Internal Labour Migration in South Asia

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South Asia is a region characterized as much by cross-border migrations as by cross-border tensions. The region has been a witness to a series of migrations- both economic and non-economic, of different peoples. Today migration issues revolve around the persecution of Rohingyas from Myanmar and the illegal immigration of Bangladeshis to India, with several larger states including India strengthening border controls and planning to strip illegal immigrants of citizenship. South Asian states have tried to contain migration by tighter border controls, primarily not due to the fear of economic disruption but due to the fear of ethnic and communal tensions.

In this context of heightened tensions about cross-border migration, it is of importance to look at the region as a whole and present a perspective on migration management which would be beneficial for the region. It is also imperative to understand the socio-economic impact of labour migration on destination and home states and present an objective and empirical analysis on migration studies to counter populist arguments. A study on the positive and negative impacts of labour migration on sustainable growth and development would also serve the purpose of aiding in better policy making. The study also aims to understand gaps in governance mechanisms and suggest methods for bridging them.

While the reviewed literature presents perspectives on migration and its impact and historical and political dimensions of internal migration in South Asia, there is a major gap in literature with regard to the economic impact of migration in the region and its impact on sustainable development. Quantitative studies on the same have not been conducted before, primarily due to the difficulties involved in data collection, given the fact that many migrants are undocumented.

While international law has been vocal on liberalization of state policies with regard to movement of capital, goods and services, it has been largely silent on movement of labour across borders. What exists in the form of international law are a series of conventions of the International Labour Organisation, United Nations and its agencies on protection and rights of migrant workers. However most of the South Asian states are yet to ratify a few of these conventions. Nor do all countries in the region have well defined national policies on migration. The paper thus addresses this lack of adequate governance mechanisms and its implications on labour movement in the region.

While the dominant view in destination states like India is against migration based on the view that migrant workers are creating economic disruptions, there is hardly any empirical evidence to prove the same. Several studies conducted in third world countries on the other hand prove that immigration has limited impact on labour market outcomes of natives and that unemployment may be driven by factors other than labour supply. However, companies profit from the fact that the presence of migrant workers who are willing to work at low wages, depresses overall market wages. Thus from the point of view of welfare economics, the study points out that presence of migrants is unlikely to alter total surplus in the economy.

While poverty and poor living conditions are major factors for out-migration, especially vis-à-vis India-Bangladesh situation, several of these immigrants are again subject to an abject lack of basic facilities like water and sanitation in addition to discrimination in destination states. And while remittances of these migrants contribute to poverty reduction of families, migrants themselves suffer from poor living environment. On the other hand, the presence of migrants who are seen as competitors to scarce resources, induces socio-political conflicts and ethnic strife in destination states. The paper addresses the question of how these contradictions are relevant in our discourse about sustainable growth and development.

In the context of increasing importance to migration related issues in the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, the paper also tries to understand how internal migration in South Asia fits into this narrative. While remittances help achieve goals of poverty(SDG 1) and hunger reduction(SDG 2), issues of xenophobia, overcrowding of cities and poor living conditions of migrants are major impediments to the goal of making cities and communities sustainable( SDG 11). Lack of adequate jobs in home states being a major push factor of out-migration implies that the goal of decent jobs and economic growth (SDG 8) also remains unfulfilled.

The paper concludes that South Asia, as a region can use the example of regional organizations like EU or ASEAN, which have successfully implemented migration policies which put the interests of the region as a whole at the forefront, for setting out its own migration agenda. The paper also analyses the measures that could be adopted in the region by SAARC, so that an inclusive policy on migration- one which focuses on creation of jobs in home states and provides for legal migration opportunities in destination states; can be developed for the progress of the region. The author recognizes the hitherto weak role played by international laws and organizations and calls for their enhanced participation in formation of migration management practices in the region which contributes to sustainable growth and development.


UN Convention on Migrant Labour defines a migrant as ‘a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity of which he/she is not a national’.

While the forces of globalization and liberalization mandate towards a more free global movement of goods, services, capital and technology, with organisations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, leading the way ahead, a similar global consensus has not been created with respect to the global movement of labour. “International migration is understood as an aberration which must be eliminated, and not as a natural characteristic of human life.” Public opinion is greatly polarized, especially with the rise of anti-immigration sentiments, with one section of the population believing that immigration is nothing but bad for the destination states and another section believing in pursuing a human rights based approach to solve the issue.

