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Migration and Development:

A Critical Relationship

R. T. Appleyard
Centre for Migration and Development Studies
University of Western Australia

Wide income differentials, the threat of increased illegal immigration from

developing countries, and sub-replacement fertility in the developed coun-
tries are some reasons for the recent reassessment of the relationship between
migration and development. New theoretical models have emerged to iden-
tify migration’s role in transitional sequences of economic and political evo-
lution. The task of government is to integrate migration into its program for
socio-economic development. The model presented in this article proposes
different roles for permanent immigrants, contract workers, professional
transients, illegal migrants and others according to the stages of moderniza-
tion of the sending and receiving countries. The model was found consistent
with the experiences of Mauritius, Seychelles, Singapore and, to a lesser
extent, Malaysia.

Population research in recent years has focused sharply on the causes and
consequences of natural increase. The literature abounds with important
contributions on all aspects of fertility and mortality. Population distribu-
tion, especially international migration, has been accorded less attention,
which is understandable because growth has been on an exponential curve
for many decades and is unlikely to flatten before the mid-twenty first
century when total population will have reached about eleven billion. The
majority of persons added to the world’s population during the next sixty
years will, of course, be living in Third World countries. Growth will be
especially rapid in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as many countries
comprising these regions pass through the middle stages of demographic

* I wish to acknowledge, with gratitude, the facilities provided by the International

Organization for Migration, Geneva, during the preparation of this article.

Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1992 1

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Debate on the possible consequences of these inevitable demographic

trends has centered around the capacities of Third World countries to
provide the resources and services necessary to cope with increased popu-
lations, growing pressure on fragile environments especially in Africa, and
whether developed countries will embrace economic policies designed to
improve per capita incomes in Third World countries. As the debate has
waxed and waned, new and considerable interest has been shown in the
role that international migration could, and should, play in the develop-
ment process. Among the reasons for this interest are:
• Lack of achievement in narrowing income differentials that has forced
many scholars to look more carefully and critically through new ap-
proaches and techniques at all aspects of the development process.
• The possibility that worsening economic conditions in developing
countries could lead many persons to break through the legal immi-
gration barriers that have been erected by developed countries. Straws
in the wind, some argue, include an increase in numbers of asylum
seekers (from 93,000 in 1983 to 440,000 in 1989) arriving in developed
• The extent to which immigration could ameliorate the consequences of
sub-replacement fertility which now characterizes the populations of
developed countries (OECD, 1991).

Revival of interest in international migration has also been triggered by

unexpected political events: the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern
Europe and major changes in the Soviet Union which are expected to
greatly increase interest in, if not actual, emigration to the west; the Gulf
crisis which saw hundreds of thousands of contract workers unexpectedly
return to their Arab and Asian homelands; and growing despair felt by the
worldwide community concerning inability to resolve the refugee situation
in the Horn of Africa.
Understandable though it is that demographic differentials and regional
political circumstances should have increased interest in international
migration, it would be unfortunate if concern remained focused on these
aspects, for migration’s capacity to facilitate processes of economic devel-
opment is both proven and considerable. Scenarios of massive uncontrolled
emigration from Third World countries and ever higher immigration bar-
riers imposed by developed countries are, in my view, unlikely to eventu-
ate. Instead, international migration will be increasingly recognized for the
role it can play, and has played, in development strategies, along with
reformed trade policies, less crippling repayment schedules (and possibly
forgiveness) for Third World external debt, increased private and public
investment and cooperative aid.

