Maria Angela C. Villalba

International migration is still growing, along with globalization. It is estimated that more than 200 million people have been affected, and they have now become a major economic factor. What are the economic, social and political consequences of this large number? What is the situation with regard to gender equality and integration? And what can adult education do to remove prejudices and to help people to live side by side through mutual understanding? Maria Angela C. Villalba is Executive Director of the Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation in the Philippines. Unlad Kabayan is an entrepreneurial NGO that builds and generates assets for the socio-economic advancement of the poor. Unlad has pioneered the innovative approach of harnessing migrant workers' resources to enhance the development of local economies.

Adult Education : Migration and Integration from an International Perspective


Challenges and Opportunities


1. International Migration

The United Nations Population Division estimates that there were almost 200 million international migrants in 2005, people working in countries other than their own. The growth in the number of inter national migrants has been phenomenal, doubling since 1980. 1 This includes a diverse set of contract workers, skilled and managerial workers, failed asylum seekers, foreign wives, trafficked women and undocumented workers.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that migrant workers represent 3 % of the entire world population. 2 This is excluding 16 million refugees. The largest contingents of migrants are found in Europe (56 million), Asia (50 million) and North America (41 million.) Roughly 60 % of them live in Northern industrialized countries and 40 % in Southern countries. 3

The situation of migrant workers is also diverse. On top of the migration pyramid are highly skilled professional workers who are considered a boon to the host country by reason of their professional expertise. Governments have encouraged their entry into society and given privileges, including citizenship or permanent residency. Their presence is considered to have salutary effects on the host economy as a whole.

Alan Greenspan, chairman of the US Federal Reserve for almost 20 years, acknowledges that

"by opening our borders to highly skilled immigrant workers, we ... enhance the skill level of the overall workforce, provide ... competition for higher earning employees ... driving down their wages." 4

At the bottom are often unskilled and undocumented workers who escape their poverty and cross national borders to find jobs which local workers are not interested in, often in the agricultural, domestic labor and sex sectors. They are often hounded by police and immigration authorities in a cycle of toleration and prosecution. They have no job security. Those who have work visas are restricted to the conditions of their contract and sometimes do not have rights to socialize with others. Their lives are severely controlled by employers, and they have little mobility and no political and sometimes no religious rights. Almost half of all international migrants are women responding to demands for cheap labor in traditional jobs that have been assigned to women - nurses, healthcare workers, caregivers, teachers, domestic workers, entertainers, garment and electronic manufacturing workers, hotel and restaurant workers, housewives and the like. These roles are defined by traditional patriarchal society. International migration is in some ways the export of women's exploitation. Women are paid less than men for the same work and receive less benefits than men. They also present less risk to employers than men. Among the most restricted are trafficked women, who are deceived by unscrupulous recruiters to work in the sex industry. The US State Department estimates that there are about 800,000 trafficked women in the world, who are hidden and almost always trapped in conditions of forced labor. 5

For a large segment of international migrants, moving overseas is an act under extreme duress. It is an involuntary and forced response to an economic system at home which has failed to give opportunities for jobs and adequate wages.

International migration has risen to the top of the global policy agenda because of the realization of migrants' potential in development.

International migrants were responsible for the infusion of US$ 268 billion into the economy of labor-sending countries through migrant workers' remittances in 2006, 6 benefiting both sending and receiving countries. This is excluding the monetary value they create which is consumed by migrants themselves in the host countries, or which is deposited in banks or kept as assets in the host countries. The amount of migrant remittances dwarfs the official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investments (FDI) that many Southern countries receive annually. The potential of migrant remittances for development is even now being studied by governments and financial institutions.

Attention to international migrants has also grown in relation to the recent concern for national security in the light of 9/11. Large foreign populations who have largely been the concern of immigration authorities are now also the concern of justice and police authorities, which seek to monitor the movement and financial activities of terrorist groups. Because terrorists are only a small but disruptive sector that is seen as a threat in host countries, the human rights and well-being of the majority of productive migrant workers is a concern. More and more countries have ratified the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, which sets international standards that define migrant rights protocols, although all ratifying countries are sending and transit countries. Both host and sending countries are slowly understanding the meaning of the growing integration and interdependence of states, not only in economics, but in politics and culture as well.

