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COMMENT | Malaysia's migrant labour post-Covid dilemma

COMMENT | Covid-19 has disrupted labour markets around the world, causing a global manpower shortage. Lockdowns in the early months of the pandemic triggered an exodus of millions of rural migrant workers from booming megacities like New Delhi and Dhaka.

In the Global North, the United Kingdom has experienced the largest decline in its foreign-born labour force since World War II. Countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) also have been affected: Vietnam’s labour shortage recently worsened after the easing of travel restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City led to a large outflow of migrant workers.

Moreover, some high-income countries are trying to lure back foreign workers from emerging Asia as part of their national recovery plans, creating new challenges for the global governance of labour migration. In particular, Asean economies like Singapore and Malaysia that have large migrant labour flows now face a tricky choice: should they curb outward migration or encourage greater labour mobility?

This dilemma has come to the fore in Malaysia following the Australian government’s recent announcement of a visa scheme for Asean agricultural...

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