The Southeast Asia-Australia Regional Migration System: Some Insights into the “New Emigration”
Migration flows between countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia are generally viewed as going in one direction: toward Australia. In practice, however, data reveal a much more complex picture that includes Australian emigration to ASEAN countries, significant temporary movements of skilled workers in both directions, and close connections between the two regions even after migrants permanently return to their country of origin.
Australia has experienced significant inflows, particularly in the postwar period; almost half of its population of 23.2 million is either foreign born or has at least one immigrant parent. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it is usually regarded as a traditional destination country, drawing students and skilled workers from around the world and across the ten-member ASEAN region. However, to cast Australia as a destination country and ASEAN members as sending countries oversimplifies this regional migration system and fails to recognize the multidirectional movement taking place. Migration flows vary significantly across ASEAN countries, and over time. Recent trends in part reflect a shift in Australian immigration policy away from encouraging settlement toward drawing skilled (temporary) labor migration. Today most emigration from Australia to ASEAN destinations is to the fastest-growing economies, such as those of Singapore and Malaysia. Return migration to Vietnam is notable, while few are going back to Myanmar or the Philippines.
This report seeks to shed some light on the recent experience of Australia, which offers a unique lens because of its rich collection of data on immigration and emigration, as well as motivations for migration.