This working paper looks at current legal labour migration schemes in the Asia-Pacific region and examines if any can be opened to humanitarian migrants who may otherwise become targets for migrant smugglers and/or human traffickers. It collects and analyses multiple sources of migration and asylum data from the United Nations, the International Labour Organization, and the member states of the Bali Process to demonstrate the current status of labour migration. It also reviews national legislation, various visa schemes, and bilateral agreements in order to understand how states have regulated labour migration in the region.
Six countries are selected to highlight some of the distinctive characteristics and challenges in using labour migration as an alternative pathway for asylum seekers. It concludes that labour migration in its current form is not adequate as a complementary pathway for refugees unless further protective measures are in place. However, a hybrid humanitarian and economic migration stream could be developed with the aim of protecting vulnerable humanitarian migrants before facilitating their labour. Australia is in a good position to lead the discussion through the Bali Process and the Global Compacts on refugees and migrants.