Friday, July 1, 2011

Sorting out International Migration Typologies

I wrote previously on whether the more accurate name for my research respondents was "illegal migrant" or "irregular migrant.  Now almost a year later, after delving much deeper into the more substantive issues of migrants, I still find myself pausing for a few seconds trying to mentally locate my respondents within a broad spectrum of international migrant typologies.  While my case studies focus specifically on Filipino irregular migrant workers in Japan, my research mainly aims for coherence on the wider regional and global phenomenon of irregular migration.

Difficult parallels become more the rule rather than the exception.  How are the following irregular migration cases different from or similar to each other?
Zimbabwean undocumented aliens seeking asylum in South Africa
- Japanese overstayers (case 1: lost love; case 2: unlawful activities) in the Philippines
- Unauthorized migrant Filipinos Subaru and Jose Antonio Vargas, both entering Japan and the U.S. legally almost two decades ago, the former doing mostly blue-collar jobs, the latter finishing a university education and landing mostly white-collar jobs
- A "human tsunami" of tens of thousands of unwanted migrants arriving by boat at Lampedusa and other towns at the southernmost tip of Italy, fleeing political instability and deadly conflict in Northern Africa (see various departure points in map by Frontex, the EU border security body[also see another map of illegal migration routes in whole of the EU])
- Clandestine migrants assisted by smugglers to cross land, sea or air borders
- Forced, coerced, deceived or purchased individuals (mostly women and children) brought into another country for sexual, economic or biological (selling human organs) exploitation

It would seem that there are as many adjectives to describe irregular migration as there are categories to group the migrants in.  I've counted 13 adjectives and 8 nouns frequently used in existing literature, as follows:

Adjectives (listed in the order of most usage):
1. Illegal
2. Undocumented
3. Unauthorized
4. Irregular
5. Forced
6. Clandestine
7. Illicit
8. Unwanted
9. Undeserving
10. Prohibited
11. Illegitimate
12. Deportable
13. Overstaying
14. Runaway
15. Unfavorable

Nouns (Listed in the order of most usage):
1. Migrants
2. Immigrants
3. Workers
4. Aliens
5. Migrant Workers
6. Migrant Labor/er
7. Foreigners
8. Entrants

I've worked out a matrix of these adjectives and nouns and find that searching academic journals for "Illegal Immigrant" lists studies not found when I search again for "Undocumented Aliens."  And it doesn't end there.  A growing number of articles now use two adjectives (i.e. "Illegal and undocumented migrants") and the nouns used to describe migrants are becoming more specific to the work they do (i.e. "Domestic Workers," Expatriate Workers," "Contract Workers").  In the Philippines where nearly 10% (8.5million) of the population (88million) is overseas, we have special acronyms for our migrants: OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers), OCW (Overseas Contract Workers), TNT (Tago Ng Tago, literally "Always Hiding" which is used to refer to undocumented Filipinos overseas), DH (Domestic Helpers).  A Filipino migrant can also go by the name of "Filipino Emigrant," "Permanent Resident," "Spouses and other partners of foreign nationals," or "Filipino seafarers."

Striving for coherence in migrant typologies is helpful  for a number of reasons.

Migration Variables

First, it re-emphasizes  a number of migration variables that easily get drowned out in the noise of orphaned typologies.  The most basic of these variables is that of volition.  There can only be two:  voluntary or forced (non-voluntary).  A migrant either gives his full consent to leaving his home country or he does not.  Volition is an important variable as it puts into context the issue of any subsequent exploitation of the migrant.  That the migrant freely willed his being in a foreign land does not justify or give less reprehensibility to the discrimination, vulnerability and exploitation they are often faced with in competitive global markets.  But remembering the volition variable does re-highlight that getting to that point of being exploited was a result of a two- or multiple-stage process.  Any action or intervention planned or implemented by various stakeholders can be designed to focus on individual or multiple stages of the international migration process, carefully matching planned interventions with those stages in which the migrant has full control over, or on which he exercises full volition.

The impetus to the migrant's voluntary or forced volition brings us to the second variable, that of motivation.  A migrant voluntarily leaving his home country may have 4 types of motivations:  personal, official, educational and economic.

