According to best estimates, over 2.5 million Asian workers leave their countries every year under contract to work abroad. A large proportion of workers from South and Southeast Asia head for the Gulf States to perform various types of service, trade and construction jobs, while others move to North America , Europe and Asian countries.
As the Asian overseas worker populations grow in numbers and diversify in terms of destination and source, their impact is increasingly felt. It is estimated that overall numbers of Asian overseas workers will increase, due to declining working populations in many parts of the world, combined with a continued need for skilled workers and service personnel.
The countries of origin of labour migrants are increasingly engaged in protecting their migrants from exploitative practices in recruitment and employment, as well as providing them with appropriate services, such as pre-departure information and orientation, welfare assistance during their stay abroad and reintegration assistance. This support is important for migrant workers who often find themselves in a vulnerable situation.
Greater efforts are also needed to optimize the benefits of organized labour migration, including the development of new markets and increasing remittance flows through formal channels; building institutional capacity and inter-ministerial coordination; increasing cooperation with destination countries to protect migrant workers; providing better access to labour markets; and preventing irregular migration are all important aspects of an effective regional response to the challenges of labour migration.
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 meeting, the member states of the "Colombo Process" have 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 - Australia, Bahrain, European Union, Italy, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and USA.
As the Colombo Process evolved with each Ministerial Consultation, new members and partners have joined and the Consultations have expanded in scope.
The process aims to continue to provide a forum for dialogue among member states. With the continued participation of the destination countries, this dialogue is set to evolve and contribute to strengthening migration management both in the Asian region and in countries of destination.