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Migration Research and Migration Policy Making: Case studies of Australia, the Philippines and Thailand - APMRN Working Paper 9
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APMRN Working Paper 9
Asia Pacific Migration Research Network
Working Paper No. 9

Migration Research and Policy Landscape:
Case studies of Australia,
the Philippines and Thailand

Published by the APMRN Secretariat
Migration and Multicultural Program
Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies
University of Wollongong, Australia
Robyn Iredale, Tim Turpin, Charles Hawksley,
Stella Go, Supaphan Kanchai, Yee May Kaung

Edited by Kerry Lyon

ISSN 1328-2530
Copyright © 2002

Table of Contents


The project was proposed by the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme of the Social and Human Sciences Sector of UNESCO. However, the APMRN Secretariat is responsible for the choice of presentation of the facts contained in this publication and for the opinions expressed therein.

The APMRN Secretariat thanks all those who participated in the planning meetings and who were interviewed for this study. For ethical reasons names of respondents have not been given or recorded against particular comments.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the University of Wollongong to this study. The original research for this project is a contribution to the APMRN's work on informing the policy making process connected to aspects of migration.

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 county, territory, city, or area of its authorities, or the delimitations of its frontiers or boundaries.


Robyn Iredale is Secretariat Director of the APMRN and Associate Professor, School of Geosciences, University of Wollongong.

Tim Turpin is Professor, Centre for Research Policy and Innovation Studies, University of Wollongong.

Charles Hawksley was Secretariat Coordinator of the APMRN from July 2000 to February 2002 and is now Lecturer in History and Politics, University of Wollongong.

Stella Go is Associate Professor at De La Salle University, Manila and is a coordinator of the Philippines Migration Research Network.

Supaphan Kanchai and Yee May Kaung are researchers at the The Asian Research Center for Migration, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

Executive Summary

This project was initiated by Dr Nadia Auriat of UNESCO-MOST at the 3rd International Conference of the APMRN in Tokyo, September 1999. The aim was to investigate the links between policy makers and social scientific researchers in the Asia Pacific region. These links have been receiving greater attention in recent years. The UNESCO-MOST Programme has funded the APMRN since 1995 to assist with understanding migration and settlement policy in the Asia Pacific region. It began as a regional project based on the collaboration South Korea, Hong Kong); South East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand) and the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, and the countries of the Pacific Islands). In 2001, the APMRN expanded into South Asia (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India) and now involves scholars in 17 networks or economies. Personnel from international organisations, national governments and NGOs participate in local network meetings and in international activities.

Aims and research method
The project is concerned with the ways that research networks, such as the APMRN, inform the policy process. It is not, however, an evaluation of the APMRN. It is more a study into the extent to which, and how, migration research has an impact on migration policy. The aim has been to investigate this relationship generally, and then to consider the particular role of the APMRN.

Major findings and implications for migration research networks

Major findings that emerge from the study include the following:

  1. knowledge of the political and economic context of each country varies and needs to be understood as it provides the context for policy making;
  2. the relationship between research and policy processes varies considerably across countries - in some countries the policy process is 'tightly' managed by a single department (such as in Australia) while in others there is a more diverse administrative approach to migration policy (such as in Thailand);
  3. the impact of research is more direct and conclusive when research has been commissioned directly by government or involves close collaboration with government;
  4. migration policy processes in all case study countries appear increasingly responsive to public opinion, rather than the findings of academic research, and thus indicate the important (but more amorphous) indirect policy impact from academic research;
  5. given this situation, the need to disseminate results widely is evident;
  6. migration researchers are inevitably 'biased' towards certain methodologies and theoretical perspectives and therefore a wide range of opinions is valuable.

General lessons for migration research networks follow from these observations

  1. The most striking impact of migration research on policy is through indirect mechanisms. Therefore, it is important that networks such as APMRN seek to influence public opinion as well as policy makers. Neither is an easy task. However, involving well organised and articulate NGOs in research networks should help inform the debates to which such NGOs contribute.
  2. Researchers in the network should recognise that their research outcomes are un-likely to influence policy makers simply through academic publications. They will need to adopt 'dissemination mechanisms' to inform public debate in areas where their respective governments are either leading or being led by their electorates.
  3. Since the most direct route to policy impact is through research directly commissioned by government agencies, research networks should explore 'inclusive' options for drawing government agencies into network debates. This might be through invitation to specially targeted workshops or through on-going representation within networks.