International law, not surprisingly, inherits these contradictions. While there are a handful of conventions of the International Labour Organisation, the United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration protecting rights of migrant workers, there are several other laws that give primacy to state sovereignty in settling migration related issues. Given the non-binding nature of several of these conventions, there is a clear lack of well-defined mechanisms of global migration governance.

However, sustainable development goals of the United Nations give emphasis to Migration related issues. UN emphasizes on carefully managed migration as sources of sustainable growth, innovation and opportunities in destination states and method of poverty reduction in home states. It also focuses on protection of rights of migrant workers and providing access to basic life opportunities to migrants so that all human beings have access to quality life and livelihood.

South Asia has been a region characterized by multiple migrations throughout the course of history. Given that it is one of the most diverse regions of the world, these migrations have been integral to shaping of the South Asian identity. Different groups of people, from different parts of the world, during different periods of time have migrated to the region, as economic migrants, refugees and conquerors.

The colonial era saw the British government using indentured labourers in colonies by transporting labourers from British India to countries like Sri Lanka, Fiji, and Mauritius. 1947 witnessed one of the largest ever mass migrations in human history with the creation of the two independent states of India and Pakistan that has redefined South Asian economy, society and politics since then. While India accepted the Tibetan and Chakma refugees from Bangladesh, Pakistan saw large scale influx of refugees from war torn Afghanistan. In the late 1960s and early 70s India accepted a large number of refugees from what was then East Pakistan, following the genocide of Bengalis in Pakistan and Indo-Pak war in 1971. India also sees large scale immigration of Bangladeshis for economic reasons, most of which are undocumented. With the Myanmmar government carrying out an ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims, countries like Bangladesh and India are facing the problem of accommodating these refugees.

Not surprisingly, migrations which have taken place post-independence of South Asian states are a source of tension between countries. Given that all states of South Asia are developing and most of them face the challenge of over population and ethnic tension, populist opinion is against immigration. Immigration is seen as a factor causing unemployment of natives and immigrants as contenders to scarce resources. An objective and empirical analysis on the economic impact of immigration in the region is however, yet to be done.

This paper aims to analyse the impact of labour migration within South Asia on sustainable development in the region, and how international and national regulatory frameworks govern the migrant movement.

Review of Literature

The briefing note Migration and Development mentions that ‘Migration can contribute to positive development outcomes and, ultimately, to realising the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (the ‘2030Agenda’).’

Freeman examines the degree of international economic integration in labor, evaluating both quantities of movement of labor compared to movement of other factors, and price differentials in labor compared to price differentials in other factors. He finds that the labor market “is the least developed part of globalization.”

According to Behra (2011), the nature of migration from Bangladesh and Nepal to India has been dissimilar because of their different historical backgrounds, geographical variants, ethno-religious affinities, political systems, and bilateral arrangements with India. Behra illustrates that geographical contiguity, sociocultural affinity, the kinship factor, and historical reasons have left the Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Nepal borders vulnerable to migration.

While all countries are sovereign in the way they manage immigration, policies that are overly restrictive tend to be both costly and counterproductive. The more restrictive immigration policies are, the more costly they are to enforce.

The summary of conclusions of the ILO Regional Tripartite Meeting on Challenges to Labour Migration Policy and Management in Asia states that “Experience suggests that state intervention by sending and receiving countries through transparent, efficient, and appropriate regulatory institutions and measures are essential to the efficient and equitable working of the labour market.”

The literature reviewed however points out many gaps. There is a dearth of adequate quantitative research and data on migration in South Asia and its implications for sustainable development.


The study relied on secondary data collected from journals like Economic and Political Weekly through digital platforms like JSTOR, NLIST and reports and reviews of international organisations like UN, ILO, IOM on migration in South Asia.

Labour Migration in South Asia

South Asia has been a region characterized by repeated internal migrations throughout the course of history. Contemporary South Asian States try to exert border controls not primarily due to the fear of economic disruption but due to the unwanted ethnic mix that migration brings in. [footnoteRef:5] However the reality is that no South Asian State is able to exercise effective border controls, allowing illegal immigrants to enter, often with dreadful political and social consequences.

India being the largest country in the region is also the largest recipient of immigrants. While India hosts around 6 million immigrants, Pakistan hosts around 4.3 million. Sri Lanka has the lowest immigrant numbers. On the other hand, countries like Nepal and Bangladesh are major origin states of immigrants.

