Social Indicators Research

, Volume 141, Issue 3, pp 1245–1264 | Cite as

Economic and Social Well-Being of Asian Labour Migrants: A Literature Review

  • Md. Mohsin Reza
  • Thirunaukarasu Subramaniam
  • M. Rezaul IslamEmail author


In this research article, we discussed the economic and social well-being of the Asian labour migrants in Asia. We are arguing that this issue is rarely addressed in the literature. The major characteristics of the migrant workers in Asian countries are seriously exploited, marginalized, and infrequently looked from human rights perspective. A Qualitative Interpretative Meta-Synthesis was conducted to analyze the contextual socio-economic factors that characterized intra-Asian migrant workers’ economic and social well-being. It is perceived that in most of the recruiting countries, there are lacks of government commitments to the international protocols, conventions and laws that they ratified towards safeguarding migrant workers’ economic and social well-being. The review results showed that despite some opportunities, the migrant workers had lack of job security, poor salary, long working hours, low access to the public services, poor health, poor living and working conditions, lack of legal rights, and physical and mental threats towards their economic and social well-being. The finding would be important guideline to the governments, policy makers, legal rights practitioners, and human rights organizations.


Intra-Asia Migrant workers Economic well-being Social well-being Human rights 


  1. Abdul-Aziz, A. R. (2001). Foreign workers and labour segmentation in Malaysia’s construction industry. Construction Management & Economics, 19(8), 789–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Al-Maskari, F., Shah, S., Al-Sharhan, R., Al-Haj, E., Al-Kaabi, K., Khonji, D., et al. (2011). Prevalence of depression and suicidal behaviors among male migrant workers in United Arab Emirates. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 13(6), 1027.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alswaidi, F. M., Memish, Z. A., Al Hakeem, R. F., & Atlam, S. A. (2013). Saudi Arabian expatriate worker fitness-screening programme: A review of 14 years of data. East Mediterr Health Journal, 19(7), 664–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amnesty International (AI). (2010). Trapped: The exploitation of migrant workers in Malaysia. Retrieved from Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  5. Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and International Labour Organization (ILO) (2017). Safeguarding the rights of Asian migrant workers from home to the workplace. Tokyo, Paris and Bangkok: ADBI, OECD and ILO.Google Scholar
  6. Asis, M. M., & Baggio, F. (2003). The other face of migration: Children and families left behind. In Workshop on taking the lead: Successful partnership initiatives for the delivery of settlement services at the 8th international metropolis conference (pp. 15–19). Retrieved 15 October 2017.Google Scholar
  7. Battistella, G., & Gastardo-Conaco, M. C. G. (1998). The impact of labor migration on the children left behind: A study of elementary school children in the Philippines. Sojourn, 13(2), 220–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Belanger, D. (2014). Labor migration and trafficking among Vietnamese migrants in Asia. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 653(1), 87–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berry, J. W. (2006). Stress perspectives on acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (pp. 43–57). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berry, J. W., Poortinga, Y. H., Segall, M. H., & Dasen, P. R. (2002). Cross-cultural psychology: Research and applications (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bhattacharya, G. (2008). Acculturating Indian immigrant men in New York City: Applying the social capital construct to understand their experiences and health. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 10(2), 91–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bhugra, D. (2004). Migration and mental health. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 109(4), 243–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cholewinski, R., & Pecoud, A. (2009). Migration and human rights: The United Nations convention on migrant workers’ rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Choudry, A., & Hlatshwayo, M. (2015). Just work? Migrant workers’ struggles today. Chicago: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  15. Cobb, C., Halstead, T., & Rowe, J. (1995). The genuine progress indicator: Summary of data and methodology (Vol. 15). San Francisco: Redefining Progress.Google Scholar