Under the category of personal motivation are three sub-types: those leaving for rest and recreation (tourists), those leaving to maximize their purchasing power (retirees), those leaving to reunite with family members (family reunification, descendants).  Some current definitions set a minimum duration of 1 year of being away from one's country of birth before one is considered a migrant.  However, I am including tourists and other short-term travelers (less than 1 year) in this framework as these methods of entry highlight another migration variable -- authenticity (of intention and documents) -- discussed further below.

Persons may also voluntarily leave for official reasons such as for business (investors, employees on foreign posting, corporate expatriates, etc), for state-sanctioned activities (government officials on official travel or diplomatic postings) and for various other non-government activities (socio-civic activities, religious activities, cultural activities).

Also under the voluntary category are those who leave for educational purposes (students, those on training programs, etc).

Those voluntarily leaving for purely economic (or livelihood) reasons are the migrant workers.  They can be differentiated from the Official/Business category discussed above in that migrant workers go to jobs found overseas for the first-time or return to those overseas jobs as rehires or re-contracted workers.  While the migrant worker and a person currently employed by a company in his home country and subsequently assigned or posted in another country both leave for economic reasons, the latter returns to his local job when his foreign posting ends and the former comes home unemployed if he loses his overseas job.  The migrant worker has higher economic stakes involved than the local employee posted overseas -- and for this reason I classify them under separate categories.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the migrant worker is the issue of skill, currently seen as a dichotomy (i.e: skilled and unskilled), and one which I find quite problematic.  "Unskilled" work is not work that does not require a skill to do.  It is work that requires a skill that in a continuum of market valuation of work skills is ranked as low.  This ranking is determined by a confluence of factors the major ones of which are demand and supply (the more people with a skill, the lesser the ranking), the perceived social desirability of a job (jobs perceived as dirty, difficult and demeaning are ranked low) and the imputed value or contribution of a task to the overall perceived market value of a product or service (production tasks done manually are ranked low). I will reserve going deeper into the issue of work skills for a later article.  Suffice it to say that another difference between a migrant worker and an overseas-posted employee is that while the latter does only "skilled" jobs, the former will take an "unskilled" job either because he, in fact, has the "unskilled" skills for that job, or because he is desperate enough to resort to doing that job even if he possesses "higher" skills but which he finds are unmarketable at the moment.

Figure 1 below presents in schematic form the migrant types as discussed thus far.
Figure 1:  Migrant Types - Voluntary

The other type of migration volition is that of forced or non-voluntary migration.  Some current typologies classify refugees and trafficked persons as forced migrants.  Again the quick application of the label renders some key insights into these migrant types imperceptible, almost invincible.  I believe a central issue on forced migration is the question of who (persons) or what (events) is the source of the migrant's departure under duress.

Can a refugee be considered a forced migrant even as he leaves his country by his own free will in order to ensure his safety and security from external events that are beyond his control?  Current literature list three types of external events that are "forcing" people to leave their home countries:  security events (wars, other forms of conflict), political events (repressive regimes) and environmental events (flooding, droughts, famines, earthquakes), producing refugees and asylum seekers.  If an "external event" triggers a migrant's forced departure then don't voluntary departures also have external event triggers?

Scarce local jobs push migrant workers to seek jobs overseas to ensure his economic well-being.  Highly competitive job markets convince students to strengthen their hiring chances with academic credentials from universities overseas.  At the behest of their superiors, employees or representatives of corporations and government and non-government units are required by their employment terms (and for their desire to keep their jobs) to perform official business in assignments overseas.  The insatiable quest for pleasure and enjoyment and the imperative of family togetherness impel individuals to seek overseas experiences as tourists, retirees and family members.

