting population flows. There is significant temporary migration flow of both women and men to rural and urban areas. But again, research has not shown a uniform pattern of movement to major cities and provinces.

The pilot study outlined in this paper will develop into a valuable contribution to knowledge of migration trends in China. Although the issue of minorities is sensitive in China, Iredale has established links with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the major body advising the government in this area.

    Patrick Brownlee
    APMRN Secretariat

This publication was made possible with the support of the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme of the Social and Human Science Sector of UNESCO. The authors are responsible for the choice and the presentation of the facts contained in this publication and for the opinions expressed herein, which are not necessarily those of, and do not commit, UNESCO.

The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the UNESCO Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or the delimitations of its frontiers or boundaries.

The Academy of Social Sciences of Australia provided a grant to hold the initial workshop at which these papers were presented in 1997. Their contribution and support is acknowledged.

For more information, please contact:

    APMRN Secretariat
    Migration & Multicultural Studies
    Institute of Social Change and Critical Inquiry
    University of Wollongong
    Northfields Avenue, Wollongong, NSW 2522
    Telephone: +61 (02) 42 213 780
    Fax: +61 (02) 42 286 313
    E-mail: apmrn@uow.edu.au
    On Internet: http://www.capstrans.edu.au/apmrn/

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