According to the best estimates, over 2.5 million Asian workers leave their countries every year as contractual workers. A large proportion of workers from South and Southeast Asia head for the Gulf States to perform construction jobs, domestic work and other types of service, while others move to North America, Europe and Asian countries. It is estimated that overall numbers of Asian overseas workers will continue to increase due to declining working populations in key destination regions, combined with a continued need for skilled and competitive workers and service personnel.
For the labour sending countries in Asia, labour migration represents both significant opportunities for national growth as well as challenges to secure safe employment for their workers. Thus, strengthened labour migration management is a shared concern among these countries.
Many countries in the region are increasingly engaged in protecting their migrants from exploitative practices in recruitment and employment, as well as providing them with appropriate services in order to reduce their vulnerability before, during and after their overseas employment. These countries also recognize the great need for optimizing the benefits of organized labour migration, including the developing new markets, increasing remittance flows through formal channels, building institutional capacity and inter-ministerial coordination, increasing cooperation with destination countries, and preventing irregular migration.
Against this backdrop and in response to calls from several Asian labour sending countries, the Ministerial Consultation for Asian Labour Sending Countries was held in 2003 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The ten initial participating states - Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam - made recommendations for the effective management of overseas employment programmes and agreed to regular follow-up meetings.
Since the first meeting in 2003, the Member States of the "Colombo Process" met in Manila, Bali and Dhaka in 2004, 2005 and 2011 respectively to review and monitor the implementation of previous recommendations and identify areas of future action. The Ministerial Consultations in Bali and in Dhaka were enriched by the participation of several countries of destination from North America, Europe, the Gulf Cooperation Countries and Asia.
As the Colombo Process evolved with each Ministerial Consultation, new members and partners have joined and the Consultations have expanded in scope. With the continued participation of the destination countries, this dialogue is set to evolve further and contribute to strengthening migration management both in the Asian region and in countries of destination.