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Migration and Development

Awareness of the relationship between international migration and eco-

nomic development, and in particular the need to factor migration into
development policy, has been greatly enhanced by the work of the U.S.
Commission on International Migration and Cooperative Economic Devel-
opment (U.S., 1990). The Commission directed its attention to conditions
in Mexico and other sending countries which had contributed to unautho-
rized migration to the U.S. While acknowledging that there was no simple
relationship between migration and development, the Commission none-
theless concluded that development, if sustained, can eventually reduce
“emigration pressures” in sending countries but it may take several gener-
ations for the process to run its course. Indeed, in the short-term (20-30
years), rapid and successful economic development is profoundly destabi-
lizing on developing countries and generally tends to increase impetus
towards out-migration rather than moderate it. In the long-term, however,
the development approach to restraining emigration pressures offers “real
promise”, especially if there is strong emphasis on the abandonment of
restrictive trade and investment practices in both sending and receiving
countries (Teitelbaum, 1991).
Just as the development process influences migration, so migration has
an impact on development patterns. Emigration, concluded the Commis-
sion, can ease some of the most daunting problems facing migrant-sending
countries by relieving labor market pressures, generating remittance earn-
ings (which are an important source of foreign exchange), improving
quality of life at home and contributing to social change. On the other hand,
emigration can also hamper the pace of development as the most ambitious
persons are the ones most likely to emigrate, the loss of skilled workers
could hinder economic growth, and inflation can be a problem in commu-
nities impacted by remittances (U.S.,1990:34-35; Appleyard, 1989b).
While the Commission’s Report has renewed interest in the role of
migration in development, it must be acknowledged that the subject has
long occupied an important place in economic literature. The classical view
had been clearly articulated by Brinley Thomas (1984) whose own work
Migration and Economic Growth, which built upon the pioneering work of
Harry Jerome and Dorothy Thomas, is a landmark in the literature. The
conventional liberal theory of migration, conceived with transatlantic mi-
gration in mind, was based on two broad propositions: individual migra-
tion is determined by the economic self-interest of the migrant (“economic
man” acts to, maximize his real income), and the economic self-interest of
the individual coincides with the general interest. There was no place in

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this liberal doctrine for state intervention. In the long run, individual,
national and international interests coincide; any positive action by the
state would be a check or hindrance to the general interest.
Liberal theory was based essentially upon the same comparative statics
which characterize the marginal theory of production. Assuming given
capital and natural resources in both countries, labor will emigrate from
country A, where the marginal productivity of labor is low, to country B
where it is high, until productivities are equal and there is no incentive for
further migration. The assumptions underlying the theory are so rigid that
its application to specific situations is extremely limited. For example, an
attempt by Paul Douglas to measure and compare marginal productivities
in Massachusetts and two Australian states assumed perfect mobility of
labor and capital, perfect competition in the labor market, full employment
of the factors of production and the absence of state intervention. Then,
when Paul Samuelson argued from theory based on similar constraining
assumptions that, under certain conditions, international trade was a sub-
stitute for labor and capital, the economic heavens fell upon him. Following
a protracted debate in economic journals, Samuelson admitted that he had
been rash in “drawing a moral concerning the worth of emigration from
Europe out of an abstract simplified model” (see Thomas, 1961; Appleyard,
Major changes in type, direction and composition of migration after the
mid-1960s saw many social scientists reassessing the ways in which both
motives and patterns differed according to the “historical course of devel-
opment” (Population Information Program, 1983). Economists, especially
economic historians, became increasingly aware of the need to consider
changes in a country’s socio-economic structure in order to adequately
explain patterns of internal and international migration. As a country’s
socio-economic structure evolved, so changes in productivity, infrastruc-
ture and capital output ratios created new aggregate and specific demands
for labor. During periods of rapid economic growth, immigrants with
appropriate skills represented a cheap and effective medium for satisfying
unfilled labor demand. Other social scientists also sought explanations
more realistic than any which could be drawn from liberal theory. For
example, Kingsley Davis (1981) proposed three generalizations:
(1) international migration depends more on political and social require-
ments than on the free play of market forces;
(2) when and where market forces do prevail (i.e., in the absence, and
sometimes in spite of political, religious and ethnic constraints), migration
goes towards countries with a high technology and/or a higher ratio of
resources to people;

