Globalisation, Sovereignty and Immigration Control: The Hierarchy of Rights for Migrant Workers in Malaysia

in Asian Journal of Social Science
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Abstract

Social theorists examining the impact of globalisation on state power argue that sovereignty is being respatialised and rescaled and that it is no longer adequate to understand state sovereignty as operating evenly on a national scale over a population within a bounded territory. Nevertheless, ASEAN states continue to adopt such a national framing of people and place, particularly in the construction of immigration control regimes. I argue that in order to understand the localised and spatialised exercise of graduated sovereignty and the selective introduction of neoliberal practices, it is necessary to recognise the significance of the immigration status of individuals and examine how the dividing practices of immigration control regimes permit the selective allocation of rights to non-citizens. This paper examines Malaysia’s approach to international labour migration, noting that it makes different biopolitical investments in different types of non-citizens on the basis of a calculation of their potential contribution to the ‘nation’. Malaysia creates a hierarchy of rights, giving greater rights to skilled workers, while restricting those of ‘unskilled’ workers. Malaysia punishes those who breach immigration laws severely. However, Malaysia’s modernist approach to immigration control fails to achieve intended results and I highlight a number of reasons why.

Globalisation, Sovereignty and Immigration Control: The Hierarchy of Rights for Migrant Workers in Malaysia

in Asian Journal of Social Science

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  • 2

    In 200923.65 million tourists contributed RM53.4 billion to the economy. Malaysia has plans to increase its number of tourists to 36 million and its tourist receipts to RM168 billion by 2020 (Bernama 2010).

  • 3

    In 2005the UN Population Division ranked it as the 26th country with the highest number of migrants in the world based on official statistics. However if irregular migrants were included it would be ranked 12th or 13th (Ratha and Xu 2008).

  • 5

    In a report released in April 2011the World Bank estimated that of the one million Malaysians abroad a third were skilled and contributed to a ‘brain drain’ (World Bank 2011).

  • 7

    In 2006Malaysia was the 10th highest remittance-sending country in the world with outward remittances of more than US$ 5560 million (Ratha and Xu 2008). This amount includes unrecorded flows through formal and informal channels estimated by the Statistics Department.

  • 21

    Employment (Amendment) Act 1998Act A1026.

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