Myanmar’s International Migration Day event on the 18th of December 2017 in Nay Pyi Taw was attended by representatives including Union Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Pyithu Hluttaw and Amyotha Hluttaw representatives, heads of departments, diplomats, personnel from United Nations, international non-government organizations and officials. The event was themed “Safe Migration in World on the Move” and showcased Myanmar’s active participation in global agreements on safe, systematic and legal migration in 2018. A multitude of stakeholders examined findings from research organizations and civil society to create strategies to ensure safe, secure and legal migration and extend services to migrants to facilitate better livelihoods through evidence-based policy reforms.

“Women and children are vulnerable to the effects of migration and this point should be taken into consideration when laws or policies are drawn for migrant rights. More effort is required to have a safe and secure way of remitting money to their families”

– H.E. U Myint Swe, Vice President of the Union of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar

During the event, the CESD shared findings of its research studies, comparing them with larger trends identified in national surveys such as the 2015 Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census. Using the data, CESD accurately determined the average migrant profile. The analysis suggests 60% of migrants are male with 53% of migrants categorized as youth. Migrants from rural areas seek employment in countries such as Thailand (77%), Malaysia (7.4%), Singapore (5.1%) and China (5%). CESD’s research suggests 65% of migrants are from rural areas. Surveys suggest conflict and violence are the primary drivers of migration. Many migrants indicate conflict and violence result in a lack of job opportunities and decreased market access leading them to seek job and education opportunities elsewhere to improve their standard of living. Migrants identified social networks as the main method of finding employment opportunities. As a result, 20% of migrants already had a job offer before migrating abroad.

The Vice President Acknowledged remittances by migrant workers as a major contribution to Myanmar’s GDP and stressed the importance of a safe and secure way for them to transfer the funds. CESD’s analysis of the 2015 LFS data reveals an average migrant worker from Myanmar remitted 1,000,000 Myanmar Kyats (MMK) in 12 months. Furthermore, USD 3.3 billion was officially remitted in 2016 by 2.2 million Myanmar migrants. Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand are the main destinations of ASEAN’s ASEAN, 6.5 million migrant workers. From 1995 to 2015, Myanmar’s regional migration increased significantly. In-depth analyses from CESD reveals most remittances are sent by migrants based in Thailand (65%), followed by Malaysia (14%) and 7% from “Other” countries. Remaining remittance originations include USA (5%), Singapore (5%), South Korea (3%) and Japan (1%). CESD’s data concludes Myanmar’s involvement in the ASEAN framework has helped migrants relocate to seek better livelihood opportunities within ASEAN countries rather than Western countries.

While female migration has increased, male migrants still account for 60% of remittance contributions. Additionally, 66% of remittances come from migrants originally from rural areas in Myanmar. Nonetheless, the standout aspect is equal remittance amounts by the males and females.

Data collected by CESD in Mon State (which has the highest record of migrants leaving Myanmar) coupled with secondary data analysis from the World Bank reveal that migration, as a concept, is a livelihood strategy. In Mon State, analyses revealed remittances increased income and expenditures in migrant households. On a macroeconomic level, Myanmar is the 3rd largest remittance recipient in ASEAN, receiving more remittance money than overseas development assistance over the last 20 years, according to data from the World Bank.  Therefore, remittances are a critical external financial flow which needs to be strategically taken into account in order to set up a complete and successful society where migrant workers can contribute to economic development.

Migrants, especially from rural areas of Myanmar, rely on informal transfer mechanisms (the “hundi” system) to transfer money to their families in Myanmar. Because remittance transaction costs and duration of transfer are much lower in the hundi system compared to traditional systems 65% of migrants use the mechanism/system to remit money. Additionally, banks pose legal difficulties for some undocumented migrants. In light of these findings, the Union Minister who attended the event stressed the importance of addressing the labor market for legal migrant workers as well as access to illegal migration market. He added that to eradicate the illegal migration, further cooperation was needed between Myanmar, host countries, employment agencies, international organizations, and civil society organizations (CSOs).

CESD presented evidence from its Mon State Household Survey with the aim of encouraging policy reform to ensure that migration is safe, sustainable and legal. Survey data reveals that family members and acquaintances were the largest contributors of data with regards to migration information sources, indicating the significance of social networks in migration. Furthermore, results indicate legal migration to Malaysia is comparatively more expensive than legal migration to Thailand on average and so the poorest households are not in a position to afford migration. This can be attributed to Myanmar’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Thailand.

Due to migration’s sheer size, economic importance, and effect on women and children, it is important to ensure Myanmar enacts proper laws and policies to protect its citizens’ rights and interests. To aid this policy formation, CESD continues to conduct research and analysis with key stakeholders to build a further understanding of migration dynamics.