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(3) as a result of these two propositions, international migration in any

given period is determined by the prevailing international situation.
Papademetriou (1988) also argued that theories based on classical and
neo-classical tradition tend to “...paint an optimistic picture of the effect of
migration for the long-term growth of both sending and receiving coun-
tries.” The intrinsic appeal of these models, he argued, lies in their articu-
lation of a formal theory of individual behavior, their empirical order and
their generation of testable hypotheses. Even the most superficial observa-
tion of contemporary migration leads one to conclude that causes cannot
be explained so easily. It was partly for this reason that there had been a
recrudescence of interest in theoretical explanations proposed by the his-
torical-structural school. Rejecting the “unwanted veneer of free choice”
implicit in classical theories, proponents explained migration. in terms of
class structure and conflict, and therefore an integral component of the
capital accumulation process. They traced the determinants of migration
to the disequilibriurn which financial, trade and other contact between
economically unequal units produce, as the surplus of the weaker unit is
drained off by the stronger one. By shifting the focus of migration to
international politico-economic forces, proponents of the historical-struc-
tural school caused other social scientists to reassess the complexity of
changing determinants. These philosophical debates, together with the
growing literature containing results of applied research, set the back-
ground upon which the current debate on migration is occurring.
Recrudescence of interest in international migration has seen a prolifer-
ation of workshops and conferences at which its role in the development
process has been reexamined and its importance generally reconfirmed.1
The Swedish Ministry of Labor’s study group (1990) sees sustainable de-
velopment in developing countries as fundamental to the prevention of
mass emigration, and the International Organization for Migration (1991)
has argued strongly for accelerated development and economic expansion
in developing countries in order to reduce irregular migration. This was

For example, the Council of Europe’s Conference of Ministers on the Movement of
Persons coming from Central and Eastern European Countries (Vienna, January 24-25,1991);
the Ninth IOM Seminar on South-North Migration (Geneva, December 4-6,1990) (see Interna-
tional Migration, Vol. 29, No. 2, June 1991); the OECD International Conference on Migration
(Rome, March 13-15, 1991); and the ECE/UN Population Fund Expert Group Meeting on
International Migration (Geneva, July 16-19, 1991). Following the “G7 Summit” in London
during mid-July 1991, the leaders’ declaration noted that “Migration has made and can make
a valuable contribution to economic and social development, under appropriate conditions,
although there is growing concern about worldwide migratory pressures” (extract published
in The Daily Telegraph, July 18,1991).

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also the abiding theme at the recent OECD conference in Rome where
Emmerij (1991) captured the importance of the issue by arguing that unless
changes in economic policies are forthcoming the next wave of interna-
tional migration is “just around the corner.” What is needed, he proposed,
;,- a comprehensive transnational policy which covers the whole range of
economic, financial and social (including education and migration) poli-
cies. In also advocating policies aimed at improving economic prospects in
,migration countries, Soltwedel (1991) emphasized the need for these
Countries to improve their economies in order to attract internationally
mobile, investible funds. A stable macroeconomic environment, he con-
cluded, is a necessary condition for this to occur. Tapinos (1991) put the
issue in a different light when he wrote that the new paradigm that is
emerging, which aims at studying the impact of international cooperation
as an alternative to emigration, has at least the merit of highlighting the fact
that the problem of migration is secondary to that of development, which
i 5 the only path possible in the longer term.

Zelinsky’s Mobility Transition

The salient point to emerge in recent debates has been reaffirmation that
migration flows are, and will continue to be, inextricably connected with
the development process. Brinley Thomas articulated the relationship be-
tween flows and selected economic indices in his study of transatlantic
migration at a time when the U.S. imposed few restrictions on the entry of
Europeans. However, explanation of modern flows has not been accorded
the same scholarly attention that it clearly deserves. Economic differentials
are generally acknowledged as still being central in explanation, but actual
flows appear to vary in association with other variables. A major contribu-
tion to our understanding was made by Wilbur Zelinsky (1979) when he
insisted that scholars must take account of historical setting and evolution-
processes. Social scientists, he contended, find it analytically convenient
to ignore history, preferring instead to concentrate on the here and now.
Even Ravenstein’s laws, he argued, were really only a series of generaliza-
tions derived from statistical data available a century ago. Although these
had been greatly refined and extended by Everett Lee, neither scholar had
considered the historical dimension explicitly, even though their models of
the migrational system “do not exclude the possibility of evolutionary
To this extent, Zelinsky saw the Ravenstein and Lee models as ancestral
to his own concept of Mobility Transition. Impressed by the way that the
concept of demographic transition had captured the attention of scholars,