That the logic of the external triggers of the voluntary migration events discussed above seem to stretch the bounds of credulity hint that the volition variable is more accurately viewed as a continuum rather than a duality, that is, from full volition (fully voluntary, least force) to the least volition (fully forced, least voluntary). Thus viewed as a continuum the volition variable is represented in Figure 2 below:
Figure 2: Volition Continuum
Interpreting the volition continuum and applying this to the motivation variable would tell us that while tourists and government officials are motivated primarily by personal and official triggers, there could also be some aspect of non-voluntary volition, though minimal if not negligible, on their motivation to leave.  Conversely, while the decision of asylum seekers and refugees may be overwhelmingly forced by external events beyond their control, their departure on their own volition from their home countries is still motivated by their desire for safety and protection.

In addition to external events, forced migration may also be due to persons, motivated solely by the profit objective.  Vulnerable individuals, mostly women and children, are taken from their home countries -- by threat of direct physical harm to themselves or to their loved ones -- and brought to foreign shores to be sold to others or dealt directly to criminal entities for sexual exploitation, slavery or organ harvesting.   This activity is known as human trafficking.

This crime of human trafficking further clarifies the motivation variable.  Whose motivation?  Personal, official, educational, economic, safety/security are all motivations of the migrant.  Does a migrant have a motivation to be a victim of trafficking?  None.  The motivation for trafficking -- that of profit -- can also be said to apply to the various migration agents or third-party individuals or organizations that facilitate the mobility of migrants between countries of destination and origin.  What differentiates these third-party units then is not the profit motive, per se, but the legality of their profit-making activities.  This legal classification now becomes a sub-category of the motivation variable, as shown in Figure 3 below.
Figure 3:  Motivation Variable by Group
Clarifying the motivation variable also makes clearer two aspects of the volition variable.  First, it is the volition of the migrant that is represented by the continuum.  Second, this volition continuum applies only to the first five motivational categories, excluding the trafficked persons category which is a completely forced type of volition.

International Migration: Two Key Areas of Discord

The second reason why striving for coherence in migrant typologies is helpful is because it forces a rationalization of the actual events taking place, attempting to plot out in codified form the complex realities of  international migration.  The process of building a representative typology takes careful notice of seemingly conflicting, inconsistent aspects of the phenomenon, as verbalized by its multiple stakeholders, and uses this instances of discord to further clarify the overall typology framework.  A typology begins with a descriptive process and ends with a descriptive process, aiming for inclusiveness in its classification logic.  An accurate typology is not normative but rather integrative.  A typology must describe what is, not what should be, since there is no way to determine which perspective is the right one, or if there is, in fact, one "right" one.  Admittedly, even this current attempt at a typology can be argued to be itself subject to my own perspective or my own interpretation of the events of international migration.  Indeed, only a determined exhaustiveness in its discussion of the current issues and how they impact on the proposed typology will be its redemption.

First Area of Discord -- Irregular Migrants: One apparent discord in the proposed migrant typology (represented at this point in Figure 3 above) is the persistence of those who are called, among their many names, illegal migrants.  I qualify the term "discord" with the term "apparent" to emphasize that I use both words only to describe what could be called simply as "different."   Indeed, how can it be established that the existence of illegal migrants represents a disharmony?  Could it be that the current typology is simply incomplete and that, in fact, illegal migrants are not an aberration but are instead the black that completes the white, or the night that defines the day?

The apparent discord originates at a juncture somewhere between the volition and motivation variables, bringing us to the issue of migration means.  I use the phrase "migration means" to refer to:
1) the aggregate, macro environment of migration laws, policies and procedures by both the receiving and sending countries and the resulting government bureaucracies built to implement these;
2) the personal and social circumstances of migrants that enable them to react to this aggregate, macro environment;
3) the vibrant industry of third-party migration agents; and,
4) the overarching environment of multilateral laws, covenants and conventions related to international migration that hold countries accountable for their actions.
(Note: I will reserve a more detailed discussion on these 4 aspects of what I refer to as the means of migration to a later article.  I bring in the concept of migration means only to highlight the apparent discord which I further develop below.)

A migrant worker-to-be, either currently unemployed or feeling the rapidly mounting economic pressure of inadequate income, may exercise his volition by wanting to seek employment overseas but he finds that he doesn't possess the credentials (educational attainment, work experience, etc) required by the advertised jobs.  In addition to lack of credentials the migrant worker-to-be also finds that he either doesn’t have the financial muscle to secure the documentary requirements of a migrant worker, often going into debt in order to set in motion his sojourn overseas.

