UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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Asia Pacific Migration Research Network (APMRN)

Migration Issues in the Asia Pacific


    A. Introduction

International migration is basically a phenomenon which represents family or individual efforts to maintain their existence, and desire to improve their quality of life (Nagayama 1995). Today, this phenomenon is becoming increasingly important in Indonesia (Hugo 1995; Spaan 1994; Adi 1995). Government intervention in migration regulation is very well known. However, research on this topic is still limited in Indonesia. The recency of international labour migration phenomenon, inadequate data collection systems and undocumented migration become the main constraints to the research (Hugo 1995). Lack of research funds available in Indonesia might be considered another constraint.

International migration flows in Indonesia will continue to increase in the future due to limited job opportunity, the increasing average level of education in Indonesia, proliferation of mass media, easy and cheap access to overseas countries, and developments in global and national transport systems. In the mean time, the involvement of an immigration ‘industry’, both legal and illegal, has accelerated the flow of international migration from Indonesia. Such rapid flow will have a variety of macro and micro level consequences which need to be considered and intervened. Overall, identifying this phenomenon will motivate researchers to conduct the international migration research, and encourage the Indonesian government either to find the best policy or to build a political agreement with the receiving countries.

    B. Background

Despite experiencing a rapid economic growth in recent years, according to the World Bank (Hugo 1995) Indonesia remains a poor country with GNP per capita of about US $670 in 1994. The workforce in 1994 was 78.8 million people. It is projected to increase by 12.6 million over the next five years. This condition continues to encourage the flow of international migration.

While this demographic trend discourages job opportunities, the fact shows that the Indonesian economy has undergone substantial structural change. As shown by Tomich (Hugo 1995), the share of the labour force in agriculture continues to decrease. In 1980, the share of labour force in agriculture was 55.9 per cent, while in 1990 it decreased to 49.2 per cent. Such change was influenced by the practices of direct seeding of rice, use of pesticides, hand tractors, and mechanical hulling. For the first time more Indonesians were working in non agricultural than agricultural sectors, and in the future this trend is likely to continue (Hugo 1995).

Indonesia has also experienced significant social change. The average level of education of the majority of Indonesian adults is increasing (Hugo 1995). In 1980, the percentage of population which completed lower or upper secondary schooling was only 12.4, but in 1990 this number increased up to 24.5. This means that more Indonesians have experienced a reorientation of values and attitudes which in turn increased the likelihood of experiencing international migration.

Another change is related to transport and mass communication. Indonesia has experienced enormous improvements in its transportation infrastructure. This has made remote villages accessible to the wider world. Progress has been made by the Indonesian government in disseminating information to the most remote villages via television, while the ownership of television has increased from less than one in ten households in 1970 to one in three in 1990 (Hugo 1995).

Moreover, some changes have happened in the structure and functioning of families. As stated by Hugo (1995), such changes include: (1) a tendency to move from extended toward nuclear family; (2) a decrease in the strength of patriarchal control structures; (3) a transition from marriage partners selected by parents, to selection by their partner; (4) a decrease in polygamy; and (5) age at marriage has increased while fertility has declined by about 50 per cent in the last 20 years. Such social change can influence the international migration decision making inside the family in Indonesia.

    C. Information on Migratory Movements

Two major systems of migration have evolved since 1969—the official and the undocumented system. The official system is focused strongly on the Middle East, while the undocumented system, on Malaysia and Singapore. Migration to Saudi Arabia is highly selective of women, needed as domestic servants, while those going to Malaysia are mainly men, in high demand as construction and plantation labourers, and those going to Singapore are both men and women working in services and construction (Spaan 1994; Hugo 1995).

The official data on legal flows of Indonesian workers has shown a significant increase since the First Five Year Plan (1969–1974). In 1969–1974 (First Five Year Plan) there were 5,423 international migrants to the Middle East, Malaysia and Singapore. This number increased to 19,332, 94,921, 291,181 and 600,163 in 1974–1979 (Second Five Year Plan), 1979–1984 (Third Five Year Plan), 1984–1989 (Fourth Five Year Plan), and 1989–1994 (Fifth Five Year Plan), respectively. The official target for the Sixth Five Year Plan (1994–1999) is about 1.5 million workers (Hugo 1995).