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Zelinsky identified the relevance of transitional sequences in economic and

political change. His Mobility Transition model actually encompasses mo-
bility in general, not just international migration. And although he claimed
that it was nothing more than a provisional heuristic device, intended only
to provoke thought and discussion about the nature and implications of
migration, it was taken up by several scholars and applied to specific
situations. In his overview of its applicability to these situations, Zelinsky
thought that Mobility Transition had proven to be a useful heuristic con-
tribution which was worthy of perseverence. It should, however, be further
refined by empirical analysis if only because the alternative was to continue
what most of us have been doing - “improvising ad hoc explanations that
cover only things near and recent.”
The one weakness in his model which Zelinsky readily acknowledged
was that it did not take account of the fact that the flow of international
migration is now subject to strict government regulation. “National policy
(which, of course, is not unrelated to economic considerations) does greatly
affect the volume and composition of such movements, despite serious
difficulties with illegal migrants” (1979:181). An amended model of the
hypothesis, he concluded, should therefore take the role of government into

Migration and Modernization

Taking the role of government into account is, in my view, absolutely

essential in order to explain the “volume and composition” of international
migration. Achieved flows of legal, and indeed some illegal, migrations and
their compositions reflect the receiving government’s perception of the role
that migration will play in the achievement of plans for socio-economic
development. While this does not address the issue of who in a sending
country may respond to migration opportunity, it does posit that receiving
governments permit entry only to those persons who will contribute to the
achievement of government objectives for socio-economic development.
On the basis then that governments decide the numbers, type and
composition of immigration, the next step is to assess the basis upon which
numbers, type and composition are admitted in any one year. Elsewhere,
I have suggested that annual intakes and other variables depend largely
upon the receiving country’s stage of ‘modernization’ (Appleyard, 1989a).
In other words, explanation is facilitated by application of the principles
embodied in demographic transition, in much the same way as Zelinsky’s
initial ideas for Mobility Transition had been articulated. Emigration would
therefore be high during early stages of modernization (horizontal axis)

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when low per capita incomes and opportunities push many persons to leave
for another country at a higher stage of modernization. However as the
sending country proceeds through modernization, the volume of emigration
declines because per capita incomes have increased, thus reducing the
pressure to emigrate. In other words, emigration is depicted on a transition-
type diagram by a downward-sloping ‘E’ curve.
Emigration however, almost always occurs outside government con-
trol. The only requirement an emigrant needs (aside from resources to cover
cost of travel) is a country willing to accept him/her. The crucial test for the
applicability of the model is the extent to which it explains how and why
governments regulate immigration at different stages of modernization.
The basic proposition is that only small numbers of immigrants are ac-
cepted at early stages of modernization but numbers increase during
middle stages and can be quite high at advanced stages. Immigration
intakes are therefore depicted by an upward-sloping ‘I’ curve over the same
modernization period.
Further reflection suggests that if the I-curve (which relates to numbers
only) is disaggregated according to an acceptable typology (which also
largely determines composition), then it is likely to better explain govern-
ment policy concerning immigration needs during different stages of the
modernization process. Although basic migration typologies simply di-
chotomize permanent and temporary immigrants, the latter includes sub-
categories the demand for which varies at different stages of moderniza-
tion. A widely accepted typology identifies:
• permanent (settler) immigrants (including persons admitted under fa-
mily reunion);
• contract workers (normally semi- or unskilled workers who enter a
country for a finite period);
• professional transients (also normally temporary and comprising profes-
sional and highly skilled workers who move from one country to
another often as employees of international companies);
• clandestine or illegal migrants (who generally work in jobs that indige-
nous workers avoid);
• asylum seekers (who cross borders and appeal for status on political
and/or economic grounds); and
• refugees.
It should also be noted that many non-settler (permanent) immigrants
achieve permanent status after entry. However, the present argument
relates only to government policy concerning numbers of each type on

