This is an excerpt from Dignity in motion: boundaries, bodies and rights.
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Since the 1970s, international mobility of people and their workforce has become an integral part of labor markets in developing countries. Not surprisingly, policymakers increasingly see international labor migration as a powerful tool for global development. Both the Addis Ababa 2015 Agenda for Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development argue that international labor migration is a “win-win-win situation” not only for the sending and destination countries, but also for migrant workers. itself (OECD and ILO 2018). The rapid development of the Gulf states was partly due to the influx of foreign workers, who made up more than 60 percent of the region’s population in 2015 (Rajan 2018). At the other end of the labor corridor, labor migration is an important part of the Philippine economy, where remittances account for 10 percent of annual GDP (World Bank 2017b). In addition, working in a higher-income country for the migrant worker should be a potential advancement opportunity for foreign workers and their families.
This Global Compact expresses our common commitment to improve cooperation in the field of international migration. Migration has been part of the human experience throughout history and we recognize that it is a source of wealth, innovation and sustainable development in our globalized world and that these positive effects can be optimized by improving migration management. The majority of migrants around the world now travel, live and work safely, orderly and regularly.
2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
Despite this optimism, there is an open admission among policymakers that the unequal dynamics of power between migrant workers and the governments that regulate their free movement and work creates a context ripe for exploitation. Conventional wisdom has it that the best way to protect migrant workers from this potential for exploitation is through effective migration management. What constitutes an “effective” migration management system may be debated, but an often undisputed principle is that the best way to ensure safe migration is to encourage migrant workers to travel through regular channels (i.e., government-sanctioned or government-controlled channels) . Promoting regular migration, the logic argues, enables states to better track and reduce the possibilities of discrimination in terms of wages, working conditions and housing rights.
But who are the actors that make up the regular migration channel? Or to put it another way: Who will manage the migration? The image that comes to most people’s minds is undoubtedly the immigration officer or the border guard lining both sides of the border. Although the state is the final decision maker as to who can cross its borders or stay in them, the focus on the state belies the fact that the global labor market is an industry and the cogs that enable it to function are private , because profit agencies (Ernst Spaan and Hillmann 2013; Surak 2018). These are the actors who play a variety of roles that enable the global labor market to function. For migrant workers, they are recruiters and companions from the first documents to immigration in the destination country. Similarly, employers rely on these recruitment agencies not only to help them find potential workers, but also to handle the often complicated recruitment bureaucracy.
The purpose of this chapter is to highlight how the increasing presence of these for-profit agencies has affected the migration experiences of migrant workers. I do this by comparing two generations of Indonesian migrant workers along the Indonesia-Malaysia corridor: Bimo, who came to Malaysia informally in the early 1990s, and Gadis, who came through government-sanctioned employment agencies in the mid-2000s. Using their stories and based on nine months of fieldwork in Malaysia, this chapter aims to complicate the relationship between regular migration and safe migration by turning away from a state-centered approach to migration management and instead focusing on how migrant workers themselves control the regime .
The Migration Industry: Migration Management and Post-Colonial Economy
International Relations’ study of migration management in the 21st century relies heavily on James Hollifield’s (2004) concept of the migration state, which pushed the field to recognize the mass movements of people as an integral part of a globalized world. In this increasingly interconnected world, states must be ready to cope with larger migration flows if they are to continue to benefit from other aspects of globalization such as freer trade and investment (Hollifield 2004). The studies that followed Hollifield’s pioneering work have often privileged the state as a major player in migration management (e.g. Adamson 2006; Martin 2014; Peters 2015; 2017; de Haas, Natter and Vezzoli 2018). These analyzes deal with different regimes of migration management – be they unilateral (e.g. US nationalization laws), bilateral (e.g. US-Mexico work programs) or multilateral (e.g. Global Compact) – depending on state interests. In short, we can better understand the shape, content, and impact of migration management systems by examining how government interests are expressed through the negotiation process or as routine compliance through the implementation process (Betts 2017).
