ILO/Asia: How digitalization can help achieve fair migration

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ILO (31.10.2018) The 11th ASEAN Forum on Migrant Labour held in Singapore on 29-30 October discussed how to maximize the potential of digitalization to promote decent work for migrant workers in the Asia Pacific region. Anna Engblom, senior expert on labour migration at the International Labour Organization (ILO), reviews the opportunities and challenges brought by digitalization in this area.

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Digital technologies are making it easier to access information and connect people. They offer tremendous opportunities to simplify, secure, and accelerate the migration process for the growing population of migrant workers in the Asia-Pacific region.

The use of digital tools and platforms has spread across all sectors of our societies, including in the management of labour migration and services provided to migrant workers. Women and men migrant workers themselves are using apps and digital spaces to find jobs, connect with their communities and to transfer money home.

Making regular migration more attractive

Digital migration management platforms can help reduce the cost and time induced by formal recruitment processes, which too often pushes many women and men to migrate through informal, undocumented, and unsafe channels.

When digital management platforms also store important documents – such as work contracts, payment slips or medical certificates – they create a record of agreements, a so called ‘digital trail’. This can be useful if disputes about contract terms, repayments or other issues arise between a migrant worker and an employer or recruitment agency.

Other good practices that are emerging are the use of digital solutions for managing support services to migrant workers’ throughout the migration cycle, including legal support, welfare assistance and online training opportunities.

In addition to making the bureaucratic procedures simpler, more affordable and transparent, migrant workers can use digital technology to share knowledge and information. Online networks can provide peer-to-peer assistance to migrant workers and help them to organize.

By using online rating sites and apps, migrant workers can compare recruitment agencies, money transfer operators, and other service providers, which can help migrant workers make informed choices.

Digital financial services can also help migrant workers manage their income and savings, and send money back home whilst avoiding the traditional banking services fee.

Online complaint mechanisms can help migrant workers seek assistance, even when working in remote and isolated places.

Bridging the digital divide

The Asia-Pacific is home to more than half of the world’s internet users. Every day around two billion people in the region use internet, mostly through mobile phones.

However impressive, Asia’s level of connectivity shouldn’t hide the fact that there are major gaps in the region. Gaps in terms of infrastructure, affordable devices and data plans as well as digital literacy need to be bridged to ensure equal access to services that help achieve fair migration.

As digital and online tools become more embedded in everyday lives, the shortfalls of not using them will mount up for vulnerable workers – especially women migrant workers – who are already among the most disadvantaged in terms of access to mobile phones and internet, potentially deepening the gap.

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Ms Anna Engblom, Senior Programme Manager, TRIANGLE in ASEAN, ILO

Further challenges include risks related to the spreading of misinformation, unscrupulous online service providers and limited protection of personal data and online privacy.

Management platforms and digital services collect and share data on migrant workers either directly, through member profiles, employment contracts and application forms, or indirectly, through user data and location information collected by the platforms.

Regulating collection, use and sharing of this data is critical to preserve privacy and the safety of users, whether such platforms are developed and managed by private companies or state actors.

Technology presents many opportunities to advance safe and fair labour migration. Digitalization does however also involve risks and challenges that need to be monitored and managed carefully.

ASEAN countries, supported by the ILO, have engaged in a dialogue with all stakeholders to seize digital opportunities while addressing the complex challenges in terms of governance, migrant workers' protection, migration and development linkages, and international cooperation. One step forward in building the future of work we want, where no one is left behind.