The concern for the welfare of migrants is coming to the fore because of greater respect for, and recognition of, their contributions to the economies of sending countries and in meeting the demand for labor in the Northern industrial countries.

It is in this light that a challenge arises for the integration of international migrants in host societies through adult education. Since international migration is the wave of the future, on the one hand, host countries must learn to raise the awareness of host country residents about the contributions that international migrants make to their societies. On the other hand, host countries must also raise the capacity of migrant workers to relate with the host society, learning its history and culture, adapting to and becoming productive partners in the life of society.

2. The Problems of Migrant Workers


a) Failed Development Models

International migration is a new face for an old problem. In general, it is a response to poverty and underdevelopment in the home country of the migrant worker, and a response to the labor needs or human resource needs of powerful developed host countries. International migration is a power problem.

International migration is a consequence of the failure of past development models. Many of the host countries are former colonial powers. Many of those who migrate are from previous colonies of the world powers. The state of underdevelopment in the South, and the wealth and reach of Northern industrial countries, are partly the result of past political and economic relationships between North and South, earlier called the "First World" and the "Third World" .

Migrant workers are not only dealing with the immediate problems of adjusting to new working conditions and to a different culture and language in the host state, they are also part of the continuing problem of poverty in their own country and are direct combatants in the war against unequal relations between countries. As they try to solve problems of joblessness and low incomes in their own countries by finding jobs abroad, they must also contend with the reality of a different world view in the new workplace. Whereas labor is seen as a God-given right and responsibility at home, it becomes a commodity in the host state. There is a change in moral and ethical values which has to be addressed.

b) Working and Living Conditions in the Host State

An immediate problem of low-end migrant workers, especially of women, is their working and living conditions. They are often treated as unwanted guests in many host countries. Their fixed work contracts are basically restrictive and contain few benefits. Many migrant workers work in so-called 3D jobs - dirty, dangerous and difficult - which the native populations are abandoning in droves. The problem is not one of attitude to 3D jobs, since migrant workers are willing to do them. The problem is that coping mechanisms are lacking so that they may safely and productively do their work. Working and living conditions are defined by individual employers, and are often discriminatory and in violation of existing national labor laws in the host country.

c) The Challenge of Building Social Cohesion in the Host Country

Migrant workers live and work in hostile or cold and unsympathetic environments in host countries. By force of necessity and without support systems in the host state, migrant workers must adapt to society in isolation from one another. In some Middle Eastern states, even the right of assembly and the right to exercise religious beliefs are restricted.

Discounting undocumented migrant workers who have no access to any legal protection, ordinary contract workers face the grave challenge of navigating physical, emotional and legal barriers to a normal social life.

Modem and traditional kinds of jobs side by side in Asia
Source: Maria Angela C. Villalba 

3. International Migration - A Critique of Globali zation

The Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM) has identified the contradictions, constraints and challenges of current migration policies, mainly in host countries. There is a very negative attitude towards migrant workers despite the fact that entire sectors of the economy often depend on foreign labor. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the origin and impact of international migration in societies. As long as ignorance rules, international migrants are liable to be treated as second-class citizens, oppressed and deprived of what the international community already recognizes as their legitimate rights.

In order to have a broad understanding of the phenomenon of international migration, one must look at the reality and the irreversible transformation of the world through globalization.

Rapid and far-reaching developments in information technology and information economies are now enabling the rapid transfer of capital, goods, services, information, ideas and whole cultures from one country to another and across geographic regions. Developing global markets encourage the movement of labor as well, and call for an evaluation of restrictive immigration policies in all countries.

Economic Issues

The impact of globalization has been predictably uneven. The liberal opening of markets on the one hand, and growing protectionism, on the other, cause growing disparities in standards of living and levels of human security between societies.

Differentials in income per day between labor-sending and receiving countries show implicitly why international migration is an attractive option for many. In some of the sending countries, the percentage of the population earning less than 2 US dollars a day is huge: Bangladesh - 82.8 %; India - 79.9 %; Pakistan - 73.6 %; Nepal - 68.5 %; Philippines - 47.5 %; China - 46.7 %; Egypt - 43.9 %. 7 On the other hand, daily wages for domestic workers in the United Kingdom, for instance, are US $ 80, and US $ 17 in Hong Kong. Even US $ 5 per day, for domestic helpers in the Middle East, Singapore and Malaysia, is sufficient to pull migrant workers there if they are given the opportunity.