The undocumented system refers to the bulk of the illegal worker movement from Indonesia to Malaysia, not covered by official statistics. This movement occurs along two major routes—from East Java-North-South Sumatra to Peninsular Malaysia and from Flores-South Sulawesi to Sabah. Much of the movement involves syndicates, recruiters (calo) and middlemen (taikong). In this system, the chance of exploitation is high. Despite this drawback, many migrants still choose informal recruitment channels, either because they are unaware of the safer and legal agencies or because they consider migration via local brokers faster and more efficient (Spaan 1994).

    D. Migration Policies

Since the government of Indonesia has realised the benefits of international labour movements, particularly through remittances, the future government policy is aimed at increasing the number of international migrants. The fact shows that remittances not only have a very significant impact on families and communities of origin but also important macro economic impacts.

In the Sixth Five Year Plan (1994–1999), the government will implement a new policy promoting skilled workers. Department of Labour Office, particularly Directorate of Overseas Workers Services (AKAN) is in charge of planing and implementation of the migration program. The office set certain objectives of the program including: (1) opening job opportunities; (2) increasing workers’ income; (3) increasing national revenue for national development; and (4) strengthening the relationships with other nations.

The government of Indonesia through the office of AKAN has tried to maximise the profits and minimise the costs of the overseas migration through formal recruiters (PPTKI) coordinated by an organisation called the Indonesian Manpower Suppliers Association (IMSA). Personal requirements and procedures that should be followed by the recruiters and prospective migrants have been set by the government. However, these efforts have not been entirely successful due to various constraints coming from local recruiters and employment brokers from the village of origin to the migrant’s destination (Adi 1995). A variety of deviations and difficulties have been reported to the office of AKAN, and the office has responded with a formal rule that the overseas employers must pay the total cost of initial movement with a cheap airfare and waiver of associated taxes. However, in many cases, the prospective migrants still have to pay some fees.

    E. Social and Political Effects of Migration

Social and economic effects of migration can be seen in the improvement of family welfare through remittances. It has been reported by Kompas (Hugo 1995) that remittances sent by migrants to Indonesia through official sources between 1983 and 1989 amounted to US$551,523,406. Most of this amount came from Saudi Arabia (Hugo 1995). The main items for remittance use are the acquisition of land and housing, housing improvements and to cover schooling costs as well as day to day necessities for the family such as radios, televisions, motorcycles and furniture (Mantra et al. 1986). Although the majority of families reported an improvement in their economic situation as a result of remittances, a survey from West Java indicated that migrants’ families economic situation did not improve due to excessive charges of middlemen and recruiters as well as the burden of debt (Adi 1995).

The social effects can be seen in the impact of departure. The departure has led to female headship, and women as well as children, must perform most of the tasks traditionally done by men. As a result of migration to Malaysia and Singapore, the island of Bawean, for instance, has long been known as an ‘island of women’, while the sex ratio of the district of Flores Timur (East Nusa Tenggara) is dominated by females (about 70 males to 100 females) due to migration to Malaysia. In Bawean, all remaining females not only take on extra work but also experience difficulties in controlling their children, while in Flores Timur, women must participate in most of construction works.

Migration to the Middle East countries has led to family stress due to some incidence of problems encountered there. Cases of mistreatment, excessively heavy workloads and rape bring negative impacts not only on migrants but also on their families in Indonesia. However, it should be admitted that research on such social effects is limited. It is expected that in the future, research on changes in roles and status of women within family and the society, as well as on migrants and family stress, need elaboration.

The most important political effect is manifested in a disharmony and conflicting relationship between Malaysia and Indonesia, and between Indonesia and Middle East countries. The Malaysian government has attempted to crack down on illegal migrants due to mass media reports accusing illegal Indonesians of criminality, or working as domestic servants or prostitutes accelerating the spread of diseases. As a result, the Malaysian government has adopted a stricter policy toward illegal immigrants from Indonesia. This phenomenon might cheapen or lower the supply of Indonesian labour which, in turn, upsets the relationship between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Regarding the relationship between the Middle East countries and Indonesia, some studies show a problem of labour exploitation and mistreatment, particularly toward the domestic female workers. Discrepancies in formal regulations or rules between Indonesia and the Middle East countries will complicate the relationships between governments.

