Asian Labour Mobility: New Dimensions and Implications for Development (Invited Lecture)

Publication Year : 1987

This paper argues that the rise of organized labour migration has introduced a new structural feature in the international labour market. Unlike previous migration for employment flows, where personal linkages and kinship provided the necessary information about employment opportunities abroad, the recent migration flows have been organized by commercially-motivated agents. This new factor in the labour market has a number of implications which deserve closer attention. First, the “organization” of migration by these agents contributes to making labour supply highly elastic during upswings in demand for expatriate labour. This suggests that considerable adjustments are imposed by the migration process on the labour markets of labour exporting countries. Second, it also makes for inelasticity during periods of weakening demand because of its “stockpiling effect” on labour supply. Hence, it may have the effect of dampening pressures for contract wage increases during the periods of rising demand for labour while they probably accentuate the tendency of wages to decline during the periods of slackening demand. The point that is also to be emphasized is that these agents are able to siphon off large proportions of the earnings of migrant workers indicating that this new structural feature of the labour market may have some previously overlooked income distribution effects.

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