International migration is creating a new middle class in sending countries. The evolution of a new middle class from among migrants is often used as an indicator of growth and development in the sending country. There are a number of questions emerging from this assumption: mainly the issue has to do with the sustainability of such a class. Secondly, the evolution of a middle class that does not address root problems of underdevelopment creates increasing income gaps in a society based on a volatile economy that lives on migrant remittances, and increases social tension.

Survival or subsistence migrants are those who earn US $ 150-200 a month, mainly as domestic workers in Middle Eastern countries, Singapore and Malaysia. The marginally better wages hide the enormous reality of underdevelopment. If these women had access to some resources back home they would be able to earn the same income. Governments tend to postpone solutions to joblessness and low wages, because migrant remittances artificially buoy up the economy.

International migration creates class divisions in sending societies and draws traditional economics and migrant-related economics into conflict, in regard to access to resources. If not handled properly, this conflict may undermine the value systems of society. Migrant remittances are mainly used for consumption by the families of migrant workers. If anything, they have created growth in the services sector - supermarkets, travel agencies, air transport, pre-need insurance and the like. But the capacity of a national economy to create employment opportunities for its growing labor force is severely hampered. Growth in the economies of sending countries is based on consumption patterns unleashed by migration.

Political Issues

Migrant workers are the new political darlings of politicians by virtue of their development and political potential. As a new source of foreign currency buttressing foreign currency reserves, their economic and political clout is recognized. Thus, they have been accorded special political privileges such as voting rights even while working overseas. This has encouraged advertising for migration as an attractive solution to various personal and social problems. What it is doing, however, is creating a culture of individualism and materialism, and it encourages the exploitation of women.

The temporary benefits brought by migrant remittances are spawning economic policies that exacerbate unemployment. The political will of sending country governments to solve problems of low wages and unemployment is sapped. Trade unions are disempowered in their struggles to protect workers' rights.

Social Issues

Migrant-centered economies create a desire for and legitimize migration, or the flight of much-needed professional human resources for overseas work. Schools for nursing and care-giving are blossoming in the Philippines. Government expenditures on education, which were already minimal to begin with, are now even more skewed. There is an imbalance in the education system, with emphasis being given to healthcare workers and nurses because they are highly demanded by the world market.

"Successful" migration among women has rejuvenated traditional concepts of women and their role in society. More and more young women are looking at the opportunity of earning dollars as dancers, singers, and sex workers overseas.

There are negative effects of migration which have hardly been a factor in development planning. Many families are affected by the separation of spouses, one or both of whom are working overseas. In the Philippines, it is estimated that up to one third of the total population are supported by one or two migrants in the family. Migrant families have displayed from slight to severe dysfunction, as is shown by the high percentages of broken marriages, juvenile delinquency and substance abuse among migrant children.

Gender Issues

Migration opens a new avenue for women to work. It has increased their labor participation in both host and sending countries. With women imported to work in the care of the elderly and children and to do housework, local women are released to join the active labor force.

With migration, this injustice takes on a new and added dimension. Domestic work, by any other name, and for whatever wage or price, is the same drudgery assigned to women. More and more women migrants carry the burden of providing for the basic needs of their families.

Source: Maria Angela C. Villalba

Women's work as migrants reinforces the traditional roles that they have occupied. Apart from the consumption expenses, income from work overseas is spent on traditional needs, such as dowry in India and other south Asian countries. Because only the men can become monks and serve in the temple and intercede for their parents in Thailand, women can now do the same by contributing towards the building and repair of temples.

The system of mail order brides exploits women from the South to meet the demand for female servitude in the North. In many instances, the import of wives or brides is resorted to by men in the North to acquire cheap house labor to take care of aging or disabled male populations.

Problems of Social Cohesion in Host Countries

The issue of migrant integration in host countries poses many challenges to the migrants themselves, first of all, but also to the host society. The purpose of such integration is to build social cohesion that will enable the migrants to contribute fully to the host society and encourage their meaningful participation in society.

