“We wanted workers, but human beings came”: Human Rights and Temporary Labour Migration Programme in and from Asia and the Pacific

Temporary labour migration programmes (TLMPs) are a dominant feature of the migration landscape in and from the Asia-Pacific region, where millions of migrant workers move along these corridors usually to take up fixed-term, low-wage work in sectors such as agriculture, construction, care work or the service industry. This analytical study explores the consequences of these programmes for the human rights of migrant workers and of their families. Recognising that there are well-documented concerns about labour rights abuses on TLMPs, the study focuses on migrants’ experiences beyond the workplace, understanding migrants not just as workers but as human beings and rights-holders fully entitled to all human rights.

The study explores the parameters of these programmes through a human rights lens. The temporariness that is central to TLMPs is used to justify restrictions on a range of human rights, even when migrant workers may undertake repeated migrations on TLMPs in one or more destination State for decades or even effectively for their whole (working) life. At the same time, and even in situations where the labour needs they are filling are permanent, migrant workers on these programmes are usually excluded from pathways to permanent stay or citizenship. Further, most TLMPs pay little attention to ensuring rights prior to, during and after return, while the restrictions inherent in these schemes can facilitate rather than deter irregularity of status.

The study proposes that the guidance provided by international human rights and labour law and standards should be leveraged by countries of destination and origin, in consultation with migrant workers and their families, to design and implement comprehensive labour migration pathways in and from Asia and the Pacific that offer human rights-based alternatives to TLMPs.

Download the report here