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Journal of Comparative Asian Development

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An Outsider is Always an Outsider: Migration,

Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia
Lucille Lok-Sun Ngan & Kam-Wah Chan
To cite this article: Lucille Lok-Sun Ngan & Kam-Wah Chan (2013) An Outsider is Always an
Outsider: Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia, Journal of Comparative
Asian Development, 12:2, 316-350, DOI: 10.1080/15339114.2013.801144
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Published online: 18 Jun 2013.

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Date: 23 November 2016, At: 20:38

Journal of Comparative Asian Development, 2013

Vol. 12, No. 2, 316350,

An Outsider is Always an Outsider: Migration,

Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia
Lucille Lok-Sun NGAN
Social and Policy Research Unit, Department of Social Sciences,
The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong

Kam-Wah CHAN
Department of Applied Social Sciences,
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

The dynamics of social exclusion and inclusion of certain groups of citizens
and migrant workers is a complex and multi-dimensional process, which is
shaped by institutional frameworks as well as informal practices. While
some of these frameworks are justied by economic rationality, migrants
with low socio-economic background are often excluded from aspects of
labour and social protection, therefore reinforcing hegemonic ideas about
insiderness and outsiderness. This paper argues that how readily government-enforced policies embrace migrants is crucial to the reinforcement
of social stratication. Specically, the article examines the immigration,
labour and social security policies aimed at low-skilled migrant workers
in Seoul and Taiwan, low-skilled cross-border migrants in Hong Kong
and rural to urban migrants in Beijing. It highlights how policies veer
towards the exclusionary when targeted towards low-income migrant
groups from Southeast and East Asia, which manifest racial discrimination
against them. The accumulation effect of their disadvantaged status has a
detrimental impact on both migrant workers quality of life and cohesion
of society as a whole.
* Correspondence concering this article may be addressed to be author, Lucille Lok-Sun Ngan, at:
2013 City University of Hong Kong


Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


Keywords: Migration; social exclusion; marginalization; social policy;

labour policy; social stratication; social security; social assistance; lowskilled migrants; cross-border migrants; internal migrants; outsider; East
Asia; Hong Kong; Beijing; Seoul; Taipei

Outsiders and Insiders

In the age of globalization, immigration and its effects on the changing
urban social landscape have intensied the social distinction between outsiders and insiders, affecting the order of social divisions in host
societies. Such distinction is one of differences and similarities based on
an awareness of social acceptance and exclusion involving a social
process of othering. Insiderness and outsiderness is a social experience
that is not just conned to ethnic groups as it exists in all communities
and societies, between those who belong, who are part of us, and those
who may be experienced as foreign or alien (Billington et al., in Crow,
Allan, & Summers, 2001, p. 30). However, as incomers, both international
and internal migrants are particularly subject to being classied as outsiders
since their social status is often attached to criteria such as length of local
residence, ethnicity, place of birth and shared history. Lim (2010, p. 55)
notes the general contempt of domestic society towards outsiders:
Outsiders (especially poor outsiders) are considered to be serious
threats to social cohesion and a danger to the livelihood and very
lives of real citizens; as best, they are seen as a necessary evil.
As such, the marginalization, exploitation and outright oppression
of outsiders is either ignored or condoned by the larger society.
With the globalization of migration and urbanization, most countries do
not host a single category of migrants but receive a diverse range (BentonShort, Price, & Friedman, 2005). In migration research and policy, different
types of migration are generally placed into two categories, international
migration and internal migration, which involve permanent and temporary
movements. International migration includes low-skill and professional
high-skilled labour, family/spouse reunion, business migration and refugees.
Generally, international migrants who move from low-income to middle- and
high-income countries are seeking for better ways to provide for their
families or to escape unemployment, war, or poverty in their countries of
origin (Benach, Muntaner, Delclos, Menendezl, & Ronquillo, 2011).


