Labour Migration from Indonesia to South Korea: Challenges in Maximizing Potentials

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Labour migration is one of the forms of international migration, which according to Martin (2013) is motivated by demographic and economic inequalities, as well as communication, transportation and human rights revolutions (Martin, 2013). Martin pointed out how the high demographic growth tends to occur in 170 poorer countries, while the demography in wealthier countries tends to grow slower. Economically, wealth is more concentrated in countries with smaller population. This is believed to be the reasons for people to work abroad where wages are higher, particularly the young ones.

As argued by Sang-Chul Park (2016), over the past four decades, East Asia has been considered as the fastest growing region in the world, which was started by the industrialization, nation building, and post-war reconstruction process in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century (Park, 2016, pp. 1-24), which made Japan the first tier country. Later on, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, as the second tier nations, showed a rapid development during the 1970s and 1980s, which made them known as the newly industrialized economies (NIEs). The Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand are considered as the third tier, and China, Indonesia and Vietnam are categorized as the fourth tier (Park, 2016,1-24). By this categorization, in accordance to the push and pull factors assumptions, between Indonesia and South Korea, the flow of migrant workers come from the first to the later. Furthermore, in 2016, the Bloomberg Innovation Index reported South Korea as the “world’s most innovative economy, surpassing Germany (second) and Sweden (third)” (Putra, 2017). Naturally, it makes South Korea more attractive destination for migrant workers, including those from Indonesia.

The rapid economic development which happened in Asia contributed to the shift of trend of migration within the region. According to Yazid, while earlier research of migration in Asia was more focused on internal permanent migration, particularly migration from rural to urban areas (Yazid, 2013, p. 73), since the 1980s, the trend was shifted to temporary labour migration between Asian countries (Yamanaka and Piper in Sylvia Yazid, 2013, p. 55). Yazid also argued that the migration goals have “shifted more towards economic purposes, where more people migrate to seek employment.” (Yazid, 2013, p. 56) which is commonly known as labor migration.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines labour migration as “the movement of people from one country to another for the purpose of employment” (IOM, n.d.) or a “cross-border movement for purposes of employment in a foreign country (International Organization for Migration, n.d.).” In line with these definitions, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All

Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families Article 2 (1) defines migrant worker as “a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national (OHCHR, 2005).” Similarly, Law No. 39/2004 in Indonesia defines Indonesian migrant worker or Tenaga Kerja Indonesia (TKI) as an Indonesian citizen who is eligible or fulfill the requirements to work abroad in a work relationship or employment in a certain period of time and receive wages. Since more and more countries are involved in labour migration and there are already shifts from what considered to be the traditional choices of destination countries, it is crucial to understand the factors that affects the flow of migration from one particular country to another. This paper initially discusses the push and pull factors that influence labour migration from Indonesia to South Korea. However, the main aim of this paper to highlight other factors which can explain why despite the attractive scheme of labour migration to South Korea, the number of Indonesian migrant workers in South Korea remains low compared to that of other destination countries in the region. It is believed that these factors have been hindering the possibility of a significant increase of labour migration from Indonesia to South Korea. As this is a preliminary research on the topic, it relies more on the data gathered through a desk study approach.

Author : Sylvia Yazid