03 Apr 2013

While free movement of labour has long been considered a positive factor for economic growth, the potential social and economic costs from “unhealthy”migrants have to be measured and such evidence must inform policy-making.

While free movement of labour has long been considered a positive factor for economic growth, the potential social and economic costs from “unhealthy”migrants have to be measured and such evidence must inform policy-making. Ms. Marie Nodzenski and Dr. Phua Kai Hong argue that health is the key determinant in the final outcomes of migration.


According to the World Bank, remittances to developing countries represented $372 billion in 2011. Remittances make a larger contribution to developing countries’ economies than Overseas Development Aid and Foreign Direct Investments, thus contributing to lower poverty and to the building up of human and financial capital for the poor.

Health is a determining factor in the migration experience. It is a prerequisite and outcome of sustainable development, and as such, it will determine whether migration will have a positive impact for the migrant, the family and both sending and receiving country. Migrants in poor health are a cost for both origin and destination countries.

It is necessary to understand that: 1) migration contributes to development (of origin and destination countries) and 2) health will be a determinant in the positive or negative outcome of the migration experience

This article highlights the importance of, and challenges in, data collection and the sharing of information within ASEAN to inform policies for migrants’ health.

Migration and health in ASEAN

Why is migrants’ health a pressing issue in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)? According to data from the World Bank, in 2010, intra‐ASEAN migration represented 4,123,515 individuals or around a third of total ASEAN migration. Over the past decades, migration flows within ASEAN have steadily increased. This can be explained by the rapid economic development of some countries in the region (like Singapore) and the consequent widening development gap between countries in ASEAN (consider Singapore vs. Myanmar).

ASEAN states have traditionally been reluctant to allow migrant settlement. Such policies tend to limit access to health care for migrants and foster negative perceptions, resulting in the poor health status of many migrants. This, in turn, may impose a burden on national health systems or become a health threat to host populations.

Data collection and analysis

No comprehensive studies on the links between health and migration have been carried out in Asia. Three main problems with existing data are commonly identified: a lack of frequent updates (which is problematic in a dynamic region like Asia with a rapidly changing migration landscape), a lack of disaggregation (interventions cannot be targeted properly according to population groups), and a lack of efficient registration system (especially in developing countries).

The way forward

Moving towards an ASEAN Economic Community as the next step of economic integration and transforming ASEAN into a single market and production base by 2015, intra‐ASEAN migration is likely to increase. Such changes, to be sustainable, will need to take into consideration the welfare of migrant workers in the region, which is to become an area of primary concern in the field of economic development.

The gaps in data collection and dissemination in the region exist both in quantity and quality. Yet, more research to inform policy on the issue of migrants’ health is needed to shed light on the potential long-term social and economic costs unhealthy migrants would bring on sending and receiving countries.

In an era of globalisation, it is necessary to develop more adequate systems of data collection at the national level as well as a regional mechanism allowing for data sharing in order to manage issues, such as migrants’ health, which have become transnational in nature.An efficient data collection and sharing mechanism will be crucial to the improvement of the health status of migrants in ASEAN.

Extended article: http://bit.ly/18cjIi4