One of the central features of internal labour migration in South Asia is that a vast majority of migrants are low skilled workers. The high incidence of ‘irregular migration’ – commonly referred to as ‘illegal’, ‘undocumented’ or ‘clandestine’ migration is also a major trend in South Asia. Irregular migration is found to be high in India and Pakistan, owing to cross border movements from Bangladesh into India and from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Trafficking of women and children across the border from Bangladesh and Nepal into India is also prevalent.

Two of the major labour migration channels in South Asia are those between Nepal and India and Bangladesh and India. However, these migration channels are governed by totally different institutional mechanisms. Migration between Nepal and India is governed by the Peace and Friendship Treaty signed between the two countries in 1950, which allows citizens to travel and work in each other’s countries without a passport or visa. Thus migrant workers from Nepal cannot be considered irregular although such migrant movements may be largely undocumented.

However, cross border migration between India and Bangladesh take place in the absence of any such agreement. Tighter controls on legal immigration implemented by India implies a proportional rise in illegal immigration from Bangladesh. According to 2001 Census of India there are 3,084,826 people in India who came from Bangladesh. However there are no reliable estimates of illegal immigrants. Bangladesh systematically denies illegal immigration.

Indo-Bangladesh migration situation

World Bank data of 2010 states that the Indo-Bangladesh migration corridor is one of the largest corridors in the world. India shares a 4,097-km border with Bangladesh along the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and West Bengal, of which only 1,500 km is fenced. This leaves a large portion of the border vulnerable to migration.

Indo- Bangladesh migration has its roots in the colonial era, wherein the British employed Bengalis from East Bengal in large numbers in the plantations in Assam. Assam in the colonial era was constituted of several different tribes, who had collective forms of land ownership and who were unwilling to work in plantations. The British found an economic solution to the problem by recruiting cheap labour from Bengal. This migration continued post-independence and partition, when what was then East Bengal became East Pakistan and later, Bangladesh.

Immigration became a hot political issue in the 1980s, with student led organisations claiming that the indigeneous Assam population were being reduced to a minority in their own land. India has since then implemented tighter controls on migration from Bangladesh.

However, there are no reliable figures on the number of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in India. Some figures claimed by India go up to 20 million. However certain studies point out that while there are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to India, the figures provided by India are “motivatedly exaggerated”.A study conducted by Samir Guha Ray showed that a number of incidences of internal migration are also thought of as illegal immigration.

Reasons for Migration

Migration is an important livelihood strategy, mainly for the poor in many of the world’s poorest countries (WHO 2008). Employment opportunities and higher wages were the main pull factors for migration to India. Better educational opportunities for children, better food availability and ability to afford health services were also cited as reasons for migration. Influence of friends and neighbours are also major pull factors. A majority of Bangladeshi migrants also find migration to India cheaper than migration to any other country and a better way of earning higher income.

Regulatory Frameworks Governing Labour Migration

Migration and Sustainable Development

The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 of the United Nations mainstreams migration as an essential element of development. The 2030 agenda includes several targets that realize the economic value of migrants. SDGs 1, 5, 8, 10, 16 and 17 particularly mention aspects of migration. Section 10.7 also emphasizes on ‘safe, regular and responsible migration’ and the implementation of ‘well-managed migration policies’.

By 2020, enhance capacity building support to developing countries, including for Least Developed Countries (LCDs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity,migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts

Ann Pawliczko of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that there is a positive correlation between migration and sustainable development, which has often been underestimated or misunderstood. Michele Klein-Solomon of the International Organization of Migration, (IOM) claims that “Global migration contributed to global gain of $356 billion difference in wages, decreased unemployment and enriched human capital”.

Migration is an important tool of poverty reduction, not just of migrants, but their families and environment by way of remittances. Remittances are used to finance better health, education and life opportunities of recipient families, thereby improving quality of life standards in the community. While lack of opportunities and investment in origin countries drive migration, migration can also improve development and investment in origin countries, fill labour gaps and foster innovation in host countries.

