By Anna Engblom
They offer tremendous opportunities to simplify, secure and accelerate the migration process for the growing population of migrant workers in the Asia-Pacific region. The use of digital tools and platforms has spread across all sectors of our societies, including in the management of labour migration and services provided to migrant workers. Women and men migrant workers themselves are using apps and digital spaces to find jobs, connect with their communities and to transfer money home.
Encouraging free movement
Digital migration management platforms can help reduce the cost and time induced by formal recruitment processes, which too often pushes many women and men to migrate through informal, undocumented, and unsafe channels.
When digital management platforms also store important documents – such as work contracts, payment slips or medical certificates – they create a record of agreements, a digital trail. This can be useful if disputes about contract terms, repayments or other issues arise between a migrant worker and an employer or recruitment agency. Also emerging is the use of digital solutions to support migrant workers throughout the migration cycle, including legal assistance, welfare help and online training opportunities.
In addition to making the bureaucratic procedures simpler, more affordable and transparent, migrant workers can use digital technology to share knowledge and information. Online networks offer peer-to-peer assistance to migrant workers and help them to organise. By using online rating sites and apps, the workers can compare recruitment agencies, money transfer operators, and other service providers, which can help them make informed choices. Digital financial services can also help migrant workers manage their income and savings, and send money back home while avoiding traditional banking fees. Online complaint mechanisms can help migrant workers seek assistance, even when working in remote and isolated places.
Bridging the digital divide
The Asia-Pacific is home to more than half of the world’s Internet users. Every day around two billion people in the region go online, mostly through mobile phones.
However impressive, Asia’s level of connectivity shouldn’t hide the fact that there are major gaps in the region. Gaps in terms of infrastructure, affordable devices and data plans as well as digital literacy need to be bridged to ensure equal access to services that help achieve fair migration.
As digital and online tools become more embedded in everyday lives, the shortfalls of not using them will mount up for vulnerable workers – especially women migrants – who are already among the most disadvantaged in terms of access to mobile phones and Internet, potentially deepening the gap.
Technology presents many opportunities to advance safe and fair labour migration. Digitalisation does however also involve risks and challenges that need to be monitored and managed carefully. Asean countries, supported by the ILO, have engaged in a dialogue with all stakeholders to seize digital opportunities while addressing the complex challenges in terms of governance, migrant workers’ protection, migration and development linkages, and international cooperation. One step forward in building the future of work we want, where no one is left behind.
Anna Engblom is an International Labour Organisation specialist on labour migration in Asean.
Representatives of governments, workers, employers and civil society are gathering for the 11th Asean Forum on Migrant Labour in Singapore today to adopt recommendations on how to tap digitalisation to promote decent work for migrants across the region.