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Report/Press release

Policy on Labor Migration for Cambodia




The labour migration policy document centres on cross-border migration for employment among Cambodian workers. Having described the general economic background, including employment trends, demographic transition, and cross-border movements of Cambodian migrant workers, the paper goes on to identify policy challenges confronting the Royal Government of Cambodia, and offers strategic considerations, policy options, and an action plan to be initiated by the concerned agencies. The policy document should also serve as a road map for the
Government in its dialogue with donor communities, helping it to more effectively seek support
for measures that promote migration’s positive development outcomes, while limiting its possible negative impacts. Cambodia’s economy has enjoyed sustained grow th, averaging 7 per cent annually for the period 1994-2004. It achieved even more remarkable annual growth of 11 per cent between 2004 and 2007. In 2008, favourable growth rates helped maintain and provide jobs for about 6.9 million workers. In 2009 and 2010,economic prospects have been overshadowed by the global economic crisis, which has reduced annual growth rates to 2.5 and 4 per cent, respectively. While fallout from the global financial crisis is expected to linger over the next few years, Cambodia should be able to resume its favourable growth over the medium term at an annual rate of 6-7 per cent.
Ironically, this robust economic growth has not achieved equivalent employment growth. While economic growth averaged 6.8 per cent between 1994 and 2004, employment grew by only 3.3 per cent. The scenario was even more disappointing between 2005 and 2007, when an average 10.5 per cent growth in GDP contributed to only 2 per cent
growth in employment. In the medium term, every 1 per cent growth in output is expected to generate only a 0.428 per cent growth in employment. In other words, even a relatively high growth rate is unable to generate more jobs for Cambodian workers. Unemployment among youth aged 15 to 24 years is becoming critical. The 2008 population census showed that youth unemployment, conventionally defined, stood at 3 per cent.
It was a more serious problem in urban areas (8 percent) than it was in rural areas (2 per cent).
Skills mismatches were prevalent, and many youth were not qualified for the available jobs. According to the 2008 census, the total population in Cambodia was 13.4 million. With an annual population growth rate of 1.54 per cent, and an estimated total fertility rate of 3.1, between 1998 and 2008, Cambodia’s population is expected to reach 19 million by 2020. Both the annual growth rate of the population and the fertility rate —1.2 per cent and 2.2, respectively— are higher than average for Southeast Asia. At 61.2 per cent, Cambodia’s dependency ratio— or the number of persons 15 years of age plus the number of persons aged 65 years or older per 100 persons aged 15 to 64 years— is also higher than the 50 per cent average for Southeast Asia. As a result of a baby boom in the mid- to late-1980s, Cambodia’s population includes a large proportion of young, and they are entering the labour force at a rate of about 250,000 persons per annum. Since economic growth and employment in Cambodia have been narrowly concentrated in the agricultural, garment, construction, and tourism sectors, the promotion of foreign employment through private and public employment services has provided a cornerstone for alleviation of unemployment, income enhancement, and poverty reduction. Thus, the current Ministerial Strategic Plan sets out the following main interventions: improved management of foreign employment; expanded protection of migrant workers; strong inter-ministerial coordination; and intimate international cooperation. Next to the Burmese, Cambodian migrant workers comprise the second-largest group of foreign workers in Thailand. Following the regularization programme introduced in 2004 by the Royal Thai Government, 110,025 Cambodian migrant workers obtained work permits for supposedly temporary jobs in Thailand. Many of these workers, moreover, were undergoing nationality verification to convert their status from quasi-legal to legal migrants. However, the recent official deployment of migrant workers to Thailand, as well as to other major labour-receiving countries, has been declining. In 2008, only 2,116 and 2,654 migrant workers were deployed to Thailand and Malaysia, respectively. An ILO study of migrant workers’ remittances indicated that Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand sent home cash remittances of about 833 baht per month, lower than those migrants from Myanmar and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. It is estimated that Cambodia migrant workers in Thailand sent home cash remittances of about 1.5 billion baht in 2008 (US$45 million). Forty per cent of Cambodia migrant workers in Thailand reported that remittances were