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At early stages of modernization, the number of permanent settlers

admitted is likely to be very few, and confined perhaps to former emigrants
returning in their old age. As economies modernize, governments increase
intakes of permanent settlers, often nationals who emigrated as part of the
brain drain during early stages of modernization but who return to fill jobs
created as the economy becomes prosperous. Likewise, governments do
not admit contract workers during early stages of modernization because
the country is likely to be experiencing high levels of unemployment and
underemployment. With economic growth comes high demand for labor
and at advanced stages unskilled, and perhaps skilled, workers will be
required from abroad to fill lowly paid positions vacated by local workers.
The intake of professional transients is likely to be high at the second stage
of modernization when governments and the private sector are seeking
capital for development projects. By the latter stage, when the country has
established its own tertiary institutions, demand for transients may decline,
although a feature of modern migration is the increasing number of tran-
sients to all countries whatever their stages of modernization. The inflow
of illegal workers is unlikely to be large in early modernization but, depend-
ing on the stage (of modernization) of nearby countries, may increase
during mid and late stages. Some governments do little to prevent such
flows if the workers fill a need and can be expelled if and when that need
no longer exists. Asylum seekers are less easy to classify, although to the
extent that they are “economic refugees” then their patterns of entry would
probably be similar to contract workers.
Although, as already noted, governments normally do not control emi-
gration, factors similar to those noted above also explain the downward-
sloping, E-curve. At early stages of modernization the number of permanent
emigrants is likely to be high, comprising mainly “brain drain” profession-
als and their dependents. With modernization comes employment oppor-
tunities and so the incentive to emigrate declines. The loss of contract
workers during early stages is also likely to be high, but these abate with
each stage of modernization as demand for labor and higher real wages
reduce the incentive to leave. Remittances from workers abroad facilitate
the process of modernization. Indeed, at higher stages of modernization
the country could well be seeking contract labor from other sources or
allowing illegal migrants to fill low-paid jobs for which local labor is
unavailable. The loss of professional transients at early stages would not
be high because the tertiary education system would normally not be in a
position to provide the international labor market with persons holding the
required skills. Some brain drain professionals already abroad may become
transients, as may some students abroad on the completion of their studies.

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As the country’s education system improves, so the proportion of transients

in the diminished outflow of emigrants may actually increase. Illegal
workers, depending upon circumstances and opportunities, would be
more likely to leave the country at early stages of modernization but at later
stages the country (as in the case of Malaysia) could receive significant
numbers from nearby countries at lower stages of modernization.