    F. Key Problem Areas

(1) Protection of Female Workers
The involvement of women domestics in the migration of workers particularly to the Middle East has attracted considerable controversy in Indonesia. Although a study of returning female overseas workers indicated that there had been some positive impacts of their out-migration, such as gaining higher respect from their husbands who consider their main role to be a homemaker, some newspapers in Indonesia reported the incidence of problems encountered in the Middle East. Women returning to Indonesia, found that their husband had remarried using her remittances to establish a new life. In other instance, a woman who was raped in Saudi Arabia was rejected by her family on her return.

In addition to success stories, some written reports described some cases of mistreatment, excessively heavy workloads and rape (Tobing et al. 1990). These domestic workers were basically exposed to considerable risk of exploitation. This situation is not easily solved because local labour legislation does not apply to these workers, and if the Indonesian woman brings a complaint against her employer in Saudi Arabia, she has to provide three eyewitnesses. This problem needs an immediate solution otherwise the relationship between Indonesia and the Middle East countries deteriorate.

(2) Illegal Networks and Family Based Supports
Many illegal migrants originate from East Java, Lombok, East Nusa Tenggara, North and West Sumatra, and Riau (Hugo et al. 1990). They are helped by middlemen who attempt to reach Malaysia by sea. The main route is from East Java and Madura, via Jakarta, Merak, to Jambi and Riau in Sumatra. From there, they cross the Malacca Straits and South China Sea. Another route is from Eastern Indonesia, via Sulawesi to East Kalimantan, and finally cross the border (Sabah) by boat or on foot (Spaan 1994).

The process of migration to Malaysia starts off very much as a family affair. Word of mouth, letters written home, as well as return visits to hometowns and villages by Indonesians who had entered and worked in Malaysia legally—all rely on family based networks. These networks also tend to be illegal. Such networks not only link individuals and families. A patron-client as well as mutual dependence relationship develops between an employer and a family or group of families from a particular origin, which in turn involves some agents, recruiters, travel agents, transport operators, etc (Hugo 1995). Another role played by the networks is to sustain population flows outside the policy makers’ interventions. These networks become a very strong force for perpetuating particular migration flows.

Besides, the family is very active to meet the costs of initial movement. In many cases the family has to borrow an amount of money from money lenders to finance the trip, or sell land or family belongings in order to pay the initial costs (Hugo 1995).

(3) Ethnic and Cultural Differences
Ethnic and cultural differences become one of the main problems in international migration. Many migrants choose to move to Malaysia since the social and cultural background of the country is relatively similar to Indonesia. Most migrants from western Indonesia, or even from eastern, basically face no difficulties in living or working when they move to Malaysia. Similar language, ethnic background as well as religion might encourage many migrants to move to Malaysia. As shown by Adi (1995), however, differences in language or cultural as well as social background become the main constraints for migrants to the Middle East countries in communication with local people there. Some migrants said it was very difficult to get along with people in the Middle East countries.

To date, there has been no research conducted on the difficulties faced by migrants from eastern Indonesia to Malaysia. This might be an important subject to be studied in the future because the religious and ethnic background of migrants from eastern Indonesia is basically similar to those of Malaysia.

(4) The Operation of Recruiters
Spaan (1994) has clearly reported the existence of two main recruitment networks in Indonesia including legal migrants to Saudi Arabia and illegal migrants to Malaysia. This report showed how recruiters exploit migrants. It should be admitted that most of the formal recruiters (appointed by the government) do not work as expected due to the tendency to get high benefits and low level of government control. As reported by Tobing et al. (1990), exploitation by these recruiters towards migrants is becoming critical. This is done not only before but also after international migrants return home.

    G. Existing Capabilities and Researchers for Migration Research

It should be admitted that capabilities of conducting internal migration research among researchers in Indonesia are still limited. This can be observed through the relatively small number of research projects conducted by Indonesian researchers. However, such capabilities are limited not only by inadequate data collection systems but also by lack of research funds in the past.

Recently, efforts to increase the capabilities for conducting migration research among research centres in Indonesia has been promoted by the Indonesian government in cooperation with the Population Research Centre of Gadjah Mada University. Such effort is manifested in recent training on population mobility and research on migration conducted in the Population Research Center, Gadjah Mada University (from December 11th to 23rd 1995). It is expected that such effort can be continued in the future, covering more research centres as well as universities.

