Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Economies

Determinants of Spatial Distribution of Highly Skilled Diasporas of Five ASEAN Countries

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Economies

Determinants of Spatial Distribution of Highly Skilled Diasporas of Five ASEAN Countries

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Globalization and advancement in time-space compression technologies, especially information and communication technology (ICT) and transportation, have increased international mobility of human capital and talent. The new developments have also enabled the highly skilled or professional emigrants to participate in the development of their respective home countries without physically returning there. This is normally accomplished through their involvement in professional organizations, diaspora associations, virtual networks, short-term returns, research collaboration, international conferences, and even informal networks such as family ties (Biao 2005; OECD 2008b; Saxenian 2008).

This changing trend has precipitated a paradigm shift in academic discussions and policy debates since the 1990s. Instead of viewing highly skilled professionals living abroad as a permanent loss of human capital (or "brain drain"), economists, social scientists and policymakers have increasingly emphasized the "diaspora option" to actively engage and mobilize diasporas for home country development (OECD 2008b; Tung 2008; IOM 2010; OECD 2012).

Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are paying increasing attention to the potential contributions of diasporas--particularly the highly skilled ones--to economic growth, technological development and poverty alleviation in the home country. For instance, the five relatively well-developed economies in the region, i.e. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand (hereafter called ASEAN-5) have already implemented related policies and initiatives to engage their diasporas living overseas. These include: the Balik Scientists Program (BSP) of the Philippines, implemented since 1975; the Reverse Brain Drain Project (RBD) of Thailand since 1995; the Singapore Overseas Network (SON) from 2003; and Malaysia's Brain Gain Programme from 1995 to 2004, as well as the establishment of Talent Corporation in 2011 (Hoon and Yu 2003; Opiniano and Castro 2006; TalentCorp Malaysia 2012). In Indonesia, too, the government has recently recognized the diaspora community as a national asset (Antara News 2013). In fact, in order to facilitate greater interaction between diaspora communities and the home country, the government is planning to introduce a series of incentives for highly skilled overseas workers, including multiple entry visa, diaspora cards and (most likely) dual citizenship (Salim 2016).

It is interesting to note that ASEAN member states entered the new era of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. The end goal is to realize a regional economic integration to form an ASEAN single market and production base. One of the core elements of this single market is the intra-regional movement of skilled labour and professionals (ASEAN 2009; OECD 2012). However, to fully integrate into the global economy and benefit from the technological and economic development of the rest of the world, the AEC should look beyond ASEAN.

In response to the AEC's vision of creating a highly competitive ASEAN region and a globally integrated economy, this paper attempts to answer the following questions: what are the key determinants for the spatial distribution of highly skilled diasporas? What types of transnational linkages or networks could be built between ASEAN-5 in order to leverage on their diaspora resources for home country development? These questions are particularly pertinent today because diaspora resources--especially in the forms of international networks, and diversified knowledge, information and skills--are crucial for development in the fast growing countries of ASEAN (IOM 2006).

Different driving forces of international migration may lead to different types of diasporic linkages with the home country. IOM (2006) and Globerman and Shapiro (2008) discuss a number of reasons, expectations and motivations that induce diasporas to migrate. …

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