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

In the past 20 years, temporary guest-worker programmes directed at

low-income and low-skilled foreign migrant workers which systemically
discourage their settlement have been particularly popular in some industrialized East Asian countries. In places such as Taiwan, South Korea, Hong
Kong, Japan and Singapore, the recruitment of overseas migrant workers to
ll in gaps in the host countrys labour market has led to a structural reliance
on foreign workers (Tierney, 2007; Tseng & Wang, 2011). Guest-worker
programmes, such as those in South Korea and Taiwan, that bind migrant
workers to the same employer and require them to leave the country
immediately after the termination of their contract, in practice, have the
effect of excluding migrants from equal treatment rights and social integration. The legal frameworks that regulate the low-income migrants are
often much more stringent than the high-income groups (Stahl, 2003).
According to an International Labour Organization (ILO, 2007) report on
global discrimination, [n]ational migration policies are more inclined to
provide for equal opportunities and treatment between nationals and
migrant workers in high-skilled positions than those in unskilled and
low-status jobs. For example, high-skilled workers are usually given
more incentives to become permanent residents than the low-skilled, who
are made up of a high proportion of Southeast and East Asians (Hugo,
In the aspect of health and work, compared to high-skilled migrants
who may suffer from some potential health risks, studies have shown that
low-skilled migrant workers are more prone to contracting diseases
unknown to their place of origin (Grondin, Weekers, Haour-Knipe, Elton,
& Stukey, 2003, pp. 8593). Low-skilled migrants are also often exposed
more to potentially health-damaging work environments than locals
because of work exploitation. They are often recruited as the low-skill
labour force that lls the 3-D jobs (dirty, dangerous and demeaning)
that locals eschew, despite often being over-qualied for these positions
(Fernandez & Ortega, 2008; Hugo, 2009; Kim, 2004; Rhee, Lee, & Cho,
The second type of migration, internal migration involving migratory
movements within national boundaries, has generally received less scholarly attention than international migration. The main reason for the lack
of focus is that the movements of internal migrants are within national
boundaries which presuppose equal social rights and social protection;
nevertheless, social exclusion at the social level exists. The exclusionary
treatment of internal migrants can be demonstrated through the experience

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


of rural to urban migrants in Mainland China. The number of internal

migrants in Mainland China has increased dramatically over the past 20
years from about 26 million in 1988 to 126 million in 2004 (Deshingkar,
2006). Most of these internal migrants, also known as the oating population, are circular migrants who retain strong linkages with their families
in the rural area. As a number of studies have highlighted, while these
internal migrants share the same Chinese nationality as their urban local
counterparts, their limited access to welfare services and social participation
is a result of their migrant status (Chui, 2002; Fan, 2002; Law & Lee, 2006).
The situation in the Hong Kong SAR is unique as it is a special administrative region of the Peoples Republic of China, under the principle of one
country, two systems, it runs on economic and political systems different
from those of Mainland China. Nevertheless, new arrivals1 from Mainland
China can still be considered internal migrants as Hong Kong is a part of
China. Therefore, as Crow et al. (2001) argue, operating in a simple
insider/outsider or us/other dichotomy is problematic as there is no single
pattern or xed set of characteristics that delineates the exclusion of different migrant groups within a society.
The structure of social policies is an embodiment and expression of the
state towards constituent ethnic aggregates which has reinforcing effects on
the insider/outsider dichotomy. The dynamics of the inclusion and exclusion of migrants therefore is embedded within a wider context shaped by
power relations, institutional arrangements and cultural values, and can
be associated with labour protection, access to social protection and
social participation. Policies driven by the state are a mechanism that contributes to the reinforcement of social divisions between foreign migrants
and local citizens. At the same time, the states categorization of immigrants
is often based on historically situated social constructions of ethnicity, race,
class and gender, which are inuenced by hegemonic ideas of belongingness. The combined effect means that social policies directed at lowincome international migrants and internal migrants (particularly in the
case of China) tend to situate them in a relatively disadvantaged position.
Unequal treatment because of their status as foreigners or non-citizens
affects not only their quality of living and life chances but also the social
cohesion of society.
1 New arrivals from Mainland China refers to former Mainland China residents who entered
Hong Kong with a one-way exit permit for settlement and have resided in Hong Kong for
less than seven years.