There are several factors that block the integration of international migrants in the host societies. First and foremost is hostility and resistance by host populations against foreign workers in general because they are a threat to local jobs and they tend to lower labor standards. Such labor standards are the product of a long process of struggle by host workers, and the latter are unwilling to surrender these hard-won victories. The most vocal organized opposition to migrant workers is often labor unions.

Secondly, the general population tend to have offensive attitudes to migrants born of myths and misconceptions that people have about other nationalities and cultures in general, and migrant workers in particular. Host populations believe migrants are from inferior cultures; are from substandard education and political systems; are poor and therefore predisposed to anti-social and criminal activities.

It is simply not true that migrants are uncivilized. They simply have a different civilization, a different culture, a different world view, which countries have to accept and become reconciled with. Migrants have different table etiquette, a different mode of dress, a different language, a different cuisine, and a different hierarchy and standard of values that define good and bad.

People welcome globalization, pluralism and international migration in so far as these serve their economic interests. But if they are seen as threats to their way of life, restrictive, selective, protectionist and discriminatory policies are applied to migrant populations.

Adult education is therefore a process both of teaching the values and standards of the host society which are new to migrants, and of learning the values and standards of the civilization from where the migrants come, which are new to the host society. Teaching and learning must be mutual and must affirm the dignity of all human cultures. This process must continue to the next generation of migrants (children and grandchildren of international migrants) and the next generation of the population in host countries. There must be recognition of the plurality of cultures in the host country in a globalized world. In so far as formal or adult education is concerned, there must therefore also be recognition that education curricula must be a dynamic product of the interaction of civilizations and cultures.

To achieve social integration, the fundamental problem to be addressed is how migrants are to gain a common language. First of all, adult education must teach migrants to read, write and speak the host country language into which they are to be integrated. Language is the key by which the migrant enters into the social symbols, culture, world view and technology of the host country, and it enables a dialogue of cultures. Once a migrant can read, write and speak the host country language, he or she can join in social intercourse and learn by herself or himself what is necessary for survival, adaptation and productivity.

4. Challenges to Integration and Adult Education

a) The limited access of migrants to adult education services and resources must be a challenge to adult education proponents. The status of migrants is also a challenge. Only those with legal status are able to access adult education resources. For fear of arrest, imprisonment and deportation, undocumented workers would logically not prefer to expose themselves unduly through attendance in adult education. Geographic distances from centers of education and remote areas where migrants live are also a challenge. Moreover, work conditions defined by contracts hinder socialization among migrant workers. There are migrants who are not allowed to enjoy rest days, much less attend adult education classes.

b) Motivation to learn - Language proficiency in an international language becomes a prerequisite for integration, but many migrant workers, especially on temporary tenure, are not highly motivated to acquire local language proficiency. The motivation of migrant workers to work overseas is mainly economic. They are not so concerned about deep socialization. Lastly, a temporary or uncertain work status dampens the motivation of many migrants to engage in adult education.

c) Integration and social cohesion in the host country can only work in tandem with efforts in sending countries to address development issues, even as those efforts seek the reintegration of migrant workers into their homelands. International migration, as has been previously argued, is a response to underdevelopment and economic and political imbalances between developed and underdeveloped states, between North and South. The resolution or mitigation of these imbalances is the only strategic, intelligent and sustainable response to the inequalities and plight of international migrant workers, as long as there are nations.

d) Reintegration programs in sending countries are attempts by civil society, but now also increasingly by states and governments, to address the long-term needs of migrant workers to accumulate capital, build investments and start enterprises that create jobs. They address unemployment problems in the sending countries, which are after all the fundamental causes and push factors in international migration.

5. Good Practices in Integration and Reintegration

The European Compendium of Good Practice for the Prevention of Racism at the Workplace by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions 1994 describes initiatives by the public and private sectors, and trade unions, to overcome racism and discrimination in 15 European countries.

Source: Maria Angela C. VillalbaIn Korea, Hanggul (Korean language) classes are provided by members of the KSBF (Korean Small Business Federation), mainly to maximize the productive contribution of migrant workers to companies and to minimize accidents in the workplace. The counseling centers of local churches conduct language classes for migrant workers and foreign wives. Cultural events and exposure tours are organized by some NGOs. From the perspective of the South, adult education for integration takes a different tack. It is for the reintegration of migrants into their home countries. The premises and assumptions of adult education for migrants are that: a) migrants will return to the home country when their tour of duty is done or when the opportune time comes; b) migrants will want to return to their countries when social and economic conditions have improved; c) migrants will want to set up enterprises and businesses at home; and d) migrant workers may want to retire to their home country.