However, if not managed properly, labour migration, especially in the informal sector, may also deter the achievement of sustainable development goals. Unmonitored, large scale migration of workers may affect health conditions in host countries, with several migrants being carriers of deadly diseases like Malaria and Ebola. Such migrant induced health crises are not rare to find. Besides, migration, especially in the developing world, has resulted in overcrowding of urban spaces, which flow beyond carrying capacity and increased competition for survival. This makes it difficult to achieve the goal of making cities Sustainable. Continuing human rights violations of migrant workers also means that a large section of the human population is vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, with hardly any viable recourse to legal means.

International Laws on Migration

Global migration lacks a coherent system of governance. There are very few binding multi-lateral treaties and international organisations that deal with migration governance at the global level. Therefore it is state sovereignty that remains the primary actor governing migration. Sovereign states have their own immigration policies, which may often be at odds with each other. However, given the global nature of the problem, states are recognizing the need for co-operation in managing and governing migration.

The need to protect workers outside their countries was first recognized after the First World War, in the Treaty of Versailles which established the constitution of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The first specific international treaty on migrant workers came in the 1930s, and the ILO Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) (No. 97) was adopted in 1949.

In the 2016 New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (New York Declaration) States committed to set in motion a process of intergovernmental negotiations leading to the adoption of a global compact for safe, regular and orderly migration.

At the policy level, reports such as the Doyle Report (2002) and the Global Commission on International Migration (2003-5) have been published, and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) began an initiative called ‘Conversations on the Global Governance of Migration’.

The1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 1998 ILO Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work are examples of declarations which though are not binding, express widely accepted principles and rights which are found in legally binding instruments. At the same time, the 1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the seven other core human rights treaties as well as international labour standards in the form of ILO conventions are binding upon the countries which have ratified them.

The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, 1990 (ICRMW) is one of nine core human rights treaties. It is applicable, except as otherwise provided hereafter, to all migrant workers and members of their families without distinction of any kind such as sex, race, colour, language, religion or conviction, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, nationality, age, economic position, property, marital status, birth or other status. Article. 7 of the convention demands States Parties to respect and ensure to all migrant workers and members of their families within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction the rights provided for in the present Convention without distinction of any kind.

Part VI of ICRMW, obliges all states to cooperate in promoting sound, equitable, humane and lawful conditions for international migration (Article 64(1)). States of origin also have an obligation to address irregular migration in cooperation with states of transit and states of employment.

The Migration for Employment Convention (Revised), 1949 (No. 97)  – [ratifications ] requires states to facilitate international migration for employment by establishing and maintaining a free assistance and information service for migrant workers and taking measures against misleading propaganda relating to emigration and immigration. It also includes provisions of quality medical services for migrant workers. States have to apply treatment no less favourable than that which applies to their own nationals with respect to matters including conditions of employment, freedom of association and social security.

Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention, 1975 (No. 143)  – [ratifications ] calls for respecting the basic human rights of all migrant workers. It also extends the scope of equality between legally resident migrant workers and national workers to ensure equality of opportunity and treatment in respect of employment and occupation, social security, trade union and cultural rights, and individual and collective.

However states still remain primary actors of in the migration governance regime. International law recognizes the right of people to leave any country, including their own, and return to their own country. However it does not grant the right of entry to another state. Thus, criteria for admission and expulsion of non-nationals remains a sovereign prerogative of a state, subject to its obligations to international law.

Article 79 of ICRMW states that nothing in the present Convention shall affect the right of each State Party to establish the criteria governing admission of migrant workers and members of their families. Concerning other matters related to their legal situation and treatment as migrant workers and members of their families, States Parties shall be subject to the limitations set forth in the present Convention.

According to Article 34 of ICRMW, migrants also have to comply with the laws and regulations of the states of transit and destination as well as respect the cultural identity of the inhabitants of these states. This includes a duty to refrain from any hostile act directed against national security, public order or the rights and freedoms of others.

As of October 2018, only 54 states have ratified the ICRMW, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka being the only 2 South Asian countries to do so. This implies that for a vast majority of countries, it is national policies than international law that dictates migration. It also reveals the inadequacies and gaps of international migration governance mechanisms.

National Policies on Migration

South Asian states have varied policies on migration. Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka have dedicated ministries to deal with foreign employment and labour migration. However only a few countries have wee defined migration policies. Sri Lanka has a National Labour Migration Policy and Pakistan has a National Emigration Policy, both adopted in 2008. Bangladesh also has an Overseas Employment Policy since 2006.