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

As will be discussed, the different treatment between professional and

low-skilled foreign workers in Taiwan and South Korea, and the disparity in
social welfare between internal migrants and local citizens in Mainland
China and Hong Kong, are examples of the establishment of social divisions through institutional power. The differences in immigration and
social policies towards different categories of migrants, particularly those
from Southeast and East Asian societies, are driving mechanisms that contribute to the stigmatization of low-income immigrants as outsiders.
In examining international migration development in the Asia region,
research has primarily focused on migrants remittances, brain drain, diaspora development and temporary migration (Asis, Piper, & Raghuram,
2010). The different uses of remittances in addressing inequalities or
poverty have been well debated (see for instance, Athukorala, 1992,
1993; Ford, Jampaklay, & Chamratrithirong, 2009; Jha, Sugiyarto, &
Vargas-Silva, 2010; Lee, Sukrakarn, & Choi, 2011). Migration studies in
Asia have also focused on brain drain to the developed Western world
(see for instance, Broaded, 1993; Teng, 1994) as well as reverse brain
drain to the developing world (Montgomery & Rondinelli, 1995). Studies
on diasporas are primarily explored through a cultural and social analysis
(see for instance, Bao, 2004), where the focus is often on less tangible institutional factors related to ethnicity. There is a wealth of literature on temporary international labour migration (Abella, 2006; Abella, Park, & Bohning,
1995; Bohning, 1996; Tseng & Wang, 2011; Wickramasekara, 2002).
Areas that have received relatively less interrogation are the experiences of disadvantaged groups such as internal migrants and foreign
spouses who generally have low socio-economic status. Only recently
has international marriage been added to the research agenda in Taiwan
(Sheu, 2007; Tsai, 2011; Tsay, 2004; Wang & Chang, 2002), South
Korea (Cho, 2010; Kong, Yoon, & Yu, 2010; Lee, 2008; Lim, 2010) and
Japan (Nakamatsu, 2003; Piper, 1997). Because of the extent and impact
of internal migration on economic growth in Mainland China since the
1970s, it has been more studied than international migration (Fan, 2002;
Hong et al., 2006; Li, 2005; Liang, Por Chen, & Gu, 2002; Wan, 1995).
Much less emphasis has been placed on the impact of social policies
enforced by the state which contributes to the social order of stratication
including gender inequality of low-skilled migrant workers. In particular,
not much has been written about the collective experience of these disadvantaged groups as a whole and the inter-relationship between different categories of migrants. One exception includes the work of Piper and Roces

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


(2003), which explores the blurring boundaries between labour migration

and international marriage of East Asian men and Southeast Asian women.
In this paper, we argue that state-enforced policies often construct
social exclusions of disadvantaged migrant groups, reinforcing patterns of
disparity within society. To demonstrate this, we examine the impact of
immigration and social policies on the dynamics of social exclusion and
inclusion between locals and incomers in four East Asian societies. Specically we focus on the experience of low-skilled foreign migrant workers in
Seoul and Taipei, and low-skilled internal migrants in Beijing and Hong
Kong. We rst outline the ways in which immigration policies in each
society tend to veer towards the exclusionary when aimed at migrants
with low socio-economic status. Secondly, we explore migrants experiences of marginalization in terms of their levels of access and social participation through policies related to social protection and labour welfare.
Before we begin our discussion, we provide below the methodological framework of this study.