Robyn Iredale, Charles Hawksley and Tim Turpin

1.1 Background

Building links between policy makers and social scientific researchers in the Asia Pacific region has been receiving greater attention in recent years as governments have been urged to adopt strategies such as the World Bank's Comprehensive Development Frameworks (CDFs) and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). (See: Wolfensohn, J. A Proposal for a Comprehensive Development Framework (A Discussion Draft), Jan 21, 1999). These strategies, in alliance with UN development agencies, are calling for greater co-operation between governments, civil society, the private sector and external agencies to develop more inclusive policy making options and methods. Independent scholarly research and international knowledge transfer is an important aspect of this process. However, as the demand for independent policy-oriented research in the Asia Pacific region has increased, it has become clear that there is a need to ensure that the results of such research can effectively reach policy makers and advisors. Linking research and policy not only provides policy makers with a solid base of knowledge but also helps in countering some of the pitfalls of internal decision-making.

One of the effects of globalisation has been on governance in the Asia Pacific region. Local, national and regional policy makers have been put under increasing pressure to design and implement effective solutions for sustainable and equitable development. National governments have also become increasingly more aware of the interconnectedness of societies and economies. Nowhere was this more evident than after the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, when governments were forced to re-assess their relationship with civil society and the private sector, as well as with regional and international agencies and economic fora. They were forced to adjust their social and economic policies as the crisis triggered civil unrest and social crises and highlighted the nexus between social policy and economic matters.

1.2 Role of international networks

Within this context, various international networks have been established to promote and co-ordinate independent research dealing with global issues, but focusing on specific countries. Recent examples of such networks are the Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN), the Science and Technology Policy Asian Network (STEPAN) and the Science and Technology Management Arab Region Network (STEMARN). These networks all receive some support through UNESCO and serve as cross-cutting networks that work closely with national governments and other international agencies. Other examples of networks are the Coastal Resources Research Network, the Global Urban Research Initiative, the Learning for Environmental Action Program, the Canadian Aging Research Network and the Metropolis Network (See: Stein, J. et al. (2001) for an evaluation of these networks, with the exception of Metropolis). While it is clear that these networks serve an important role in co-ordinating and disseminating research and training activities, it is not entirely clear how effective they are at informing national policies. For this reason, UNESCO encouraged an investigation of the impact of one network, the APMRN.

The APMRN was established in 1995 as a project of UNESCO-MOST's (Management of Social Transformations) Programme to assist with understanding migration and settlement policy in the Asia Pacific region. It began as a regional project based on the collaboration of migration and ethnic relations scholars in the countries of East Asia (China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong); South East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand) and the Pacific (Australia, New Zealand, and the countries of the Pacific Islands) (n.b.: Taiwan is an informal member of the APMRN). In 2001, the APMRN expanded into South Asia (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India) and now involves scholars in seventeen networks or economies. Personnel from international organisations, national governments and NGOs participate in local network meetings and in international activities. The Chair and Deputy Chair are rotating positions (Professor Vijay Naidu (University of the South Pacific, Fiji) is the current APMRN Chair and is assisted by four Deputy Chairs, one each from North East Asia, South East Asia, the Pacific region, and South Asia). The APMRN Secretariat is based at the University of Wollongong, Australia.

The main concerns of the APMRN are twofold: to increase awareness of the long-term effects of migration and ethno-cultural diversity as factors of social transformation; and to contribute to strategies to develop effective policy responses to alleviate poverty affected by migration. One of the APMRN's strengths is its academic independence from government. However, partnerships with policy-making bodies in government and other agencies are essential to ensure that scholarly research provides realistic solutions and recommendations that work within policy-making mechanisms and frameworks in the different countries of the region.

1.3 Rationale for this project

The process of making policy is not always sufficiently well informed. Further, the inherent imperatives for quick responses from policy makers usually allows only short time-frames that do not permit sufficient opportunity for consultation, and gathering and assembling necessary information and knowledge. Government agencies seek to overcome these difficulties by generating information databases, developing networks of informants and carrying out research into areas that they believe will best inform their policy making and assessment.

Knowing what needs to be known is an important and obvious prerequisite for the task of effective policy making. It is not however, always so clear-cut as to what it is that needs to be known. For short-term issues, such as the implementation and management of policy initiatives and responding to new issues once they emerge, the question is less problematic. But for longer term planning - policy evaluation and pre-empting new issues before they reach crisis point - the question is far more complex.

1.4 Aim and goals of the project

This project is concerned with the ways that research networks, such as the APMRN, inform the policy process. It is not, however, an evaluation of the APMRN. It is a more a study into the extent to which, and how, migration research has an impact on migration policy. The aim has been to investigate this problem generally with a specific emphasis on the particular role of the APMRN. The project investigates the relationship between migration research and migration policy making by means of an analysis of the policy making nexus in three of the APMRN's 17 networks in the Asia Pacific region. It focuses on three countries with differing migration histories: Australia, as a traditional country of immigration and settlement; the Philippines, as a country of out-migration, particularly labour migration, and Thailand, which has both significant migration inflows and outflows.