However, India, inspite of being a major sending, receiving and transit state, has a policy vacuum in the area of migration. Vis-à-vis the Indo-Bangladesh immigration situation, India has laws like the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 and the Foreigners Act, 1946, both meant to identify and expel illegal immigrants. The Foreigners Act among other things, gives power to the centre to 1) order controls over foreigners; (2) restrict their movement, activity, and residence, and require their proof of identity and regular appearance before the police; and (3) deport them. The centre had also created the Illegal Migration Determination by Tribunals Act in 1983, which allowed citizenship only to those settled in Assam before 25 March 1971. However the act was struck down in 2005. The Indian government is also in the preparation to issue a National Registry of Citizens(NRC), Assam, to identify illegal immigrants and prevent them from obtaining citizenship. Illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have no access to benefits of Indian laws or policies. India has not yet ratified the ICRMW.

The Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment is the main body in Bangladesh, entrusted with the duty of protecting the rights and interests of Bangladeshi migrants in host countries and ensuring their welfare. However such protection is only extended to documented migrants. Emigration Ordinance 1982 is the primary instrument dealing with migration in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has also ratified the ILO instrument, the Migration for

Employment Convention of 1949, and the Migrant Workers Supplementary Convention of 1975 and the 1990 ICRMW. Bangladesh however, does not recognize illegal immigration of its citizens to India.

Implications of Labour Migration in South Asia

Economic Impact of Labour Migration in South Asia

Destination states around the world are of the view that immigrants take away jobs of natives and cause economic disruptions. However there is very little empirical evidence to prove the same. In fact immigration is seen to be a response to shortages in labour supply. Firms find it more profitable to employ migrant workers who are willing to work for less wages than natives. A study conducted on a representative sample of developing countries across the world shows that immigrants perform better than native-born workers on the labour market. Trade union activities are also negligible for immigrant workers, thereby making them attractive prospects for employment. This raises the profits and the surplus earned by firms, which ultimately reflect in production of cheaper goods and increased consumer surplus.

Labour demand as an important factor of employment is often overlooked, with increasing importance being attached to labour supply. The importance of labour demand explains why in most countries it is possible to have unemployment and a decline in immigration at the same time. Thus a fall in immigration may not necessarily increase employment opportunities. The study also showed that immigrants have a limited impact on labour market outcomes of natives, though variations occurred in the sub-national level.

Thus going by welfare economics, while some native workers lose out on the race for employment, employment of immigrants is benefitting to a large number of firms. Thus the total surplus in the market is likely to remain unchanged.

Compared to destination states, immigrants have a more unambiguous economic impact on home states. Remittances of immigrants are major sources of poverty eradication and community development. Remittances received by Nepal and Bangladesh are larger than their foreign exchange reserves. For Bangladesh’s economy, remittances constitute almost one-third of foreign exchange earnings. Remittance flow is also found to have cut poverty in Bangladesh by around 6%.

However immigration also brings with it other socio-political challenges that are likely to impact the economy of destination states. Immigrants are found to bring with them several communicable diseases, the eradication of which the government may have to take more concerted efforts. Ethnic tension and violence between natives and immigrants also impact the smooth functioning of economies. Overcrowding of cities, provision of housing services and human rights protection of migrants also present tough challenges for destination states like India.

The summary of conclusions of the ILO Regional Tripartite Meeting on Challenges to Labour Migration Policy and Management in Asia applies well to the South Asian situation. (ILO 2003: 1).“While market forces are driving labour migration, there are several signs of market failures associated with its related processes. A number of risks have been associated with migration including racism and xenophobia, trafficking and forced labour, recruitment malpractices such as fraudulent job offers and exorbitant placement fees, debt bondage, sexual and physical harassment, employment in hazardous jobs, and under or non-payment of wages.”

Labour Migration and Sustainable Development in South Asia

South Asia cannot achieve sustainable and inclusive development without effectively addressing the issue of internal labour migration. Managing labour migration presents tough challenges and is related to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Remittances of migrant workers are major drivers of poverty reduction in home states. This implies reduction of hunger, access to better educational opportunities and health care facilities, thereby fulfilling SDGs 1, 2, 3 and 4. However it has been found that these remittances are very rarely converted to investments that can provide sustainable solutions to problems in home states.

While remittances help in development, migrant workers themselves are found to be surviving in poor living and working conditions, with negligible or no legal protection. They live in shacks and overcrowded settlements, devoid of basic facilities like water and sanitation. Immigrants are also found not to avail health services, and also bring with them diseases that are deadly and communicable.

