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

Manolo I. Abella


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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