Data for this paper emerged from a larger international comparative study
that examined issues relating to the sustainability and governance of
social welfare and the impact on citizenship, well-being and social cohesion
in four East Asian societies, namely Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei and Seoul.
Concerning the comparability between the four cities, we focused mainly
on issues in the designated cities instead of the whole country, as it
would be too complicated to handle in one study. The study highlighted
gender and the life-course as key variables in understanding the dynamics
of governance, citizenship and social policy.
In order to understand the challenges and contradictions confronting
these four cities, we gathered in-depth qualitative data through two main
strategies; rstly, interviews with key actors in the policy-making process
and secondly, focus groups with local citizens and migrants. The multilevel data collection method adopted aimed to enhance our understanding
about the social reality experienced by local citizens and migrants.
Fieldwork data collection was conducted between December 2008 and
July 2009. Organization interviews included individuals from government
departments responsible for areas of labour, social welfare, womens
rights and ethnic relations, advisory bodies and think tanks for the govern-


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

ment, trade unions, academia, non-government organizations (NGOs) and

non-prot organizations (NPOs). The selection aimed to represent stakeholders of the policy-making process from local and national levels
within each city. In Hong Kong we conducted 12 interviews with key informants from local organizations, in Seoul 17, in Taipei 16 and in Beijing 11
(see Table 1 for details of sectors of organization interviews).
In order to understand the dynamic inter-relationships between citizenship and social inequalities, we also conducted focus groups involving local
citizens and specic low-income migrant groups. Participants were
recruited from religious organizations, community associations, social
groups, schools, universities and volunteer associations. Eight focus
groups which included six citizen groups at different stages of the lifecourse (under 30 years, 3145, and 46 or above) and two migrant groups
were conducted in each city. The focus on specic migrant groups
enabled us to better understand the context-specic issues around migration
and citizenship that emerged from a dynamic historical, social, economic
and political trajectory in each city. Men and women were interviewed separately to ensure capturing the voices and opinions of all respondents. This
enabled the different patterns of interaction with policy areas and the different impacts of policy change to be identied in terms of both gender
and age.
We selected a specic low-skilled migrant group in each city due to
their key position in migration debates in their respective locations and
because their lack of institutional labour protection and citizen rights represented a pattern of social exclusion. Low-skilled migrants were the

Table 1 Sectors of Organizations Interviewed

Hong Kong




Government departments

Advisory bodies/Think tanks

Trade unions

NGOs and NPOs


Private organizations






Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


focus of our study. In Taiwan and Seoul, our emphasis was on overseas
blue-collar migrant workers as there has been an increasing demand to
import foreign workers into the country since the 1980s due to labour
shortages in certain segments of the economy.
In Hong Kong, while the major demand for importation of foreign
workers is for domestic helpers, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines,
the more conspicuous migrant issue concerns new arrivals from Mainland
China. The one-way permit (OWP) scheme, enforced since the 1990s,
has created much social tension between the locals and new arrivals. As
noted earlier, to a certain extent these migrants are internal migrants as
they are moving from one region in China to another.
Unlike Taiwan and South Korea, where there is a large demand for the
importation of foreign workers, in Beijing, the internal migration of workers
from rural to urban areas and their social welfare have been the major concerns of domestic policies. Therefore, in Beijing our focus was on internal
rural to urban migrants.
The qualitative nature and limitation in the sample size of our study
mean our ndings would not be representative of all experiences of lowskilled migrant workers in Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong and Beijing. In this
respect, rather than making general conclusions about the social experience
of the community, this study explored the uncharted social realities of
specic disadvantaged migrant groups in each city through the everyday
experiences of migrants, their local counterparts and social policies.

Overview of Immigration Policies and Exclusions

The dynamics of social exclusion and inclusion of certain groups of citizens
and migrant workers is a complex and multi-dimensional process, which is
shaped by institutional frameworks as well as informal practices through
which peoples lives may be constrained, conned, supported or liberated.