Migrant workers are also most vulnerable to exploitation and harassment. Lack of legal protection mechanisms exacerbates vulnerabilities. Undocumented immigrants, especially face the situation of neither being there nor here, with neither the Indian nor the Bangladeshi government providing them legal protection.

Further given that all South Asian States are grappling with the issue of overpopulation, immigration makes cities overcrowded and unsustainable. Resources are scarce, while contenders for these resources multiply. Slums and shanty urban spaces increase and cities overflow their carrying capacity. However, internal migration of native citizens contribute more to this phenomenon than citizens of other South Asian states.

Achieving the goals of sustainable development also implies that push factors of migration in home states must be effectively addressed. Adequate job opportunities must be generated for workers in countries like Bangladesh so that they do not have to take recourse to illegal means for sustenance. This helps in the realization of the goal of ‘Decent Jobs and Economic Growth’.

Labour Migration in South Asia thus presents opportunities and challenges for sustainable development which needs to be addressed through efficient policy networks.

Addressing the Policy Vacuum

Implications of International Laws and National Policies

Lack of adequate global governance mechanisms and binding international laws implies that international law is not yet a major determinant of labour migration and sustainable development in South Asia. National policies which aim for greater border controls and expulsion of immigrants are what dictates migration to a large extent. However, the inadequacies of national policies are revealed in the increased incidences of illegal immigration. Thus there is a policy vacuum with regard to addressing the issue of labour migration and its implications for sustainable development in South Asia.

The Way Ahead

Channeling labour migration towards sustainable development requires a sustainable and inclusive policy on migration which puts the interests of the whole region at the forefront. Such a policy needs to address the issue of provision of adequate livelihood opportunities in home states like Nepal and Bangladesh as well as the provision of ample legal migration opportunities in destination states like India. Drafting such a policy would require the concerted and coordinated efforts of all states in the region.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) needs to engage with member nations and develop an inclusive policy on migration. The SACEPS/FES Regional Seminar on Labour Migration, Employment and Poverty Alleviation in South Asia in August 2007 proposed the establishment of a SAARC TaskForce on migration which could review patterns of migration, evolution of policies, and its influence on growth and development, existing legislative frameworks with a view to making recommendations on follow up action. (Khatri 2007). The IPS/FES International Conference on Migration, Remittances & Development Nexus in South Asia (Colombo, May 2009) first launched the idea of a South Asian Commission on Migration.

The major objectives of the commission would be to place the issues facing migration from South Asia on the forefront of the national agenda in all member countries; the advocacy of policies aimed at easing the hardship of migrants from member countries at an international level, particularly in major receiving countries; identify existing gaps in policies adopted by member states towards migration, and also to establish clear linkages between migration from the region and other issues such as economic development, demography, trade, human rights, labour supply and demand, and national and regional security, amongst others and thereby to formulate policies that can harness the benefits of migration in the best way possible for all stakeholders. However these ideas have not yet been translated to policies due to the political tensions within the region.

International law needs to be strengthened and must be made binding so that the issue of labour migration is mainstreamed. Protection of migrant workers must be made a priority of the global community. Strengthened international laws can aid in creation of better migration policies in South Asia. Bilateral and multilateral agreements between countries in the region can also help in evolution of unambiguous and inclusive policies.

Implementing more restrictive national policies on migration has severe costs and can only be detrimental to sustainable development. The solution lies in developing policies that are in tune with labour market needs. National security may depend as much on providing decent work opportunities as it does on border control. Providing legal migration opportunities will only contribute to sustainable development. Developing an inclusive and sustainable policy network on labour migration remains an issue that needs to be addressed.


Labour Migration remains a defining feature of South Asia. The study however points out a major policy vacuum in migration related issues. International laws and national policies are inadequate to deal with migration in a sustainable manner. Migration, on the other hand, is an issue which is closely linked to sustainable development. The paper thus calls for a concerted effort from various stakeholders to devise an inclusive and sustainable policy on migration- one which focuses on creation of jobs in home states and provides for legal migration opportunities in destination states. There is also a need for data collection and intensive research on labour migration and its implications for sustainable growth in South Asia, to aid better policy making.


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Cite this paper

Internal Labour Migration in South Asia. (2021, Oct 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/internal-labour-migration-in-south-asia/

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