Greatest Unmet Need

The report has a mind-numbing title — “Levels and Trends of International Migration to Selected Countries in Asia” — but leads to an eye-opening conclusion: Economic development in many countries in Asia has been dependent upon large inputs of migrant labor.

Migrant workers began to trickle into Western Asia as early as the 1930s, as the region's indigenous population proved insufficient to realize its growing economic potential. Subsequent economic development was as much dependent upon the availability of labor-rich populations as it was on the discovery of oil. As the report points out, “The ambitious development programs undertaken by these programs increased labor demand significantly, a demand that was met by recruiting migrant workers in large number.” (1)

The economic boom of the 1970s, triggered by higher oil prices, was sustained by a huge increase in immigration. Local shortages of manpower were offset by a massive influx of immigrants which increased at an annual rate of 19 percent from 1975-80. (2) From 1975 to 1990, the number of migrant workers in Western Asia increased from 1.125 to 5.218 million. (3) Since then, dependence on migrants from neighboring Arab nations as well as non-Arab countries has continued.

The situation in Israel is somewhat different, the report points out. With birthrates well below replacement, Israel's economy has survived over the past decade and a half largely because of the steady influx of Jews from Russia and the other former Soviet republics, combined with short-term migrant labor from countries like Romania, the Philippines, and Thailand. (4)

A number of East and Southeast Asian countries were able to maintain economic growth in the face of declining fertility by turning to immigrant labor. Such countries as Japan, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand, as well as the city of Hong Kong, relied upon manpower available from neighboring low-income and labor-surplus countries. (5)

Throughout much of Asia, labor shortages are so acute that the financial crisis of 1997 saw no decline in “demands for migrant workers in certain sectors.” Had migrant workers not been available, that is to say, if population control programs had succeeded in flatlining birthrates everywhere, development in many countries would have stalled because of labor shortages.

Despite the crucial role played by migrant labor throughout Asia and much of the rest of the world, U.S. foreign policy continues to rely heavily on “population planning” and “fertility reduction” to jumpstart development. Population control ideologues at USAID continue to claim that there is a vast unmet need for contraception, in the face of infant deaths for lack of life-saving basics. In fact, the greatest unmet need in many countries is for workers. Julian Simon was right when he called people, “the ultimate resource.”


1. “Levels and Trends of International Migration to Selected Countries in Asia” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, 2003, 16-17.

2. Ibid., 19.

3. Ibid., 19.

4. Ibid., 51, 53.

5. Ibid., 70-87.

6. Ibid., 1.

Steve Mosher is the president of Population Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is overpopulated.

Steven W. Mosher


Steven W. Mosher is the President of Population Research Institute and an internationally recognized authority on China and population issues, as well as an acclaimed author, speaker. He has worked tirelessly since 1979 to fight coercive population control programs and has helped hundreds of thousands of women and families worldwide over the years.

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