Understanding International Migration In Southeast Asia

Globalisation and the rise of newly-industrialised economies in Southeast Asia has brought about an influx of new migrants to flourishing countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam since the 1980s. While migration in Southeast Asia is not a new phenomenon, research in understanding the causes, effects and trends of migration within the region is growing.


A research workshop organized by the Institute of Asian Studies (UBD-IAS) in April 2015 brought together migration scholars actively working in the region to discuss their findings. These findings will be published in a book edited by Professor Lian Kwen Fee, Dr Md Mizanur Rahman and Dr Yabit Alas from the Institute, under the “Asia in Transition” book series by UBD-IAS and the international publishing house Springer, later this year. Titled “International Migration in Southeast Asia: Continuities and Discontinuities”, the research notes that migration is “more than” an economically driven phenomenon. It covers the diversity of migration trajectories within the region, and attempts to capture migration as a “human and social experience”. There are ten contributions in the volume.


In one of the studies, titled “Balik Kampung” (translated as ‘return to the village’) the author draws insights into the migration of retiree citizens from Singapore to live out their years in a kampong setting outside of Johore Bharu, after having served their younger years in an urban capitalist-driven economy. The opportunity to spend their remaining years in a familiar and culturally comfortable environment outweighs the risks of living across the border in landed homes they have built but do not own.


Migration is also driven by education. The globalisation of economies and internationalisation of higher education have facilitated international student migration. In this study of Malaysian students who have studied abroad, the author details how students have lost confidence in the public education system. The result of this is the development of private education institutions to cater to the demand from students who find that the racialised system of education maintained by the government is out of touch with a global economy.


Economic globalisation has also created diversified labour markets that range from unskilled to highly skilled labour, which is reflected in contemporary migration. Two of the studies on Bangladeshi and Indian migrants in Malaysia examine how frequent changes in labour migration policies have caused difficulties for local employers and businesses dependent on foreign labour.


This article is the first of four volumes that are coming out in the next twelve months. The other titles are “Migration, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Identity in Singapore”, “Borneo Studies: Past, Present and Future”, and “Human Insecurities in Southeast Asia”.


The “Asia in Transition” book series is managed by Professor Tong Chee Kiong, Dr. Kathrina Hj Mohd Daud, Professor Wan Zawawi Ibrahim and Associate Prof. Jeremy Jammes. The series addresses the interplay of local, national, regional and global influences in Southeast, South, and East Asia, through a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.


Given Brunei Darussalam’s strategic location, its political stability and the growing emphasis attached to research and development at UBD, UBD-IAS is an ideal home for scholars and practitioners engaged in research on Asian affairs. The Institute has developed an international presence by hosting regular workshops and conferences in the region, and through its recent establishment of the Borneo Studies Network - which is dedicated to initiating research across disciplines in collaboration with universities in Borneo.


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