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Executive summary.

The Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS), with a population of 260 million, comprises Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Yunnan province in China. Despite marked disparities in economic development between its members, the sub-region is extremely dynamic with annual growth rates averaging above 6 percent in recent years. In the past, economic integration of the GMS countries was hindered by political factors, civil unrest, and sometimes open conflict. However, recently there has been growing momentum to seek new ways to cooperate and enhance economic growth. Labor migration is one of the areas where the benefits to formal cooperation are largest, yet the institutional, political, and technical obstacles to such cooperation are daunting.

Migration has been occurring in the GMS for centuries, largely in an informal and unregulated fashion. In recent years, however cross-border labor migration within the sub-region has increased sharply. The combination of demographic transition and upgrading of the skills of its workforce has left Thailand facing a labor shortage of unskilled labor, which migrants from neighboring countries have been more than willing to fill. Indeed, Thailand's much higher incomes, fast growth, and more favorable social and political climate act as a magnet for people in Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar trying to escape poverty. For many poor households in the sub-region, migration offers an avenue, sometimes the only one, towards jobs and higher incomes, albeit often at a high risk to the migrants themselves. For Thailand, migrants represent an important reservoir of cheap and flexible labor and a boost to its competitiveness in certain sectors. Recent research indicates that more than 2 million migrants have moved between GMS countries in the last few years due to economic reasons. Thailand alone estimates to have 1.5 to 2 million regular and irregular migrants from the GMS currently living in the country and is also home to about 150,000 refugees.

Uneven patterns of development, slowing population growth in Thailand combined with high fertility rates in its neighbors and growing economic integration will ensure that labor mobility in the GMS continues to grow in coming decades. Much of this migration, however will remain irregular unless greater efforts are made to regulate and manage migration flows. The sending countries generally lack the capacity to properly manage the mass export of labor and to protect the rights of their migrant-nationals abroad. Receiving countries have fairly weak migration policy frameworks, which often have been implemented hastily as an 'after-the-fact' response to the arrival of large numbers of migrants. The lack of a legal framework to regulate migration puts migrant workers at a higher risk of abuse, and strengthens the prevalence of smuggling rings, who are also the main actors in human trafficking, be it for sexual exploitation or slave-labor Absence of an adequate legal and policy framework thus contributes to increasing the costs (and risks) of migration, and to reducing its benefits. GMS governments in both sending and receiving countries face an urgent need to adopt policies that can help manage the increased flows in an efficient yet humane and equitable way.
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Title Annotation:LABOR MIGRATION in the Greater Mekong Sub-region
Publication:Labor Migration In the Greater Mekong Sub-Region - Synthesis Report: Phase 1
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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