At the core of this apparent discord is an inverse relationship between the number of individuals with the skill-level and credentials required of migrants by destination countries and the number of hopeful migrant workers-to-be in source countries.  On the one hand, destination countries put high premium on doctors, nurses, engineers, computer experts and other “high-value” skills for select vacancies in their industrialized economies, and these individuals are the great minority in source countries.  On the other hand, migrant workers-to-be in source countries are far greater in numbers but they are of the “unskilled” type. The higher the skills requirement (and thus the lower the number of those that are desired by destination countries) the greater are the number of migrant workers-to-be in source countries, thus creating the imperative of migration control.

Migration control is designed to calibrate or synchronize the range of skill requirements with the number and quality of migrants entering the destination countries, carefully defining three variables to achieve this goal:

1. Border Entry
Except for refugees and asylum-seekers (who are subject to separate procedures), only those foreigners with the required documentation (visas, permits, etc) can enter a country's borders.  These documentation requirements are very carefully designed to let in only the desired number and quality of migrants, as explained above.

2. Duration of Stay (Residence status)
Border entry doesn't translate to an indefinite period of stay.  The length of authorized residency is surgically awarded only to specific socio-economic groupings of specific nationalities (cite examples of visa exemptions here) so as to a) maximize the foreign currency they spend in the local economy, b) provide the knowledge and skills for which they were brought in, c) conduct the tasks and activities for which they were allowed to enter (ie. students, cultural visit, etc).

3. Work Access
Residence status does not automatically entitle you to access the local labor market.  Work permits that define exactly the number of hours and type of work that can be done are given only to a) those whose entry was dependent on pre-approved work visas, b) those whose work earnings will serve to further secure payments that go to access of local services (tuition fees, insurance payments, etc).

[cite tax payments as a 4th item using the case of the eu]

Returning to the proposed migrant typology, how does this inverse relationship impact on the volition and motivation variables discussed thus far?  An analogy that comes to mind is the image of air (in bubbles) trapped underwater.  The water (migration control) can only control the bubbles (migrant workers) to a certain extent but the sheer force of natural law dictates that the bubbles will eventually find their way to the surface (get into the country).  Migration control thus adds another variable in the migrant typology, the variable of Authenticity, the first of type of which is the Authenticity of Documents.

Migration control cannot suppress the economic motivation on the side of the migrants-to-be in destination countries.  What migration control attempts to achieve is to let in, at the exact configuration it desires, only those migrants whose collective presence in the destination country will be deemed consistent with its aspirations, that is, to maintain the existing quality of life it so desires.  For the migrants-to-be, migration control represents a barrier to be overcome, not one that effectively stops them.  Using the tactics and resources that are available to them locally, they will produce the needed documents required by migration control – thus overcoming it, allowing them to leave as migrants on personal, official, or educational purposes, but with their real motivation being economic purposes, that is, to find work and support their dependents.

Pia re-entered Japan for the 7th time as a child of a Japanese national, on the strength of manufactured documents, after her previous 6 visits to Japan as an entertainer.  Alex secured a new passport on an assumed name, allowing him to enter into a second marriage with a woman of Japanese descent, he and his second wife entering Japan successfully in 2002.

The variable of Authenticity plays out not only in terms of bogus documents, but also in terms of bogus intentions.  Migrants-to-be may be travelling on the strength of authentic documents, but have the objective of exploiting loopholes in migration control systems.  For example, Subaru successfully entered Japan in 1992 through a 3-day Shore Pass issued in Tokyo, one stop on his return trip to the Philippines coming from a Hong-Kong trip in the guise of being a tourist.  His declared intention, using fully authentic documents, was that of being a tourist; his real intention was to become a migrant worker.  Below are some of the fully authentic documents used by Subaru which he painstakingly preserved since 1991.
Specimen 1:  Subaru's 1991 Philippine Passport
Specimen 2:  Subaru Entered Hong Kong on the 22nd then Macao on the 23rd
Specimen 3:  Subaru Departed from Macao on the Same Day (23rd)
Specimen 4:  Subaru Entered Japan on the 24th
Manny successfully entered Japan in 2006 on a 30-day visa to accompany his father to get medical treatment. This had been his 4th entry attempt, each visa application giving various declared intentions, all supported by fully authentic documents, but his real intention was to become a migrant worker.