  16. Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, 95–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Congdon, P. (2010). Random effects models for migration attractivity and retentivity: A Bayesian methodology. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 173(4), 755–774.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Copeland, A. P., & Norell, S. K. (2002). Spousal adjustment on international assignments: The role of social support. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 26(3), 255–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Datta, P. (2004). Push–pull factors of undocumented migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal: A perception study. The Qualitative Report, 9(2), 335–358. Retrieved from
  20. de Varennnes, F. (2002). ‘Strangers in foreign lands’—Diversity, vulnerability and the rights of migrants. Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  21. Doran, P., Wallace, J., & Woods, J. (2015). Towards a wellbeing framework: Background report prepared for the roundtable on measuring wellbeing in Northern Ireland. Dunfermline: Carnegie UK Trust.Google Scholar
  22. Fan, C. C. (2009). Flexible work, flexible household: Labor migration and rural families in China (pp. 377–408)., Work and organizations in China after thirty years of transition Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  23. Ganepola, V. (2002). The psychosocial wellbeing of families left behind by asylum migration—The Sri Lankan experience. In WIDER conference on Poverty, International Migration and Asylum (pp. 27–28).Google Scholar
  24. Gorodzeisky, A., & Richards, A. (2013). Trade unions and migrant workers in Western Europe. European Journal of Industrial Relations, 19(3), 239–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gulati, L. (1993). In the absence of their men: The impact of male migration on women. New Delhi: Sage.Google Scholar
  26. Hadi, A. (1999). Overseas migration and the well-being of those left behind in rural communities of Bangladesh. Asia-Pacific Population Journal, 14(1), 43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hadi, A. (2001). International migration and the change of women’s position among the left-behind in rural Bangladesh. Population, Space and Place, 7(1), 53–61.Google Scholar
  28. Hansen, E., & Donohoe, M. (2010). Health issues of migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 14(2), 12.Google Scholar
  29. Harris, J. R., & Todaro, M. P. (1970). Migration, unemployment and development: A two-sector analysis. The American Economic Review, 60(1), 126–142.Google Scholar
  30. Hashemi, F. M., Pourmalek, F., Tehrani, A., Abachizadeh, K., Memaryan, N., Hazar, N., et al. (2015). Monitoring social well-being in Iran. Social Indicators Research, 129(1), 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hassan, M. M. (2015). To combat human trafficking. The daily star. Retrieved from Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  32. Hugo, G. (2005). The new international migration in Asia: Challenges for population research. Asian Population Studies, 1(1), 93–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crecent Societies (IFRC). (2015). Statistics on labor migration within the Asia–Pacific Region. In Red cross red Crecent Manila conference on labor migration, Manila, Philipines.Google Scholar
  34. International Labour Organisation (ILO). (2010). International labour migration A right based approach. Geneva: International labour Office.Google Scholar
  35. International Labour Organisation (ILO). (2013). Social protection for migrant workers. Retrieved from–en/index.htm. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  36. International Labour Organization (ILO). (2014). Executive summary. ILO Global estimates on migrant workers results and methodology special focus on migrant domestic workers. Geneva: ILO.Google Scholar
  37. International Labour Organisation (ILO). (2015). Global estimates on migrant workers: Results and methodology special focus on migrant workers. Geneva: International labour Organisation.Google Scholar
  38. International Labour Organization (ILO). (2016). Labour migration. Retrieved from–en/index.htm. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  39. International Organiszation for Migration (IOM). (2013). Labour migration. Retrieved from Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  40. Islam, M. R. (2016). Hunger reduction in China: An analysis of contextual factors. Asian Social Work and Policy Review, 10(3), 295–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Islam, M. R. (2017). Population shifting and risks of street children in Asia: Possible social work interventions. Global Social Welfare. Scholar
  42. Islam, M. R., & Cojocaru, S. (2016). Migrant domestic workers in Asia: Transitional variations and policy concerns. International Migration, 54(1), 48–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Islam, M. R., & wa Mungai, N. (2016). Forced eviction in Bangladesh: A human rights issue. International Social Work, 59(4), 494–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jany-Catrice, F. (2009). The French regions and their social health. Social Indicators Research, 93(2), 377–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Joffres, C., Mills, E., Joffres, M., Khanna, T., Walia, H., & Grund, D. (2008). Sexual slavery without borders: Trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in India. International Journal for Equity in Health, 7(1), 22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jolly, S., Bell, E., & Narayanaswamy, L. (2003). Gender and migration in Asia: Overview and annotated bibliography., BRIDGE (development-gender), Bibliography No. 13 Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.Google Scholar
