There has been a marked tendency to interpret the recent transformation of international migration systems in Eastern Asia in terms of a ‘migration transition’ model. The transition in these countries from net emigration to net immigration, with major inflows from poorer adjacent countries, is seen as being driven by an intricate regional pattern of uneven development but growing economic integration. This paper challenges this view through an examination of the trade, investment and migration linkages of the region’s four dragon economies (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan). It argues that the key influences on their international migration streams reflect, above all, the functions of these states as second‐order, global city regions. Their place in the global capitalist system creates a shared demand for very particular types of both highly skilled and unskilled labour, but the migration policies of the four states are independently, and therefore distinctively, socially constructed.