Economic Development and Contemporary Migration Trends

Nation-state-building in Southeast and East Asia since the end of World War II has significantly reshaped the region’s political economy. Nationstates in the region have protected their sovereignty by controlling population flows internally and internationally (Hugo 1998), while pursuing agricultural reform and industrial development (Abella 1992). Many have rapidly integrated into the Western-centered world economy and the newly formed Asian core. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), founded in 1967, allied Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines into a system aimed at further developing their economies. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, and Myanmar (Burma until 1989) and Laos in 1997 (Turnbull 1999). Japan emerged as Asia’s industrial and financial locomotive in the 1970s, and Asia’s “Four Little Dragons” (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) achieved impressive economic growth and prosperity a decade later. Malaysia and Thailand rose rapidly to Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) status. The new Asian alliance, led by Japan and comprising Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and the ASEAN countries, challenged the single-core world system and brought unprecedented economic growth to the region.

The development of the regional trade and investment alliance set off massive state-sponsored intra-Asian labor migration in the 1980s. Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Brunei imported labor: the Philippines, Indonesia, and China exported it (Hugo 1998; Martin et al. 1995; Tyner 2000).8 South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand both imported and exported labor owing to domestic labor-market segmentation (Hugo 1998; Martin et al. 1995). Japan had the largest pool of foreign workers absolutely, but slightly fewer proportionately than South Korea (whose economy was a 13th of the size) (Martin et al. 1995). Foreign workers made up 5 % of the labor force in Taiwan, 13 % in Hong Kong and 18 % in Singapore (Hugo 1998). Since the turn of the twenty-first century, however, the role of the state in regulating migration flows in these fast- developing Asian nations has been undercut by longstanding migration networks and a rising migration industry consisting of both legal and illegal businesses, and ofagencies catering to labor demands and individuals’ desire to migrate (Bretts 2012; Gammeltoft-Hansen and Sorensen 2013).

The high wages in Hong Kong and Taiwan drew workers from other Asian countries. However, Hong Kong and Taiwan differed from each other and from other labor-short Asian countries such as Japan, South

Korea and Singapore in the type, number and origin of workers they allowed to enter. Labor importation on a massive scale did not take off until the 1980s. In Hong Kong, the rapid growth in labor-intensive manufacturing, coupled with low fertility, created a severe labor shortage (Skeldon 1995). While Hong Kong was starting to import workers, its middle classes began to leave in accelerating numbers for Australia and North America as a result of uncertainties surrounding the 1997 return of the colony to Chinese sovereignty. Some migrant workers moved to China to work in domestic services, manufacturing and construction, while others filled technical and managerial jobs left vacant by the middle-class exodus. Almost a third of foreign workers in Hong Kong were educated professionals from Japan, the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia (Skeldon 1995). Since the late 1990s, students and highly skilled professionals from mainland China have become increasingly visible (Chiu 2015).

Taiwan, despite strict immigration controls, attracted migrant workers from other Asian countries—mainly low-skilled workers from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Filipino and Indonesian women typically worked as domestic maids, while men worked in construction (Tsay 1995). Taiwan’s exodus of people and capital to the USA and elsewhere owing to political uncertainty reversed in the mid-1980s and the 1990s when many migrants returned and the trend towards transnational migration eased the brain drain. Demographic and economic trends, such as decreasing fertility, the switch from labor-intensive manufacturing to capital-intensive high-tech and financial services, and public investment in highway construction (Tsay 1995), created a huge demand for domestic and construction workers. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Taiwan imported workers mainly from Malaysia and the Philippines to work in manufacturing and construction (Tsay 1995), although only a small number were admitted to perform domestic services. After China opened its door in 1979, Taiwan invested heavily in the mainland, and trans-Strait commerce flourished. Offshore fishing employed a large number of Chinese workers, but they were not allowed to come ashore (Lee 1998).

Singapore is a small island city-state with a population of 5.6 million in 2016. The exceptionally high population density (7797 per sq. km) necessitates a carefully managed development strategy.9 Becoming an NIC in the 1970s, it faced the challenges of the rising cost of labor, severe labor shortages and near-zero population growth, like other Asian NICs. Importation of foreign labor, both skilled and unskilled, became a priority. The government allowed two categories of guest labor into the country: those with work permits and those with professional passes. Those holding work permits were barred from bringing in dependents or giving birth in Singapore, and their contract terms were strictly enforced. Those holding professional passes were better treated (Yeoh and Lin 2012). In the mid-1980s, foreign workers comprised only 8 % of the workforce in Singapore, rising to 20 % in the mid-1990s and 38 % in mid-2015.10 Most were Malaysians and Thais, with a smaller number of Filipinos (Chew and Chew 1995). In the 1990s, highly skilled workers from China began arriving in greater numbers (Liu 2005; Yang 2016).

Before 1990, China exported labor migrants on a much lesser scale than the Philippines and Indonesia, the two major labor-exporting countries. During the Cold War, migration to and from China was insignificant, especially in relation to the country’s size, but the potential for labor export was great given its huge domestic labor force (Arnold and Shah 1986; Goldstone 1997). In the late 1970s and at the peak of the Asian boom in the 1980s, China reformed first faming and then the market economy, and then went on to restructure industry with an eye to exporting and to privatizing state enterprises. The country’s drive for modernization and industrialization, coupled with its vast population and diasporic ties, has tipped the regional balance in its favor. These developments ushered in the “Pacific Century” (Forbes 1999), which has led to tremendous changes in the pace, extent, direction and nature of human movements.

Much labor migration to other parts of Asia from China in the late 1970s and the 1980s was more or less clandestine, assisted by pre-existing dia- sporic networks, and was on smaller scale than in the previous 25 years, while some of it happened as an unintended result of the Chinese government’s student exchange program. The Chinese authorities continued, under pressure from the West and neighboring countries, to exert tight control on emigration. Most Chinese workers in Korea and Japan were irregular, having entered as students or visitors. Relatively few Chinese worked in other Asian NICs. However, international migration from China to North America surged once the USA and Canada relaxed their immigration policies. The ethnic Chinese population in the USA grew from 237,292 in 1960 to 1,645,472 in 1990, and to nearly 4.76 million (including more than 0.5 million mixed-race persons) in 2015, exceeding 1 % of the US population (Zhou and Liu, see also Chap. 18 in this volume). In Canada, the ethnic Chinese population grew from 58,197 in 1961 to 633,933 in 1991 and to 1.5 million in 2011, becoming the largest non-European ethnic group in the country and comprising 3 % of the total population, with Chinese as Canada’s third language (after English and French) (See also Chap. 17 in this volume; Li 1998). New patterns of intraAsian migration and transatlantic migration have set Asian nations a new challenge—how to manage migration (Martin et al. 1995).

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