While these studies have expanded our understanding of migration management in international relations, I join a newer generation of scholars who argue that these predominant approaches were derived from the historical and political experiences of the advanced industrialized countries of Europe and North America (Adamson, Triadafilopoulos , and Zolberg 2011; Shin 2017; Adamson and Tsourapas 2020). Instead, this chapter shifts the political and historical focus to a post-colonial context in which state migration control regimes must work together with an economic development plan aimed at “catching up” in the world economy. In this context, development does not only mean the rehabilitation of the colonial economy, but often also the creation of flexible and inefficient workers in order to remain competitive in the face of the turbulent world market conditions. This development goal created the context that enables market-oriented logic to penetrate the political and social spheres, including sovereign issues such as migration management.
In keeping with this logic, the daily work of managing migration corridors in post-colonial contexts is often outsourced to what Hernandez-Leon (2008) calls the migration industry, the “ensemble of entrepreneurs, companies and services … motivated by the” pursuit of the financial Profit “(Hernández-León 2008, 154). Though intended as agents of the state, their primary motivation is neither to protect state sovereignty nor the safety of migrants; Their main goal is to make a profit by increasing the total number of people crossing borders. As a result, these employment agencies often have a tense relationship with the state (Xiang 2012).
The migration industry along the Indonesia-Malaysia corridor
The presence of a migration industry is deeply rooted in the Indonesia-Malaysia corridor. Its origins can be found in the late 19th century when hajj became a lucrative company with a complex network of recruiters, agents, guides, financiers and intermediaries operating from key ports on the islands of Java, Sumatra and the Malaya Peninsula (Amrith 2011). Decades later, when the British colonial government encouraged immigration from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) to increase the workforce in British Malaya (Kaur 2010), Malay employers relied on recruitment agencies to hire Indo-European and Javanese recruitment agencies (throwing agents, ronselaars) to recruit potential emigrants (E. Spaan 1994). One result of this deep migration history is an extensive communal network that is built on kinship and homeland and extends across the Strait of Malacca. It is this network that enabled a small stream of Indonesian immigrants to percolate to the peninsula long after open migration ended (Wong 2006). The majority of these workers were Muslim and were considered to be bangsa serempun (of the same race) by the Malay majority and was therefore seen as the preferred source of work compared to other traditional but more controversial sources such as Chinese or Indian migrant workers (Liow 2003).
Bimo’s story: the regularity of the irregularity
The first major change in the management of Indonesian-Malaysian migration came in the 1970s, when Malaysia experienced massive economic growth and carried out large-scale infrastructure and urban development projects (Narayanan and Lai 2005; Kaur 2010). This growth resulted in significant labor shortages in agriculture, construction, housekeeping and, in the 1990s, manufacturing. The earliest (and still largest) group of foreign workers to fill this labor shortage came from Indonesia, which struggled with high levels of poverty and youth unemployment in the 1970s and 1990s (World Bank 1981; 1983; Hugo 1993). During this era, Indonesian workers came to the peninsula using kinship and village-level networks that worked with a system of brokers and middlemen to create a chain from villages in Indonesia to workplaces in Malaysia. This system often started with a calo tenaga kerja (Employment agency) who has recruited potential workers. Your passage was moderated by Taikong loud (Sea middlemen) who brought workers to the peninsula by boat, and Taikong Darat (Land middlemen) who had connections with contractors on plantations who helped move workers from their landing point to their workplaces. For some, this last part of the journey ended with the handover to a kepala – a contractor-appointed Indonesian group leader – who may have initiated this process by recruiting trustworthy workers from his hometown (E. Spaan 1994).
This increase in the number and size of the Indonesian workforce to Malaysia led the two governments to play a more active role in managing migration. For Malaysia, the unregulated influx of labor had become a “problem” in the eyes of the Malaysian government and the general public, although the business community welcomed the influx of labor to meet its needs. For Indonesia, a controlled outflow of emigration would have enabled the country to reduce youth unemployment and create a new flow of foreign currency (Palmer 2016). Negotiations between the two governments resulted in the 1984 Medan Agreement, a bilateral agreement that promoted and legalized labor migration. However, the agreement has been largely ignored by workers and employers alike, increasing the number of undocumented workers. When undocumented migration continued to be a “problem”, Malaysia, with the help of the Indonesian Embassy, began using a combination of amnesty programs and deportation measures to control the number of undocumented workers in the country.