  47. Kaekprayoon, S. (2003). Female Myanmar migrant workers working in the refrigerated room factories. Bangkok: Thailand Research Fund.Google Scholar
  48. Kandil, M., & Metwally, M. (1992). Determinants of the Egyptian labour migration. International Migration, 30(1), 39–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Keyes, C. L. M. (1998). Social well-being. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61(2), 121–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Khan, S., & Watson, J. C. (2005). The Canadian immigration experiences of Pakistani women: Dreams confront reality. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 18, 307–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Khoo, S. E., McDonald, P., Voigt-Graf, C., & Hugo, G. (2007). A global labor market: Factors motivating the sponsorship and temporary migration of skilled workers to Australia. International Migration Review, 41(2), 480–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kim-Godwin, Y. S., & Bechtel, G. A. (2004). Stress among migrant and seasonal farmworkers in rural southeast North Carolina. The Journal of Rural Health, 20(3), 271–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kuhn, R. (2006). The effects of fathers’ and siblings’ migration on children’s pace of schooling in rural Bangladesh. Asian Population Studies, 2(1), 69–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kuhn, R. S., & Menken, J. A. (2002). Migrant social capital and education in migrant-sending areas of Bangladesh: Complements or substitutes. In Annual meeting of the population association of America, Atlanta, GA. Google Scholar
  55. Kushnirovich, N. (2010). Migrant workers: Motives for migration, contingency of choice and willingness to remain in the host country. International Journal of Diversity in Organisations, Communities & Nations, 10(3), 149–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. La Placa, V., McNaught, A., & Knight, A. (2013). Discourse on wellbeing in research and practice. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(1), 116–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Larson, J. S. (1996). The World Health Organization’s definition of health: Social versus spiritual health. Social Indicators Research, 38(2), 181–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lee, M. (Ed.). (2013). Human trafficking. Milton: Willan Publishing.Google Scholar
  59. Lee, K. H., & Sivananthiran, A. (1996). Contract labour in Malaysia: Perspectives of principal employers, contractors and workers. International Labour Review, 135(6), 75–91.Google Scholar
  60. Legatum Institute. (2010). The 2010 legatum prosperity index an inquiry into global wealth and wellbeing. Retrieved from Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  61. Lian, K. F., Rahman, M. M., & bin Alas, Y. (2015). International migration in Southeast Asia: Continuities and discontinuities (Vol. 2). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  62. Magaña, C. G., & Hovey, J. D. (2003). Psychosocial stressors associated with Mexican migrant farmworkers in the Midwest United States. Journal of Immigrant Health, 5(2), 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mendoza, D. (2004). ‘Migrant workers’ children left behind, left out’, IPSnews. Retrieved from Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  64. Michael, C., Dale, L., Rebecca, U., & Brian, D. V. (2008). Stress related growth among the recently bereaved. Aging & Mental Health, 13(3), 463–476.Google Scholar
  65. Miringoff, M. L. (2003). Index of social health: Monitoring the social well-being of the nation. Tarrytown, NY: Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy.Google Scholar
  66. Molho, I. (1986). Theories of migration: A review. Scottish Journal of Political Economy, 33(4), 396–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Murias, P., Martinez, F., & De Miguel, C. (2006). An economic wellbeing index for the Spanish provinces: A data envelopment analysis approach. Social Indicators Research, 77(3), 395–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Nadim, W., AlOtaibi, A., Al-Mohaimeed, A., Ewid, M., Sarhandi, M., Saquib, J., et al. (2016). Depression among migrant workers in Al-Qassim, Saudi Arabia. Journal of Affective Disorders, 206, 103–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Nguyen, L., Yeoh, B. S., & Toyota, M. (2006). Migration and the well-being of the ‘left behind’in Asia: Key themes and trends. Asian Population Studies, 2(1), 