    H. The State of Research

Research on international migration to and from Indonesia is still limited. This is due to a number of reasons: (i) the amount of international movement was very small until about two decades ago and is still limited to elite groups; (ii) lack of adequate data collection systems either to measure stocks or flows; (iii) increasing proportion of international and therefore undocumented illegal migration; and (iv) little attention has been given to the family as a unit of study (Hugo 1995). Consequently, there is a lack of accumulated knowledge on international migration in Indonesia.

A preliminary survey of research and books on international migration in Indonesia is further evidence of this. This can be seen in Adi (1986), Kasto and Sukamdi (1986), Guinnes (1990), Spaan (1994), and Hugo (1993; 1995). Only a limited number of authors describe the experiences of returning migrants in the form of books, such as Tobing et al. (1990) and Bethan (1993). Statistical data is also limited. There might be only three sources of statistical data: Immigration Office (Department of Justice), Directorate of Overseas Workers Service (Department of Labour), and Private Recruiters (Perusahaan Pengerah Tenaga Kerja Indonesia or Indonesian Employment Recruiters).

The Immigration Office only collects information regarding in and out migration by using embarkation and disembarkation cards with a limited coverage. In terms of embarkation, the office collects information on gender, nationality, employment and address at place of destination. Information on disembarkation covers gender, nationality, job, address at place of origin, place and date of birth, length of stay in Indonesia, nation of the longest stay before coming to Indonesia, and the purpose of arrival. One important question that the Office does not ask is about the intention to go abroad which is very critical in determining migrants’ status. Moreover, embarkation and disembarkation data about foreigners has been computerised, although not for Indonesians. The utilisation of such data is also very limited and sometimes these data do not fit with those prepared by the Central Statistical Bureau.

    I. Key Research Issues for the Next Five Years

Hugo (1995) has stressed some important issues regarding international migration in Indonesia including the issues of scale, patterns, causes and consequences. Such issues might be approached from a national and international level.

From the national level, scale and patterns of international migration need to be studied over the next five years due to negative impacts of illegal movement, exploitation by recruiters and by people from receiving countries. In the future, the key role played by the Indonesian government, the involvement of formal as well as informal recruiters, and the attitude of migrants towards migration services need more elaboration.

Causes and consequences at both the macro and micro level are very important issues that need to be covered by the prospective research. Likewise, the negative and positive consequences need to be described. This information can provide some implications, particularly for policy intervention.

And from the international level, there are some social and political issues that need to be included in the research agenda. Firstly, what is the impact of migration on receiving countries compared to sending countries? Which country benefits from such movement?

Secondly, what is the relationship between sending and receiving countries’ governments? This is an important issue that needs to be studied at the international level because each government plays a key role in determining the flow and the pattern of international migration. Related to this would be an assessment of the compatibility of policies between sending and receiving countries. Some countries might accept the idea of a multi-ethnic or multicultural society and thus tend to promote open door policies, while others might not do so. Concepts of ethnic homogeneity are becoming more relevant for analysis and understanding (Kim 1995).

Thirdly, the impact of international migration on national integration of receiving countries needs consideration. Immigrants coming from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds might increase social and political tensions in receiving countries which in turn influence their national integration.

Another important topic for consideration is the impact of economic interdependence between countries on the flow of international migration. In this case, an important research question which needs to be asked is whether such interdependence stimulates or deters migration. Related to this topic is income inequality between rich and poor countries in Asia and how it impacts on the flow and tempo of international migration. Information on such disparities might explain the scale and pattern of international migration.

Finally what is the role played by transnational corporations? Facts show that these corporations attract national and international labour. Patterns of investment of such corporations seem to determine the pattern of international migration.

    J. National Network to Work with APMRN

The use of a national network through ‘e-mail’ seems to be very popular in Indonesia after the national telephone company widened its area of coverage. E-mail has reached most of the big cities in Indonesia. Therefore, the likelihood of working with all population centre in the whole country seems to be very high. This situation enables more population research centres to work with APMRN in the future. The preliminary list of network members in Indonesia is as follows:

Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Sumatra Utara
Jl. Dr. T. Mansur 9
Drs T. Razali Rasyid
Lembaga Demografi-Fakultas
Universistas Syah Kuala
Banda Aceh  