In this first era of migration management, where undocumented migration was the rule and regular migration the exception, Bimo began its journey.
In the early 1990s, Bimo left his home in central Java at dawn to avoid Indonesian police who had begun monitoring undocumented migrant workers. Years later, when he returned to visit over the holidays, the police harassed him because they knew he had signed up with the local government without registering (duit rokok). After leaving home, he and others from his hometown (teman sekampung) took a bus to Surabaya, where a Taikong loud waited by boat to take them to Dumai (Sumatra) and then to the west coast of Malaysia. The boat ride took a week and cost 800,000 rupiah ($ 437), which he and his family paid by selling cattle. Others who had no cattle borrowed money.
You weren’t the first wave of migrant workers from his hometown. Before Bimo embarked on his own journey, Bimo knew a wide variety of people – friends, neighbors, and family members – who had left for Malaysia by unauthorized routes. In fact, Bimo’s decision to emigrate was based on the recommendation of these early risers. Bimo explained that it is necessary for a new migrant worker to have these connections in order to find a good and safe job.
When Bimo first arrived he was following a relative (saudara) to work on a construction site. During the day he stayed in Kongsi (Makeshift housing on construction sites), but at night he and others slept in the woods to avoid police raids. He explained that they were paid after a project was completed, not hourly. The person who oversaw his work and paid him was not the contractor who ran the construction site, but the but kepala. Because of this structure, if a kepala ran away with the money, he just wouldn’t get paid. This is another reason why it was important to have good connections.
A few years after his stay, labor agents came to see him Kongsi They announced that, for a fee, they could help him obtain papers on the Malaysian government’s amnesty program. When Bimo told me this story, he laughed and compared it to contemporary recruitment agencies traveling to Indonesian villages “in search of customers”. Unlike today, however, Bimo believes that the lower number of agents in the 1990s made it easier for foreign workers to find out who was trying to cheat them and who was being honest. Bimo signed up and received temporary travel documents from the Indonesian embassy. Although he never actually got his work card, the temporary travel documents gave Bimo the confidence to move around the country more freely and change employers if he wanted to.
Gadis’ Story: Regular Migration and the Migration Industry
The second major change in the management of Indonesian-Malaysian migration came with the aftermath of the 1997 Asian crisis. The crisis contributed to historical sociopolitical changes in both Malaysia and Indonesia that created the institutional prerequisites for major changes in migration management in the corridor. In Indonesia, the crisis catalyzed the pro-democracy movement and ended Suharto’s New Order regime, which had ruled the country for more than three decades. The end of the New Order regime also led to a massive program of decentralization, in which political power was increasingly distributed among provincial and local governments (Caraway, Ford, and Nguyen 2019). In Malaysia, the financial crisis exacerbated political unrest within the United Malays National Organization, the political party that has ruled the country since independence. To convey a picture of strength and ability, the government began crackdown on “illegal immigration,” particularly by amending its immigration law to make unauthorized work by foreigners a criminal offense (Ford 2006). The accumulation of these political changes laid the foundation for the state to bring the migration industry under its control and the control of its sanctioned authorities and out of it Taikong and calo. A side effect of government intervention, however, was a labyrinthine bureaucracy that regulated both emigration and immigration.
In order to meet their labor needs, Malaysian employers have to face a complex process in which private agencies are integrated into the system. The process starts with the Ministry of Human Resources, which sets a quota on how many foreign workers employers can hire. During this part of the process, employers will need to demonstrate that they need more workers and have done their due diligence to hire local Malaysians. The rest of the process is under the responsibility of the Home Office, which approves the quota and issues the temporary work card. There are also a number of private agencies hired by the government to issue insurance, security guarantees and medical examinations under the Ministry of the Interior. This is an expensive process; Most employers cannot handle this complex bureaucracy without the help of a recruiter. A former recruiter told me, “If an employer tries to go straight to immigration, the officer will say,“ Why are you doing this yourself? Why don’t you hire an agent? ’. He went on to say that employers have an incentive to ask too much about foreign workers as hiring freezes are so common in Malaysia; If their supply of labor exceeds demand, the employer could outsource that labor.