37–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Nielsen, I., Paritski, O., & Smyth, R. (2012). A minority-status perspective on intergroup relations: A study of an ethnic Chinese population in a small Italian town. Urban Studies, 49, 306–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Nielsen, I., & Sendjaya, S. (2014). Wellbeing among Indonesian labour migrants to Malaysia: Implications of the 2011 memorandum of understanding. Social Indicators Research, 117(3), 919–938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Nielsen, I., & Smyth, R. (2011). Effects of intergroup contact on attitudes of Chinese migrant workers to urban locals. Journal of Urban Affairs, 33, 469–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Nielsen, I., Smyth, R., & Zhai, Q. (2010). Subjective wellbeing of Chinas off-farm migrants. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 315–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Nilvarangkul, K., McCann, T. V., Rungreangkulkij, S., & Wongprom, J. (2011). Enhancing a health-related quality-of-life model for Laotian migrant workers in Thailand. Qualitative Health Research, 21(3), 312–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Nilvarangkul, K., Rungreangkulkij, S., & Wongprom, J. (2010). Perception of stress in Laotian migrant workers in Thailand. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 12(5), 678–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Nordhaus, W. D. (2002). The health of nations: The contribution of improved health to living standards (Vol. 8818). Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. OECD. (2016). International migration outlook 2016. Paris: OECD Publishing. Scholar
  78. Ofori, G. (1996). Foreign construction workers in Singapore. International labor organization, sectoral activities. Retrieved from Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  79. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2011). Compendium of OECD well-being indicators. Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.Google Scholar
  80. Osberg, L., & Sharpe, A. (1998). ‘An index of economic well-being for Canada’, Applied Research Branch, Research Paper R-99–3E. Ottawa, Ontario: Human Resources Development Canada.Google Scholar
  81. Osberg, L., & Sharpe, A. (1999). An index of economic well-being for Canada and the United States. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, New York.Google Scholar
  82. Osberg, L., & Sharpe, A. (2010). The index of economic well-being. Challenge, 53(4), 25–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Pacakova, V. (2012). Bayesian estimations in insurance theory and practice. In Advances in mathematical and computational methods. Proceedings of the 14th WSEAS International Conference on Mathematical and Computational Methods in Science and Engineering (MACMESE’12), Sliema, Malta (pp. 127–131).Google Scholar
  84. Pereira, J. (2012). 1000 foreign workers died in Malaysia last year. Migrant workers rights global. Retrieved from Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  85. Portes, A., & Böröcz, J. (1989). Contemporary immigration: Theoretical perspectives on its determinants and modes of incorporation. International migration review, 23(3), 606–630.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Prilleltensky, I. (2008). Migrant well-being is a multilevel, dynamic, value dependent phenomenon. American Journal of Community Psychology, 42(3–4), 359–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  88. Rahman, M. M., & Husain, Z. Z. (2015). Introduction. In M. M. Rahman & Z. Z. Husain (Eds.), South Asian migration remittances and beyond (pp. 1–15). Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
  89. Reig-Martínez, E. (2013). Social and economic wellbeing in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin: Building an enlarged human development indicator. Social Indicators Research, 111(2), 527–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Ruhs, M. (2013). The price of rights: Regulating international labour migration. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Ruhs, M. (2016). Protecting the rights of temporary migrant workers: Ideals versus reality. In J. Howe & R. Owens (Eds.), Temporary labour migration in the global era: The regulatory challenges (pp. 299–325). London: Bloomsbury Publishing.Google Scholar
  92. Ruiz, E., & Praetorius, R. T. (2016). Deciphering the lived experience of Latinos with diabetes and depression: A qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis. Social Work in Public Health, 31(2), 70–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Ryan, R. M., Rigby, C. S., & Przybylski, A. (2006). The motivational pull of video games: A self-determination theory approach. Motivation and emotion, 30(4), 344–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Santoso, D. S. (2009). The construction site as a multicultural workplace: A perspective of minority migrant workers in Brunei. Construction Management and Economics, 27(6), 529–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Sarwani, S. A. A. L., Abdulla, K. B., & Mandeel, M. A. J. (2013). Prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression among expatriate workers. Bahrain Medical Bulletin, 158(749), 1–4.Google Scholar