the main sources of income for their family. Most remittances were spent for daily expenses, health care, and household appliances. Three main policy challenges for labour migration are identified in the paper: governance of labour migration; protection and empowerment of migrant workers; and harnessing of migration for development. Governance of labour migration includes issues relating to national labour migration policies and programmes, laws and norms, inter-state agreements, and multilateral processes. Good governance of labour migration refers to coherence in the areas of legal, policies, and institutional frameworks involving labour migration management. Policy challenges for migration governance include the development of a sound labour migration policy, a legal framework ,and the effective management of labour migration based on international instruments and social dialogue. The key policy recommendations are these: a) strengthening existing government agencies with resources to promote foreign employment and to protect the rights of migrant workers while at home and abroad; b) drafting comprehensive legislation governing the labour migration process and the protection of migrant workers; c) ensuring adequate protection for migrant workers by posting labour attachés to Cambodian Embassies and equipping them with
the resources necessary to perform their duties; d) government adoption of the social dialogue approach and the involvement of key stakeholders, including government, employers’ and workers’ organizations, recruitment agencies, and civil society in formulating labour migration policy, programmes, and legislation; and e) government review of its policy on mandatory cash deposits of US$100,000 (non-interest earning) by recruitment agencies.
Protection and empowerment of migrant workers includes protection against abuses, malpractice, and exploitation.To ensure well-informed migration, the Government needs to institutionalize pre-departure training and to disseminate information regarding the migration process, thereby enabling migrants to make informed decisions. Policy challenges for the protection of migrant workers include the adoption of the rights-based approach to prevention and protection against abusive recruitment practices, and the enforcement of national law and regulations in accordance with international labour standards and applicable regional instruments. The key policy recommendations are these: a) eliminating misleading propaganda and advertisements relating to labour migration, and establishing resource center in Phnom Penh and the provinces to provide pre-employment information regarding the labour migration process; b) implementing legislation and policies with effective enforcement mechanisms and sanctions to deter unethical recruitment practices, including provisions for the suspension or withdrawal of recruitment and placement licenses in cases of violation; c) establishing a list of placement fees and documentation costs payable by migrant workers; d) coordinating with labour-receiving countries for the adoption of standardized and enforceable employment contracts; e) improving the position of Cambodian migrant workers in the labour market by enhancing worker skills through relevant vocational training, both increasing their employment opportunities and reducing their vulnerability to exploitation; and f) providing effective remedies to all migrant workers in cases of rights violation, and creating accessible channels through which migrant workers can lodge complaints against abusive practices and fraud. Migration can affect development and growth through three mechanisms changes in labour supply; changes in productivity; and migrants’ remittances. For a labour-sending country, positive outcomes of successful deployment of workers include remittances, skills acquisition, lower unemployment, strong national foreign currency reserves, and poverty reduction. Policy challenges regarding labour migration for development include (1) mainstreaming labour migration issues in national development plans and in the country decent work programme, (2) establishing a rec
ognition system for skills gained from abroad, (3) promoting the productive use of migrant workers’ remittances
, and (4) providing return and reintegration services. The key policy recommendations are these: a) mainstreaming labour migration in both the national strategic development plan and the national employment policy; b) strengthening public and private employment services for counselling and matching demand for skilled labour and returned migrant workers; c) negotiating with the labour-receiving country the coordinated registration for returned/repatriated migrant workers at border points to facilitate their readmission (overland and by air); d) reducing costs of remittance transfers, and facilitating access to financial services; and e) promoting the acquisition of new skills abroad and minimizing brain drain in key economic sectors.

Number of pages


Responsible institution

International Labor Organization



Cambodia, national and International legal mechanism for migrant workers

Economic sectors

General relevance - all sectors

Content types

Policy analysis and Support initiatives

Target groups

Policymakers, Researchers, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Regional relevance

Spheres of activity

Economics and Law