Mauritius and Seychelles

As already noted, when Zelinsky first proposed his Mobility Transition

model he claimed nothing more for it than a “provisional heuristic device”
intended only to provoke thought and discussion. Then, following its
application by other scholars to specific situations he concluded that it was
worthy of perseverance and should be further refined by empirical analy-
sis. Discussion and criticism at several conferences of the model proposed
in this article suggested that while it might have universal application, it
seemed to be especially apposite to small countries experiencing rapid
economic growth and moving rapidly through demographic transition. As
migration research conducted at the Centre for Migration and Develop-
ment Studies at the University of Western Australia was directed towards
Indian Ocean island countries, it was decided to apply the model to
Mauritius and Seychelles (Appleyard, 1990).
As anyone with only the slightest knowledge of migration data will
confirm, the chances of obtaining the data necessary to test such a model
are very small indeed. Fortunately, however, migration statistics for both
countries were sufficiently comprehensive to indicate that recent high rates
of economic growth had led to predictable migration policies. Prior to
recent high economic growth, permanent immigration was confined to
only a few dependents and both countries had lost many skilled and
professional workers to Europe and the traditional receivers. In the case of
Seychelles, political issues had contributed to the outflow. Contract labor
emigration from Seychelles had occurred but numbers were small. How-
Mauritius (with a population of 977,000 in 1984, prior to its period of
rapid economic growth) had provided thousands of contract workers to
the Middle East and elsewhere. This flow abated noticeably when demand
for labor at home increased with the establishment and rapid growth of
export processing zone (EPZ) industries.
High rates of economic growth in both Mauritius and Seychelles gen-
erated mainly by the expanded tourism and fisheries industries) saw a
marked increase in intake of professional transients as well as semi-skilled
contract labor because demand exceeded local supply. Mauritius negoti-

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ated contracts with overseas investors involved in EPZ industries and

infrastructure. Professional transients accompanied this investment simply
because local institutions were unable to provide such persons at short
notice. Those professional transients who entered Seychelles provided
essential services in fisheries research, trawling, canning and in tourism.
With a population of only 70,000 and no institutions of higher learning,
Seychelles had to rely entirely on transient professionals and some former
emigrants/students who returned to fill professional and skilled jobs.
The brief survey confirmed that both countries had not only modified
immigration policies in order to service rapid economic growth, but also
that each expects to make further modifications consistent with the pro-
posed model as it reaches higher stages of modernization. Vanden
Driesen’s research (1990) on labor and the labor market in Maldives also
confirms that the model was particularly applicable to that country’s recent
economic/demographic experience.

Singapore and Malaysia

East and Southeast Asia contain a number of countries which have experi-
enced high rates of economic growth, rapid demographic transition and
migration flows between constituent and “outside” countries that bear little
relation to flows during their early post-war phases of economic stagnation.
Although a great deal more research (and data) would be required to find
out the extent to which each experience fits the model, one is inclined on
the basis of what is already known to agree with Zelinksy that it is “worthy
of perseverance.”
Take Singapore for example. Under its Immigration (Prohibition of
Entry) Order of 1959, entry permits were restricted to the wives and
children of Singapore citizens although provision was made for the entry
of “professional and specialist” immigrants and others of “economic inter-
est.” In fact, only 12 persons (plus 20 dependents) were admitted in 1961
and 5 (plus 8) in 1962. High economic growth after the mid-1960s saw a
strong government campaign to attract foreign investment to industrial
estates. By 1966, 214 foreign male “managerial and supervisory personnel”
(professional transients) were working in the 165 pioneer companies that
had been established in Singapore. Although data on subsequent flows
are not available, it is clear that these transients were followed by thou-
sands of others who played crucial roles in Singapore’s rapid economic
Stahl(1991) points out that by 1968 tight immigration controls on foreign
contract labor were relaxed in response to increasing shortages as a result

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of sustained economic growth. By 1973, the 100,000 non-citizen holders of