  96. Schuman, D. (2016). Veterans’ experiences using complementary and alternative medicine for posttraumatic stress: A qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis. Social Work in Public Health, 31(2), 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Scopus. (2017). Resource library. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  98. Sen, A. (2000). Development as freedom. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Shapiro, A., & Keyes, C. L. M. (2008). Marital status and social well-being: Are the married always better off? Social Indicators Research, 88(2), 329–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Sijapati, B. (2015). Women’s labour migration from Asia and the Pacific: Opportunities and challenges. Bangkok and Washington: International Organization for Migration and Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  101. Smyth, R., Nielsen, I., Zhai, Q., Liu, T., Liu, Y., Tang, C., et al. (2011). Environmental conditions and personal well-being in urban China. Population and Environment, 32, 353–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Spitzer, D. L., & Piper, N. (2014). Retrenched and returned: Filipino migrant workers during times of crisis. Sociology, 48(5), 1007–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  103. Stange, M. Z., Oyster, C. K., & Sloan, J. E. (2011). Encyclopedia of women in today’s world (Vol. 1). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  104. Stiglitz, J. E., Sen, A., & Fitoussi, J. P. (2010). Report by the commission on the measurement of economic performance and social progress. Paris: Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.Google Scholar
  105. Taran, P. A. (2009). The need for a rights based approach to migration in the age of globalization. In R. Cholewinski (Ed.), Migration and human rights (pp. 150–170). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  106. Tharathep, C. (2010). Regional dialogue on the health challenges for Asian labour migrants. 13–14 July 2010, Amari Watergate Hotel, Bangkok.Google Scholar
  107. Thomson Reuters. (2017). Web of science. Retrieved 31 March 2017.
  108. Tiemoko, R. (2003). Migration, return and socio-economic change in West Africa: The role of family, Sussex migration working paper, No 14.Google Scholar
  109. Tutchananusorn, S. (2002). Safety and office. Journal of Safe Environment, 15(1), 29–39.Google Scholar
  110. Ullah, A. K. M. A. (2010). Rationalizing migration decision labour migrants in East and South Asia. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  111. United Nations. (2005). The international convention on migrant workers and its committee fact sheet no. 24 (rev.1). New York and Geneva: United Nations.Google Scholar
  112. Ward, C., & Styles, I. (2003). Lost and found: Reinvention of the self-following migration. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 5(3), 349–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  113. Weishaar, H. B. (2008). Consequences of international migration: A qualitative study on stress among Polish migrant workers in Scotland. Public Health, 122, 1250–1256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  114. Weishaar, H. B. (2010). “You have to be flexible”—Coping among polish migrant workers in Scotland. Health & Place, 16(5), 820–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  115. Wells, J. (1996). Labour migration and international construction. Habitat International, 20(2), 295–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  116. White, S. C., Gaines, S. O., Jr., & Jha, S. (2014). Inner wellbeing: Concept and validation of a new approach to subjective perceptions of wellbeing in India. Social Indicators Research, 119(2), 723–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  117. Williams, C. P. (2008). Female transnational migration, religion and subjectivity: The case of Indonesian domestic workers. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 49(3), 344–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  118. World Bank (WB). (2016). Migration and remittances factbook. Washington: World Bank Publications.Google Scholar
  119. Zaiceva, A., & Zimmermann, K. F. (2008). Scale, diversity, and determinants of labour migration in Europe. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 24(3), 427–451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Md. Mohsin Reza
    • 1
    • 2
  • Thirunaukarasu Subramaniam
    • 1
  • M. Rezaul Islam
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of South East Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  2. 2.Department of Social WorkJagannath UniversityDhakaBangladesh
  3. 3.Institute of Social Welfare and ResearchUniversity of DhakaDhakaBangladesh

Personalised recommendations