Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Students explore South Asian labor migration

Available online

Understanding South Asian Labor Migration
Prepared for U.S. Government Office of South Asia Analysis by Meghan Doherty, Brian Leung, Katie Lorenze, and Amanda Wilmarth
Presentation slides

Migration from South Asia bears continued monitoring, La Follette School students advise in a report written for the U.S. Government Office of South Asia Analysis.

The students produced the report as part of the Workshop in International Public Affairs taught by Tim Smeeding in spring 2014.

The authors examined how migrants who plan to work abroad temporarily flow among India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, and to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

These Persian Gulf countries draw many temporary workers, usually young, lower skilled men, notes Katie Lorenze, who wrote the report with Meghan Doherty, Brian Leung and Amanda Wilmarth.

“Within South Asia itself, India attracts migrants India for a variety of reasons, including more opportunities in India’s cities in the form of unskilled labor,” Lorenze says. “For impoverished Bangladeshi workers, India is attractive due to the low cost of migration. For Nepalis, India serves as a transit country where they can use irregular channels to travel farther abroad.”

Having increased substantially since the 1980s due to poverty and unemployment at home, plus higher wages and job opportunities abroad, the migration has significant economic impacts. “A major concern stemming from these impacts is a widespread dependence on remittances that workers abroad send to people who remain in their home countries,” Lorenze says. “The remittances have micro- and macroeconomic effects. Households use remittances for consumption and investment in human capital, thus alleviating poverty at the micro level. At the macro level, some South Asian governments use remittances to finance balance of payments deficits.”

In addition to remittances, concerns include security implications from irregular migration and informal remittance channels, and general lack of complete and reliable data on labor migration, the authors note.

“To allow for more accurate assessments and mitigation of national and regional risks related to labor migration, we strongly recommend monitoring both changes in labor demand in the [Persian Gulf] countries as well as Indian border relations,” the authors note in the report. “We also recommend improved monitoring and data collection systems for irregular and total migrant flows and for remittances received through informal channels.”

— updated July 11, 2014