work permits constituted approximately one-eighth of Singapore’s work-
force. Following worldwide recession in 1973-74, demand for labor in the
manufacturing sector reached “new heights” in 1978 with the result that
the source of foreign labor had extended well beyond Malaysia (the tradi-
tional source) to Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, countries
at much lower stages of modernization. Current estimates of foreign labor
range from 120,000 to 150,000 but, perhaps significantly, the number of
Malaysians has declined from around 100,000 in 1980 to 50,000 due, per-
haps, to that country having rapidly increased its economic growth and per
capita income.
As Singapore approached later stages of modernization, the Govern-
ment announced its intention of repatriating all foreign workers in 1991.
However, as Stahl shows, it became increasingly obvious that high eco-
nomic growth could not be sustained without foreign labor. So levies were
placed on firms hiring workers with the intention of putting “pressure” on
low-value added firms reliant on foreign labor. Long-term migration pol-
icy, like policy of other countries at high stages of modernization (United
States, Canada and Australia), is now directed towards obtaining highly
educated and skilled workers, including some of its former citizens who
had emigrated when Singapore was at early stages of modernization.
Singapore, as Lin Lean Lim (1991) has shown, is one of the countries in the
region to have completed demographic transition in “record time.” With
Hong Kong, it now has the highest standard of living in Asia after Japan.
Malaysia, with a vastly different resource base, offers a useful compari-
son with Singapore. It too restricted entry permits for permanent settlement
to mainly wives, children and the aged parents of Malaysian citizens and,
in the 1960s, established pioneering industries by granting foreign investors
such incentives as taxation and profit concessions. This led to the entry of
hundreds (exact data are not available) of professional transients to advise
in the establishment of manufacturing, service and infrastructure projects.
In the case of contract labor, its experience was somewhat different from
Singapore, which may be explained by the country’s much larger popula-
tion and physical resource base. Writing in 1986, Stahl saw Malaysia as a
unique case: it had experienced significant levels of labor emigration to
Singapore (for reasons noted above), but also received labor immigrants
from Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. Emigrants from these coun-
tries tended to be concentrated in specific geographical regions: Thais in
the northern states of Malaysia and Indonesians in Johore and Sabah. The
shortage of local workers in Johore has been attributed to the attraction of
higher paid jobs in Singapore, and shortages in Pahang due to the expan-

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sion of land development schemes. Lim (1984) attributed the shortage of labor
in the small holding sector to the emigration of young workers to urban areas.
A measure increasingly adopted by estate owners and those in charge of
land clearance schemes, is the use of illegal labor from Indonesia. Lim also
quoted estimates of between 100,000 and 300,000, and the Malaysian Govern-
ment has estimated 350,000 in Peninsular Malaysia, although the Malaysian
Trades Union Congress claims that the number could exceed one million
(Stahl, 1991).
With no restrictions on emigration, there has been a significant and
sustained loss of Malaysians for permanent settlement in the United King-
dom, the United States, Canada and Australia, especially after the late 1960s
when the latter three countries abandoned ethnic-preferred selection pro-
cedures. While Singapore appears to have largely stemmed the outflow of
highly-skilled and professional workers, Malaysia, at an earlier stage of
modernization, has been less successful, although explanation could be
facilitated by information on the ethnic composition of permanent emi-

Unpredicted Asian Migration

Basic research conducted by the author in 1988 on infra-ASEAN migration

flows and compositions led to the tentative conclusion that the model
under discussion was probably also applicable to the migration experiences
of Thailand, the Philippines and, to a lesser extent, Indonesia. Since 1988,
however, labor migration has occurred between ASEAN and other coun-
tries in East and Southeast Asia that would have been deemed most
improbable only a few years before. For example, Japan has emerged as an
important receiver of migrant labor. Sustained high rates of economic
growth combined with sub-replacement fertility led the Japanese govern-
ment to admit a limited number of skilled workers. However, a significant
rise in demand for unskilled workers has led to much greater illegal
immigration. One unofficial estimate of stock is 300,000. Over 24 per cent of
all Filipino land-based migrants now work in Asia, mainly in the rapidly
growing economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Brunei. The
government of South Korea, anticipating sustained future economic
growth, is presently considering the adoption of a work permit system, and
the government of Taiwan has already approved the employment of for-
eign workers on large-scale development projects. As Japan alone invested
USS16 billion in the region between 1980 and 1989, it is almost certain that
the number of professional transients to Asia has increased greatly during
the last few years.

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Dearth of explanation for such diverse and unexpected migration flows

may be partly explained by the rapidity with which they have occurred.
Newspapers, the main providers of information (some from sources of
doubtful reliability), report each new “discovery” with appropriate aston-
ishment, but there has been little effort to systematically explain why such
improbable trends are occurring and what is ahead. These are not random
flows. But whether the model under discussion is sufficiently robust to
explain them is another matter. One thing, however, is clear: governments
in the region are not only responding to labor shortages that threaten to
restrain planned economic growth by drawing supplies from countries
where they are available, but are also readily accepting professional tran-
sients to facilitate new developments and, in some cases, encouraging the
return of professionally qualified former emigrants.


