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Better management of migration can boost welfare, growth in Asean: World Bank

IMPROVING migration policies can enhance both the welfare of workers and benefit the countries which receive them, according to a report by the World Bank.

Between 1995 and 2015, intra-regional migration in Asean has grown significantly, turning Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand into regional migration hubs with 6.5 million migrants, highlighted the report Migrating to Opportunity. This figure represents 96 per cent of the total number of migrant workers in Asean. Some US$62 billion in remittances were sent to Asean countries in 2015.

However, migration procedures across Asean are complicated by barriers such as expensive recruitment processes and restrictive quotas on the number of foreign workers allowed, while stringent employment policies limit workers' employment options and affect their welfare.

These restrictive policies are partly influenced by the perception that an influx of migrants would have negative impacts on receiving economies, the report highlighted. However, this isn't necessarily the case. In Malaysia, simulations find that a 10 per cent net increase in low-skilled immigrant workers increases real GDP (gross domestic product) by 1.1 per cent.

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"No matter where workers wish to migrate in Asean, they face mobility costs several times the annual average wage," said World Bank economist for the social protection and jobs global practice, Mauro Testaverde. "Improvements in the migration process can ease these costs on prospective migrants, and help countries respond better to their labour market needs."

Various policies can be implemented to enhance workers' mobility, the report said, including greater oversight of recruitment agencies.

Receiving countries can also roll out measures to maximise the benefits from labour mobility. "While Singapore has developed a highly sophisticated and well-functioning migration system, attention should continue to be paid to the welfare of migrant workers," the report suggested.