Low-skilled Overseas Migrant Workers

Up until 1990, the South Korean government had been very restrictive
about the admission of blue-collar foreign labour migrants. Since then,
the government has begun to open its door to foreign migrant workers
through various initiatives. Only a limited number of countries have been


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

allowed to export labour into the country and a high proportion of foreign
workers have come from Southeast Asia, including countries like Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.
With the introduction of the Industrial Trainee Program (ITP) in 1993,
Korean rms were allowed to import foreign trainees. Until 2003, when
the law was extended to overseas workers, imported workers would enter
Korea as a trainee, not as a worker, and thus were excluded from the
basic workers rights under the Labour Standards Law and the Social Insurance System. A representative of a migrant welfare-focused NGO condemned the condition of workers under the ITP in this way:
As the name let us know, they are not labourers but trainees. Therefore, they were not covered by the Labour Standard Act in Korea.
The Industrial Trainee System was just like a modern slavery
system. (26 June 2009)
Criticized as a modern slavery system, the ITP did not allow foreign
workers to join or form any labour unions and although their visa status was
trainee, they actually worked in the factory without proper training and
were not allowed to change employment without the permission of their
employers. Studies have documented appalling working conditions, such
as often being laid off without payment, receiving much less than the
minimum wage and working extremely long hours (Kim, 2004; Seol,
2000). At the same time, because the government did not expand the industrial trainee quota despite a sharp increase in the demand for foreign
workers, it led to a rise in the number of undocumented workers in the
country (Rhee et al., 2005). Lim (2010) argues that the government
played a crucial role in institutionalizing and legitimizing a highly discriminatory labour system and helping to criminalize foreign workers.
The current Employment Permit System (EPS), implemented in 2004,
was a strategic move by the government to ultimately replace the problematic ITP with specic aims to legalize foreign migrant workers who had
already been in the illegal market through rehiring benets,2 develop
better tracking records to control illegal immigration as well as to better
protect their labour rights including the universal minimum wage (Rhee
et al., 2005). The government gave many undocumented workers the oppor2 Since 2007, the government has been extending the rehiring benet to not only those working
with an employment permit but also to those with industrial trainee and training employment
visas, although the benet is conned to certain nations.

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


tunity to apply for a permit at the time and those who did not qualify were
given a chance to leave the country without paying any nes. This amnesty
boosted the registered foreign population to 73.4% between 2002 and 2003
(Y. Park, 2004).
Under the EPS foreign workers are restricted to employment in only
ve industries: manufacturing, agriculture and stockbreeding, shing, construction and service (including household service). However, the service
and construction industries are limited to only Korean ethnics. Workers
are only allowed to be employed for a maximum of three years (after
which they are subject to deportation and the accumulated duration of
employment cannot exceed a maximum of six years) and accompanying
family is banned. As such, workers remain on a need basis and are
treated as temporary guest workers. The continued intention of the government is to keep low-skilled migrants temporary, which directly implicates migrants social status as the outsider. One informant from a
labour welfare-focused NGO alluded to the continued problem of undocumented workers under the EPS:
Because theres a three-year time limit for migrant workers, illegal
emigration is an inevitable consequence. Even though they are a
little bit more generous for Korean-Chinese who migrated long
time ago, the problem of migrant workers from the Philippines,
Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, etc., is very serious. The government fails to protect them in human rights and social security.
(17 July 2009)
Korean-Chinese who enter under the Working Visit scheme are free to
shift workplace and thus have more bargaining power with their employers
and are less likely to be exploited. Our informant called this difference systematic discrimination. Foreign workers from the former USSR and ethnic
Koreans from China are entitled to enter under the less stringent visa. They
are permitted to enter via the Working Visit scheme which allows them to
work in more occupations and they can stay up to ve years. They are not
subject to the same restrictions as the workers under the EPS.
While there are no formal restrictions for low-skilled migrants to gain
permanent residence status (F5 visa), immigration criteria such as income
and years of legal residence make it very difcult for unskilled workers
whose employment is limited to three years to gain a permanent residence
visa. In 2010, the government announced a new F-2-7 visa programme
exclusively for foreign professionals in order to attract global talent and