The study examines the policy environments and receptiveness of these three governments toward migration research, particularly that produced by academics. However, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) were also consulted on their research activities and strategies to influence policy and their perceptions of the policy making environment. Specifically we looked at :

  • the receptiveness of governments to migration research
  • the operations of the APMRN networks in Australia, the Philippines and Thailand;
  • the possible role of the APMRN in providing migration policy makers with advice and recommendations; and
  • the potential impact of the APMRN in broadening participation in government planning and policy.

The study will make some observations on the work and value of these three networks of the APMRN in particular but it is hoped that the findings will contribute to improved strategies for the development of similar research networks.

1.5 Research method

This study was initially conceived as a pilot project to inform UNESCO of the policy climate in three countries and to explore options for generating greater impact from migration research networks. The research was undertaken in the following five steps.

1. Selection of participating countries and identification of research teams
(Jan-Feb 2001)

Three countries were selected to participate in the survey: a developing country of emigration (Philippines); a developing country of in-migration (Thailand); and a developed country with a settled migrant population (Australia). Comparative analysis of how developed societies mobilise research and policy resources is an important feature of the pilot survey, and as migration and settlement policy is affected by external and regional pressures, a sending country and a receiving country were also selected.

The APMRN co-ordinator in Thailand, Supang Chantavanich of the Asian Research Centre for Migration (AMRM), and the Executive of the the Philippine Migration Research Network (PMRN) were approached to assist in assembling a research team and organising participants to come to national workshops. The APMRN Secretariat in University of Wollongong co-ordinated the Australian study.

2. National workshops to identify issues in each country (March-May 2001)
NGOs, international agencies and specific government departments using social science research in the area of migration and social transformations were listed for each country. A select number of participants were invited to attend national workshops to identify issues for stakeholders (NGOs, government & researchers) during 2001. These workshops were held in Manila on 23 March, Canberra on 11 May and Bangkok on 5 June. These workshops identified potential interviewees as well as the types of questions that needed to be asked.

3. Design questionnaires and select survey targets from government, NGOs and research institutions (May-July 2001)
The APMRN Secretariat designed a questionnaire for Australia that was adapted for use in the Philippines and Thailand. Three main groups were identified as being of importance in the policy making process: government policy makers; NGOs, and researchers/academics. Ten representatives from each group was the ideal survey sample size but this was not always possible. The major topics pursued with each group were as follows:

Government policy makers

  • Quantity of migration research, and the basis on which it is commissioned;
  • The development processes for migration policy;
  • Relationship between government and civil sector (the community consultation processes);
  • Knowledge of the existence of the APMRN and individual country networks or of individual APMRN members working in the area of migration; and
  • Use of APMRN research outputs.

Relevant NGOs/other research users

  • Quality and quantity of field research generated internally and its use value for government policy makers;
  • Strategies and processes in place to inform government of grassroots issues;
  • Links with wider academic community;
  • Links with the APMRN and its members; and
  • Value and uses of APMRN research.


  • Impressions of how policy process worked;
  • Availability of funding for migration research;
  • Level of consultation by government on policy issues;
  • Links with government and NGOs;
  • Media strategies for getting research into wider community;
  • Knowledge of APMRN; and
  • Ways to facilitate better positioning of APMRN research product in networks.

4. Administration of the survey (August-November 2001)
Country-level investigators assembled research teams and conducted their own interviews from August to November 2001. Interviewees were in the main selected from the national issues workshops. Interviewees were guaranteed anonymity and most interviews were conducted over the phone or by email, although some were face-to-face.

5. Analysis of results and drafting of country reports and overview (October 2001- February 2002)
Once country reports were completed the analysis of data for the overview report was conducted at the University of Wollongong. This overview reviews the approach to research and knowledge-gathering taken by Australian, Thai and Filipino migration policy makers.

1.6 Outline of this report

Chapter 2 of this report consists of the overview that has been compiled by the chief investigators and research assistant. This may be read as a separate document as it summarises the main findings of the three case studies. Chapter 3 discusses the implications for the research-policy linkage and the role of networks, specifically the APMRN.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 contain the three country studies: Australia, the Philippines and Thailand in the format in which they were prepared. Only minor editing has been undertaken on these reports as their value lies in the uniqueness of each detailed case study. The differences between these three case studies demonstrates that they can only be used as examples as there is wide variation between the policy-making context of each country. They are not 'exemplars' but examples of the way that political processes in different countries respond to migration research in the formulation of policy.

For more information, please contact:

    APMRN Secretariat
    Migration & Multicultural Studies
    Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies
    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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