It may also be the case that the authenticity of one’s declared intention may not be immediately false.  A migrant’s intention to become a migrant worker may be formed during a current trip as a valid and legitimate tourist in a destination country.  Zaldy, who had voluntarily surrendered to immigration authorities after 2 years as an overstayer, again returned to Japan but this time as a Trainee, with fully authentic documents and real, declared intentions.  He decided to become an overstayer again as a Trainee program did not bear fruit as he had expected.

A legal migrant, through his regular interaction among his network of friends and acquaintances, may also come into contact with irregular migrants and exchange notes on salary levels and job opportunities available for both legal and unauthorized workers.  This new information from irregular migrants forms a benchmark against which legal migrants are able to compare various work circumstances.  Alex, a Filipino seaman working as a Chief Cook in a Japanese shipping company, was receiving a salary of US$250 a month in 1990.  Every time the ship he was assigned to would dock in Yokohama, he would hear stories from his friends, both legal and irregular, that work in the construction sector paid between 300,000yen to 400,000yen a month, easily 10 times his current salary (at 150yen to 1USD in 1990).  Unlike Zaldy whose transition to irregular status was triggered by internal factors (long working hours, unpaid overtime, etc), Alex became aware of his own work circumstances through external triggers (comparisons with salaries of irregular migrant workers).  In 1996, Alex entered Japan as a tourist with fully authentic documents and with the equally authentic declared intention to be a tourist but with the double intention to scope out and verify for himself information he had began to receive from irregular migrants many years earlier.  Alex eventually went beyond the designated period of stay of his tourist visa, becoming an overstayer working illegally as a helper in a fishing port at Shizuoka.

Figure 4 below incorporates the Authenticity variable to the proposed migrant typology framework.
Figure 4:  Authenticity Variable in Migrant Topology Framework
Plotting out the Authenticity variable across the migrant types highlight some interesting points.  Nearly all the migrant types are subject to misrepresentation of the truth through either document fraud or false intentions, or both.  The objective of migrants in misrepresenting the truth is to overcome the barriers set by migration control so that they can either gain entry or prolong their current stay in a country of destination in order to find or continue working.  To be sure, if only technology that fakes aging exists, migrant workers would also attempt to fake being retirees.  Faking documents for and intentions of being government officials, though not impossible, is not done by migrant hopefuls focusing instead on proven routes such as faking being tourists, students or family descendants.  Migrant workers themselves do not fake their intention of being a migrant worker but they do fake being skilled ones if that is what will get them into a country.  The Authentication variable does not apply to Trafficked Persons.

The examples of Pia(P), Subaru(S), Manny(M), Zaldy(Z) and Alex(A) thus show that the Authenticity variable has a temporal dimension best organized in a matrix as shown below.
Matrix 1:  Temporal Dimension of Authentication Variable
Matrix 1 above shows the two sub-types of the Authentication variable (Documents and Intention) and their two possible values (Authentic, corresponding to the "Yes" or "Yes, Authentic" in Figure 4 above, and Bogus or "No" or "Not Authentic").  The temporal dimension to this variable is represented in the sub-values of Source/Destination (Countries) under Documents, Bogus and the sub-values Authentic/Bogus under Intention, Authentic: that is, that document fraud may occur when the migrant is still in the source country in order to gain entry into the destination country, or in the destination country in order to prolong or legalize the migrant's stay; and that false intentions may start out as authentic, and stay authentic until the migrant's return home, or this originally authentic intention may eventually become a bogus one after some time during the same travel period in question.  The travel periods are represented by the numbers across the letter initials of the migrant examples.

