Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i


World Bank Report, 2006

Graphic: At Home & Away CoverThe island economies of the Pacific are small nation states located at considerable distance from large economies and each other in the vast Pacific Ocean. Their land mass, population size, ethnicity, and natural endowments vary considerably.

With persistently high population growth and the youth population reaching 40 percent in some countries, finding paid employment is a big challenge. Much can and must be done to improve the business environment in the Pacific but employment creation will still face the challenges of demography, small size, and remoteness from key markets.

Greater labor mobility expands the employment options available to Pacific Islanders. Labor mobility is currently limited and skewed in favor of skilled workers.

The main purpose of this report is to examine the economic arguments analytically and empirically in favor of greater labor mobility, by addressing three fundamental questions:

  • the extent of demographic pressures, such as fertility, population growth and mortality facing the Pacific;
  • the development impact of remittances (funds sent back home) on households and communities;
  • whether it is possible to design practical labor mobility programs that balance the benefits of migration with concerns of sending and receiving countries.

In the Pacific, a lack of job opportunities is seen as an important factor in contributing to social and political instability in some countries. This report shows that allowing some Pacific Islanders access to jobs currently unfilled in the larger economies of the region, could contribute significantly to the economic and social well being of the workers, their families and wider communities.

The report recommends the exploration of pilot schemes for temporary seasonal unskilled labor between Pacific populations and other nations with an economic need for workers and a development interest in the Pacific region.

While unskilled labor mobility alone can not make the Pacific member countries prosperous, it can make an important contribution towards enhancing economic and social stability in the region. Indeed, the benefits from the liberalization of the movement of labor may far outweigh the benefits from further trade liberalization for some Pacific island economies.

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