Placing Movers: An Overview of the Asian-Pacific Migration System


Conventional wisdom seems to have it that the world has entered a "new age of migration" in which the international movement of labor is qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from the past. The dominant paradigm links labor movement to economic development, particularly for Asian migration, explaining migration in terms of differentials in labor demand and wages, while Pacific scholars have generally resorted to the particularities of Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian cultures and island societies. This paper rejects these assumptions. We first describe the history of the Asia-Pacific migration system in three phases—the Age of Indenture, the Period of the Guest Worker, and the Era of Contract Labor Migration—establishing the scale and duration of flows and examining some of the mechanisms. We then review competing explanations of international migration, arguing that a key factor that economistic and essentialist explanations overlook is networks and institutions. We show how these are both reproduced and recreated in similar forms, and that transnational communities are almost inevitably the result.