One core response for the reintegration of migrant workers at home is Migrant Savings and Alternative Investments for Community Development and Reintegration (MSAI-CDR) in the Philippines. This is a program born of the experience and needs of migrant workers in their work locations abroad. Briefly, it is a movement to encourage migrant workers to plan on site for their return to their homes by en-couraging them to save part of their income consistently, to build up savings associations in order to pool their financial resources, and to invest these resources in livelihood programs and enterprises at home. These investments involve their families, the local community, the poor, the private sector and local governments, create jobs, increase incomes, and possibly create profitable enterprises to which the migrant workers can return, when they so decide.

Migrant remittances are private resources but they are integral parts of the national resources of a country. They can be invested as migrant workers so decide to benefit the local and national level. Adult education for reintegration, entrepreneurship and development has to do with encouraging migrants to transform themselves, to become investors and entrepreneurs, to move from being job-seekers to job creators. It means transforming the community from passive workers into entrepreneurial producers of wealth, and transforming migrant remittances into capital investments for capital-strapped local economies. It involves values formation (e.g. instilling savings consciousness), and education to understand migration dynamics, the local community economy and development possibilities. It is a movement to democratize the economy.

6. Opportunities and Practical Actions

a) Multilateral Fora on Migration and Integration

The Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), which was the outcome of the UN High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, is a good avenue for discussing bilateral and multilateral agreements on integration and adult education. The 2008 GFMD to be held in the Philippines should be an opportunity for the Northern countries and civil society to see at close range the conditions of a Southern country where migration has become a first option to address poverty.

Adult education to address migration issues and integration strategies must be raised as a critical theme at the 2008 GFMD. It should discuss bilateral partnerships between adult education agencies in the North and reintegration programs in the South involving all migration actors: government, civil society, the private sector and academe.

There are international civil society networks that enable migrant workers to receive the benefits of adult education in host and sending countries. It is now necessary for greater interaction and cooperation in civil society through these networks to deal on site with the premigration and post-migration situations of international migrants.

b) Curricula to Deal with Migration, Integration and Reintegration

Formal and adult education curricula must be created and sustained in sending and receiving countries to deal with migration, integration and reintegration. Extensive use of communication and information technology, and mass media instruments, is crucial. The role of the media in promoting migration cannot be overemphasised. It is through the media that advertising of "the good life" in the North is promoted. It is also the media that enable discussion and provision of crisis intervention services. Adult education courses through television programs can reach a wider audience beyond the physical and social centers of learning. Positive images of migrants, especially women, are crucial in dispelling myths, fears and prejudices.

"Take-home" instructional materials with audio-visual supplements, using technology such as Ipods or MP3 players, increase the viability of adult education opportunities. They can be useful tools so that migrants may better defend their rights in threatening situations.

In conclusion, the basic strategy that is worthy of the support of the international community in regard to international migration is first to secure the safety and well-being of migrants by enabling them to make decisions based on an appreciation of the possibilities for working and living in host societies.

On the other hand, migrant workers themselves must participate in addressing development issues at home and abroad, and contribute to the mitigation of economic and political imbalances, optimizing the benefits of international migration and minimizing the threats and difficulties of migration.

Finally, integration should not result in the loss of but should affirm the identity and dignity of both parties - the migrant and the host community.


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1 Migration in an Interconnected World: New Directions for Actions. Report of the Global Commission on International Migration (GCIM), Switzerland, Oct. 2005.

2 Adult Education versus Poverty, ASPBAE, 2004, page 8.


4 Greenspan, Alan. The Age of Turbulence. Penguin Group Inc., USA, 2007 (as excerpted from Newsweek, 24 Sept. 2007, page 21).

5 Trafficking in Women, Newsbreak, Manila, Philippines, November 2006.

6 Chishti, Muzaffar A. The Phenomenal Rise in Remittances to India: A Closer Look. Migration Policy Institute Policy Brief, Washington DC, May 2007.

7 World Development Indicators, 2006, World Bank. From Social Watch Report 2006 .


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