On the other side of the border, migration management Guidelines Indonesia became more centralized when the Indonesian Department of Manpower enacted regulations to define specific procedures for emigration (recruitment, training, document processing, etc.) (Ford 2006). However, the massive decentralization of government in 2002 and continued pressure from recruiters resulted in the work out In migration management, there was often a lack of coordination between different levels of government (Palmer 2016; Ernst Spaan and van Naerssen 2018). Since 2006, the formal emigration market has been driven by private, for-profit employment agencies called PT (Perusahaan Jasa Tenaga Kerja Indonesia) who partner with recruitment agencies in the host countries (Hernandez-Coss et al. 2008). Although it had become illegal, a. to use kalo, each of these agencies relied on an army of informal brokers called them Petugas Lapangan who often fill a variety of positions within a community (e.g. teacher, tour guide, salesperson, etc.) in order to reach out to potential migrant workers (Lindquist 2012; 2015). The PT and the pertugas lapangan are significantly involved in the emigration process. Just as it is the case for employers to hire via regular channels, the current process of migration via regular channels with 22 separate administrative steps is costly and laborious (World Bank 2017a). The Petugas Lapangan Not only do they help foreign workers navigate this complicated process, but they can also help them find the money to emigrate. As a result, the vast majority of workers who emigrate are in debt that is deducted from their wages.
Gadis came to Malaysia during the post-Asian financial crisis decade when regular migration along the corridor became more common. Gadis was one of the first people from her village (desa) in Central Java to travel abroad for work. During her senior year of high school, a teacher gave Gadis a pamphlet describing a production job in Shah Alam (near Kuala Lumpur). The teacher promised her a lot – the job would offer her higher wages, free accommodation and the opportunity to go to university. Gadis had four younger siblings; her parents were poor and had no formal education. She saw this as an opportunity to improve life for herself and her family. Also, since this information was from her teacher, she felt she could trust her.
Gadis and a small group of girls from her school decided to enroll. The same teacher helped them fill out the application and put together the first documents – parental permission, proof of education and a Kartu Kuning, suggesting that she was looking for a job overseas. It all cost her 250,000 rupiah (US $ 26). After that, an employment agency came to their school to explain the next steps in the process – they had to create a passport, get a medical exam, and so on. However, it was still the teacher who continued to help them get through this next phase and escort them to Jogja for their first medical examination. When Gadis failed her first medical check-up, the agency gave her specific instructions on how to improve her health.
When they all passed their medical exams, Gadis and a group of 50 local girls were sent to the Jogja Employment Agency office. They stayed there for three days, shared a single room and two bathrooms, and slept “like fish” next to each other on the floor. On the second day, the National Agency for the Housing and Protection of Indonesian Migrant Workers (BNP2TKI), the Indonesian agency responsible for protecting foreign workers, came and told them to go to the embassy if anything should happen to them. On the third night, around 10:00 pm, the employment agency called them one by one to sign their contract. When they signed the contract, they agreed to owe the agency a debt of 2,400 ringgits ($ 716 USD). The amount of the payment was what Gadis called a “package”, which included document processing and travel. Until the repayment of this debt, the agency kept her identity card (kartu tanda penduduk) as safety. After they signed the contract, they handed in their passports and other documents. Gadis recalled that it was only now that many of the girls realized that their documents contained false information, mainly to make them older and to work abroad. But they had already signed the contract. If they resigned now, they would still owe the debt. The next morning at 5:00 am, they all drove to Kuala Lumpur. The whole process took two months.
Gadis’s employer picked them up from the airport and took them to their company-provided dormitories. She worked twelve hours a day, five days a week, assembling computer parts for a wage of 450 ringgits ($ 134 USD) per month plus overtime pay for eight hours of work. For the first 10 months, the employment agency came to the dormitory each month to collect 240 ringgit ($ 71) to pay off their debts. The company warned the girls that if they went too far, they would be arrested. During her time in Malaysia, Gadis only left the production site once to go to downtown Kuala Lumpur – a popular tourist destination in Kuala Lumpur. There she was stopped by the police who asked if she was Indonesian. When she said yes, they asked for her papers.