Although current debate on migration and development is focused on what

Teitelbaum called the need to factor migration into development policy,
governments traditionally insist that they will decide the number and
composition of immigration on grounds that such intakes should facilitate
overall objectives for socio-economic development. The work of the U.S.
Commission on International Migration and Cooperative Development has
confirmed, if confirmation was ever necessary, that the development ap-
proach to “restraining emigration pressures” from developing countries is
indeed critical. However, the key is to devise appropriate development
policies for countries at different stages of economic development or mod-
ernization. Factoring migration into the development policies of some
countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will be a more demanding
and challenging exercise than factoring it into the development policies of
Asian NICs.
The latter have readily utilized migration of all “types” in the way
articulated in this article. The former, typically at early stages of modern-
ization and with large populations and low per capita incomes, will have
to carefully program migration into strategies that hopefully can also
incorporate reformed trade policies by developed countries, less onerous
debt repayment, increased foreign investment and cooperative aid. For
these countries, “capital assisted migration” (a term coined by C. W. Stahl),
involving professional transients, is likely to initially play a key role. If the
total development strategy succeeds and recipient countries increase their
rates of economic growth and so proceed to higher stages of modernization,

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then it is possible that other types of migration will be utilized. But one cannot
be certain that the needs of Bangladesh, for example, will follow the pattern
observed for the Asian NICs as they proceeded rapidly through the modern-
ization process.
Research on these and related issues needs urgent attention if migration
is to be appropriately factored into development policy. Econometric stud-
ies undertaken in the traditional receiver countries could well be a starting
point. Soltwedel’s timely warning that a necessary condition for develop-
ing countries to attract internationally mobile, investible funds is a stable
macroeconomic environment, should certainly be heeded. Nor should
developing countries place undue hope on receiving investment from
developed countries because of their low wage structures. In his paper
presented to the OECD’s Rome Conference, Mouhoud (1981) rightly
warned that current technical change is causing a process of “reconquering
the comparative advantages” of industrialized countries with respect to
low wage countries with abundant labor. Nor can poorer countries expect
to replicate the successful strategy of Asian NICs in working back up the
production chain (after initially attracting investment from industrialized
countries) and then exercising voluntarist policies of increasing wages.
The U.S. Commission’s view that sustained development, though ap-
propriate for reducing emigration pressures, is likely to have profoundly
destabilizing impacts on developing countries, including increased out-mi-
gration in the short-term, is clearly worthy of further investigation. Indeed,
reformed trade and investment policies aimed at raising living standards
in Third World countries, at a time when global population is increasing
inexorably towards eleven billion, would be so unique as to almost cer-
tainly lead to migration flows and impacts markedly different from those
discussed in this article concerning relatively small countries during the
1960s to 1980s.
Even if appropriate development policies were invoked, and emigration
from Third World countries initially contained many workers seeking
training for skills appropriate for their country’s new economic growth, it
would be naive to expect that the flows would not also contain many
persons simply seeking a better life. As the recent International Organiza-
tion for Migration seminar on South-North migration noted, LDCs have
the demographic capacity to create, in only 20 years, an additional number
of new jobs much greater than the 1990 stock of the whole developed world.
However, specific demand for labor in developed countries is likely to
favor skilled persons with a wide range of specialized knowledge, espe-
cially in such fields as machine programming, control and maintenance,
and in organization, coordination and management functions.

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The comprehensive, transitional policies advocated by Emmerij can

therefore be expected to cause international migration of volume, compo-
sition and directions difficult to predict. But this, surely is preferable to the
scenario of massive, uncontrolled emigration from Third World countries
and ever higher immigration barriers by developed countries which many
see as inevitable in the absence of appropriate development policies.


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