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

In: Asian Journal of Social Science
Alice M. Nah Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York

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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.

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