To expound further on the temporal dimension of the authenticity variable in the Japan sojourns of Pia(P), Subaru(S), Manny(M), Zaldy(Z) and Alex(A):
- While still in the Philippines and using her real name but faking her age (as she was only 17yrs old), Pia entered Japan legally on the authentic intention of being an entertainer (P1).
- On her succeeding 5 more 6-month trips to Japan, Pia used all authentic documents to re-enter Japan legally with the authentic intention of being a return-entertainer (P2).
- On her 7th trip to Japan, Pia used a bogus name and bogus status to enter Japan illegally with the bogus intention of being a child of a Japanese national (P3).
- Subaru entered Japan in 1992 using all authentic documents but with a bogus intention (S1).
- During that same trip but now as an overstayer of more than 15 years in Japan, Subaru acquired bogus documents from Manila showing that he was unmarried and planned to use those bogus documents to enter into a bogus marriage in order to legalize his stay in Japan (S2).
- Manny entered Japan legally using all authentic documents but with the bogus intention of accompanying his father on a medical trip (M1).
- Using a fake name and a fake passport, Zaldy arrived at the Narita airport on the fake intention of being a tourist but, upon inspection by airport immigration officers, he was subsequently arrested and deported back to Manila (Z1).
- Just weeks after his first deportation, Zaldy using another fake name and fake passport, Zaldy entered Kansai airport on the fake intention of being a businessman to attend a business conference.  Zaldy successfully got through immigration, overstayed his visa as per his true intention, and voluntarily surrendered after 2 years (Z2).
- Just over a year after his return to the Philippines, Zaldy re-entered Japan legally, this time using all authentic documents and with the authentic intention of being a Trainee (Z3).
- Zaldy eventually escaped the company housing where he was a Trainee, becoming an overstayer for 10 months, but using Type C bogus documents he was able to acquire legal status in Japan by entering into a fake marriage (Z4).
- Alex entered Japan legally using all authentic documents and an authentic intention as a tourist which later on converted to a bogus intention and he overstayed his visa for one year (A1).
- Alex then re-entered Japan illegally using fake documents and with the fake intention of being married to a woman with Japanese descent (A2).

And so, given the inverse relationship I describe above, and the migration control that it justifies, in response to which determined migrants employ whatever tools are necessary, one of which is the authenticity of documents or intentions or both, how can we now rationalize the persistence of irregular migrants into a migrant topology framework?

One way is to say that since the forces that impel a person to seek work overseas are overwhelmingly greater than the national interests that empower migration control, the difference between the demand (of destination countries) and supply (from source countries) of migrants – or the excess of what is defined as the “regular” migration process – now constitutes what is called irregular migration.  Simply put, migrants will continue to come regardless of any current configuration of migration control and those that fall outside of the boundaries of the “regular” are now thus the “irregular” migrants.

[insert diagram]

Another way, looking at the other side of the equation, is to say that granted that the supply of migrants can never be effectively configured to its liking by migration control, if this theorized excess of migrants were unable to find jobs in the destination countries then they would naturally go back to their home countries.  Simply put, migration control cannot do anything to stop migrants from coming but once they have successfully gotten themselves in, and finding nothing for them there, they will most naturally go back home.  It is those migrants that are able to forge through and find a way to persevere in destination countries in ways that are not recognized by the state as consistent with its definition of multiculturalism or of its conception of the inevitabilities of globalization that now become “irregular” migrants, or those who I would like to now refer to as “peripheral” migrants in a destination country-centric migration regime or as “survivor” migrants in a source country-centric migration regime.

[insert diagram]

Second Area of Discord -- Intersection of Migration and Crime: Among the three migration variables thus far discussed – that of volition, motivation and authenticity – I find that it is the last one that is the most compelling.  While the variables of volition and motivation are mostly formed and defined by conditions found in source countries – and thus are largely outside of the effective reach of migration control – the effects of the authenticity variable – forged documents and false intentions – directly impinge upon the direct authority of the destination state.  In other words, destination states through their migration control systems can never fault a migrant for leaving his family of six and gambling everything on attempting to find a job in the destination country.

[continuing article...]

1 comment:

  1. Roberto Herrera CarassouFebruary 6, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Nice work, Congratulations. See my book on Migration Theory in Amazon.