There are about 245 million migrants worldwide – around 3% of the world population. Roughly one-fifth are tertiary educated. Middle-income countries have a smaller proportion of immigrants than high-income countries (about 1% versus 12%). But for a number of middle-income countries with more immigrants than others, there is uneasiness about relying on unskilled foreigners as they strive to leap from low-wage labor and imitation to high-skilled labor and innovation. There are palpable concerns in Malaysia, for example, with some 2.1 million registered immigrants – about 7% of its population - and likely over 1 million undocumented immigrants. Things reached a crescendo early last year when all new hiring of unskilled foreign workers was suspended as the Malaysian government re-evaluated the management and need for foreign workers. The freeze was subsequently lifted for select sectors amid complaints of labor shortages.
The recent negotiations between Philippines and Saudi Arabia about the minimum living wages for migrant workers have resulted in a stalemate. Philippines is demanding a minimum wage of $400 per month for its workers, while Saudi Arabia is willing to stipulate a minimum wage of $200 per month. Saudi Arabia stopped processing contracts of Filipino workers in March, recently the Philippines has said that it will not send Filipino maids to Saudi Arabia until the dispute is resolved. Saudi Arabia hosts 1.2 million Filipino migrants and accounts for nearly 300,000 overseas deployments annually, while the Philippines receives $1.5 billion annually in remittances from Saudi Arabia. Thus, this wage dispute could lead to loss of employment opportunities for Filipinos, involve cost of reintegrating returning workers, and a reduction in remittance flows -- all of which could adversely impact the Philippine economy.