Receiving States’ Priorities

The four main migrant-receiving states in ASEAN are Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei. Studies have found several areas of concern and room for improvement in their migration systems. Minimal data is available on Brunei’s migration system. There are common denominators for Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. All three states were identified to have overly rigid employment terms. Protection mechanisms and access to protection are different for migrants and locals and proactive enforcement measures are inadequate. There is no national migration plan and recruitment costs are high. It is interesting to note the study’s finding that Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have weak protection systems for domestic workers. 

Malaysia and Thailand were found to have patchwork legislation and regulation, with a lack of coordination among their respective institutions and a lack of clear institutional roles. Both have weak tripartite relationships (relationship among employers, employees and the government). Their Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are not aligned with their respective economic needs. Application processes for migrant workers are unclear and the procedures that they are subjected to, are complicated and cumbersome. Their quota on migrant workers is either not implemented or not binding. Their terms of employment are lengthy and have a greater focus on migrant workers than employers. Correspondingly, renewal of employment contracts is time-consuming.

Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore have employer-driven processes with regard to sanctions and incentives employed in migrant workers’ exit from these countries. Both Malaysia and Singapore display a lack of coordination with sending countries. There are four observations unique to the Malaysian migration system. In the imposition of quantity restrictions during the admissions process, it was found that these quotas have unclear objectives, they are unresponsive to economic needs and they lack transparency and predictability. There is also ineffective licensing in Malaysia’s recruitment mechanism. The recruitment process in the Thai migration system is lacking in the oversight of private agencies. Entry paths for migrant workers in Brunei and Thailand are not well-differentiated by skill level.

Time and resources are required for improvements to be made in all these areas. More importantly, there is a need for national political will and regional political will to make changes for the better.

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