Dr Syahruddin, MA
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Andalas
Jl. Perintis Kemerdekaan 77
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Lambung Mangkurat
Jl. Birgjen Hasan Basry 20
Dr. Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Sriwijaya
Jl. Srijaya Negara
Perpustakaan Lantai II
Palembang 30931
Drs. Sukarsih Panjaitan, MA
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Tanjungpura
Jl. Imam Bonjol
Drs Muchsin Badar, MA
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Lampung
Jl. Prof. Sumantri Brojonegoro 1
Bandar Lampung
Balai Pengkajian
Lembaga Demografi Fakultas
Universitas Airlangga
Jl. Airlangga 4
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Riau
Jl. Pattimura No. 5
Pekanbaru RIAU
Drs. M. Ramlie
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Mataram
Jl. Pendidikan 37
Mataram NTB
Drs H.J. Kalau
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Nusa Cendana
Jl. Adisucipto
Kampus Baru Penfui
Kupang NTT
PO Box 851136
Drs Tatik Upami, MS
Pusat Studi Kependudkan
Universitas Palangkaraya
Kampus Unpar
Jl. Yos Sudarso
Drs. I Ketut Sudibia, MS
Sub Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Udayana
Jl. Diponegoro 186
Denpasar BALI
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Mulawarman
Jl. Tanah Grogot/P.Floresi
Kampus Gunung Kelua
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Pattimura
Kampus Poka
Dr. Tuti Djuartika, MA
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Padjadjaran
Jl. Dipati ukur 46
Drs. Michael Rumbiak, MA
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Centrawasih
Jl. Sentani, Abepura
Jayapura, IRIAN JAYA
Dr Djarot Setiawan
Pusat Studi Kependudukan
Universitas Jendral soedirman
Kampus Grendeng
Balai Pengabdian Masyarakat
Pusat Studi kependudukan
Universitas tadulako
Kampus bumi bahari
Drs. Sugito Sudrajat, MA
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Diponegoro
Jl. Imam Bardjo, SH 1
Dr. Heidy A. Passay
Lembaga Demografi - fakultas
Universitas Indonesia
Jl. Salemba raya 4
Drs. Marcelinus Molo
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas sebelas maret
Jl. Ir. Sutami 36 A
Dr. Agus Dwiyanto
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Gadjah Mada
Bulaksumur G - 7
Dra Soewanti S
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Jember
Jl. Veteran 3
Drs Moch. Affandi, MS
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Brawijaya
Jl. M.T. Haryono 165
Dr. Michael Papayungan
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Hasanuddin
Jl. Perintis Kemerdekaan
Kampus Tamalarea
Lembaga Penelitian
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Haluoleo
Jl. S. Parman
Pusat studi kependudukan
Universitas Sam Ratulangi
Kampus unsrat


    Adi, R. 1986, Beberapa aspek tenaga kerja kontrak internasional: Studi kasus di Indonesia. Pusat Penelitian Unike Atma Jaya, Jakarta.

    Adi, R. 1995, Migrasi Internasional Tenaga Kerja Indonesia: Harapan dan Kenyataan. Pusat Penelitian Unika Atmajaya, Jakarta.

    Bethan, I. 1993, TKW di Timur Tengah. Grafikatama Jaya, Jakarta.

    Hugo, G.J. 1993, ‘Indonesian labour migration to Malaysia: Trends and Policy Implications’, Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science. Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 36–70.

    Hugo, G.J. 1995, ‘International labour migration and the family: Some observations from Indonesia’, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, Vol. 4, Nos. 2–3, pp. 273–301.

    Kasto & Sukamdi 1986, Mobilitas Angkatan Kerja Indonesia ke Timur Tengah. Final Report Book 2. Population Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.

    Kim, W.B. 1995, ‘Regional Interdependence and Migration in Asia’, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2-3, pp. 347–65.

    Mantra, I., Kasnawi, T.M. & Sukamdi 1986, Mobilitas Angkatan Kerja Indonesia ke Timur Tengah. Final Report Book 1, Population Studies Center, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.

    Nagayama, T. 1995, ‘International migration and the family in relation to prosperity towards the 21st century’ Asian and Pacific Migration Journal. Vol. 4, No. 2–3, pp. 199–210.

    Spaan, E. 1994, ‘Taikongs and Calos: The role of middlemen and brokers in Javanese international migration’, International Migration Review. Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 93–113.

    Tobing, M., Hartiningsih, M., Dewabrata, A.M. & Krastawan, W. 1990, Perjalanan nasib TKI-TKW: Antara rantai kemiskinan dan nasib perempuan. PT Gramedia, Jakarta.

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