Many factors push Southeast Asian peoples from their countries of origin, while simultaneous forces pull migrants toward wealthier countries like the United States, Singapore, and Taiwan. For economic migrants, the wages in host countries are often higher than the average wages in their countries of origin, leading people to work conditions where they might be exploited. Violence also drives people to leave their homes, like the Southeast Asians now living in the United States forced to migrate as a result of the Vietnam War. In other cases, people are influenced by their desire to pursue educational opportunities or to start families abroad. Who goes where and why is a complicated balance.
The economic power of Southeast Asian migration is a two way flow. Capital (in the form of remittances) moves from host countries to countries of origin. Meanwhile, whole industries in the host countries are supported by Southeast Asian labor and investment.
A remittance is money that migrants send to support friends and family back home. In 1990, international migrants’ remittances globally totaled USD 50 billion, but by 2009, it hit USD 417 billion.
Southeast Asian migrants are also invaluable to their host countries. Some run businesses, raise families, and create scholarship that greatly benefit their new communities. However, many prop up the domestic work and care industries of these countries despite being subject to oppressive conditions. These industries would collapse without the labor of Southeast Asian migrant women due to a rapidly aging population, an increasing reliance on dual-income households, and local aversion to state welfare.