After working there for 10 months, the managers called the girls for a meeting. They told the girls that the company was having problems and needed to cut overtime. After 13 months, Gadis only worked two weeks a month. In the 15th month, the company called the girls again and gave them two letters. The first stated that the company had decided to terminate their contract and pay them monthly pay; the second letter was a plane ticket back to Indonesia. She was then deported.
The limits of documents
If you read these two migration stories side by side, it becomes clear that maintaining a documented status can conflict with the pursuit of security. Gadis began her migration journey through an informal broker (Petugas Lapangan) who guided her through the bureaucratic processes that made her a documented worker. Yet with each step of the process, the more indebted she became, the more precarious she was. Apart from the few girls from her school, she only had relationships in Malaysia through the company she had hired and the employment agency that sent her to Malaysia. This lack of a social safety net and knowledge of the Malaysian context further distorted the power dynamic between her and her employer. Despite being documented, when her contract was terminated and she was deported, she had no opportunity to voice her complaints. While Gadis returned to Indonesia after her contract was terminated, it was common for others in her position who were lagging behind and consequently not given papers to work and pay the debts created by the migration process.
In contrast, Bimo relied on community networks not only to cross the border but also to find work in Malaysia. Due to his undocumented migrant status, Bimo feared the police, suffered poor working conditions and was betrayed by employers and compatriots. However, unlike documented workers who must stay with the employer who sponsored them in order to maintain their documented status, Bimo did not feel obliged to stay with an employer who abused them. Instead, Bimo used the same community network to go out and find better job opportunities. When I asked him to reflect on his experience versus the current agent-controlled system, Bimo told me:
Back then everything was more open and not so complicated. It used to be easier to make money … I felt safer back then. Even though I had no documents, it was exactly that. Now we are afraid of the agents with documents too – they control everything. You have documents, but it’s the agents who provide them. You never know if something is wrong.
Impact on the pursuit of safe migration
Development institutions and policy makers agree that the pursuit of safe migration requires advocacy for regular migration. That is exactly what Malaysia and Indonesia did. In response to the demand for labor and the need to present themselves as protection states, Malaysia and Indonesia have worked to create institutions and mechanisms to ensure that foreign workers travel through regular channels. However, the stories of Bimo and Gadis draw our attention to the identities and interests of the actors who line the migration corridors and do the daily work of migration management. As their stories show, the increasing complexity of the systems, in addition to the pursuit of maintaining economic growth, opened the way for the migration industry to be anchored in the migration process.
The intricate relationship between the migration industry, states’ pursuit of economic development, and the long history of migration between the two countries creates a complex relationship between regular migration and safe migration. To be clear, I am neither advocating undocumented migration nor romanticizing it. Instead, I want to highlight the drawbacks of regular migration in a context where the migration industry plays a crucial role in migration management. Previous studies have shown that the mere placement of workers in the jurisdiction of the state, especially workers who are interested in restricting migrants’ rights in the interests of economic development, does not necessarily create security (Campbell 2018; Bylander 2019). In addition, building a network based on kinship, ethnicity or nationality is a critical part of safe migration as it provides knowledge, care and economic resources to new generations of migrants (e.g. Hagan 1998; Sanders, Nee and Sernau 2002). Wie wir jedoch in den Geschichten von Bimo und Gadis gesehen haben, kann die Migrationsindustrie die Schaffung dieser Netzwerke behindern, indem sie die ausländischen Arbeiter auf die Arbeitsagenten angewiesen macht, um Informationen darüber zu erhalten, wie sie in einem neuen, fremden Land überleben können. Durch die Entkopplung der sicheren Migration von der regulären Migration sind wir in der Lage, alternative Sicherheitskonzepte weiter zu diskutieren, die nicht nur die Rolle der Migrationsindustrie anerkennen, sondern auch die Art und Weise, wie Wanderarbeiter in dieser Landschaft navigieren, in den Vordergrund stellen.
 Fieldnotes des Autors, Februar 2019.
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