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

support their settlement in Korea (Heit, 2010). According to one Korean

newspaper, the visa carries with it a number of benets, including more
autonomy in employment options, the right to own a business in ones
own name and a shortened path to a permanent residence visa (F5). In comparison to the immigration policy for high-skilled migrant and ethnic
Koreans, low-skilled non-Korean migrants still face much stricter entry
conditions and their status as guests reinforces them as outsiders.
While the number of illegal workers has remained steady since the
implementation of the EPS, there are still many foreign workers employed
illegally in small companies or sweat-shops, the entertainment industry and
more illicit trades such as prostitution. Figures from the Ministry of
Employment and Labour (2010) indicate the ofcial number of foreigners
illegally staying in South Korea in 2008 was 200,489 and they accounted
for 17.3% of the 1.1 million foreigners residing in the country. In 2011,
one out of every four blue-collar migrants under the EPS whose visa has
expired has become illegal and the numbers are expected to rise (S. Park,
2011; The Korean Herald, 2011). As a result of their working status, they
are often exploited by their employers and marginalized by society. To
address such problems the government has been publicizing its intention
to enforce the schemes deportation provision and to use the police force
to catch illegal workers (Y. Park, 2004).
In Taiwan, from 1989, the government began to open its job market to
blue-collar workers and, similar to South Korea, they can only enter as temporary guest workers. The countries that granted export of blue-collar
workers to Taiwan are Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia,
Vietnam and Mongolia.3 The biggest concentrations of foreign workers
are in manufacturing and care work. In terms of gender, currently 61.3%4
of blue-collar migrant workers are female and 38.7% are male5 (Council
of Labour Affairs, 2010).
Unlike foreign professionals who are initially granted working visas for
three years and can apply for an unlimited number of extensions with no
entry quota, blue-collar foreign workers are in general only allowed to
work for a maximum of two years, in limited industries, governed by a
set quota (although employers may apply once for an extension of no
3 Statistics of each source country as at the end of April 2008 are as follows: Indonesia with
123,524 workers was the highest group working in Taiwan, followed by Thailand 86,059
and the Philippines 85,296 (Council of Labour Affairs, 2010).
4 Or 225,017 workers.
5 Or 142,102 workers.

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


more than one year upon the expiration of contract6) (Her, 2007). The accumulated duration of employment cannot exceed a maximum of an accumulated nine years. Unlike foreign professional workers who can be hired by
two employers simultaneously and are free to change employers, they are
not allowed to change employers. Furthermore, unlike the hiring of professionals where employers do not need to publicly advertise the position,
it is a requirement for the recruitment of blue-collar workers. Under the
guest worker programme, the government has established policies and
implemented measures that effectively keep blue-collar workers in temporary status, preventing them from gaining permanent residency. Comparing
the differences in policy treatment between high- and low-skilled workers, a
Taipei-based migrant welfare NGO argued that from the policy level, it is
clear discrimination [towards blue-collar workers] is there (18 May 2009).
Her comments coincide with Tseng and Wangs (2011) observation that
restrictive immigration policies targeted at these workers make them particularly vulnerable to exploitation and marginalization.
Foreign low-skilled workers in Taiwan and South Korea are part of an
increasing number of guest workers who are working under dangerous
and difcult conditions. Restrictions on blue-collar migrant workers in
Taiwan are similar to those set in South Korea. As will be discussed, as outsiders, blue-collar migrants in South Korea and Taiwan face similar problems which originate from national policies that keep unskilled workers
temporary and therefore easily disposable.
In Hong Kong, low-skilled foreign labour is largely concentrated in
domestic work and is dominated by Southeast Asians. In 2006, of a total
of 342,198 ethnic minorities living in Hong Kong, 32.9% were Filipinos
and 25.7% were Indonesians, of which 93.8% and 98.3% respectively
were engaged in elementary occupations (Census Statistics Department,
2006). Unlike professional foreign workers who are eligible to apply for
permanent residency after having ordinarily resided in the city for
seven years, foreign domestic workers are not entitled to become permanent
residents. Under the immigration ordinance, the denition of ordinary residency excludes domestic workers and various other occupational categories
even if they have resided in Hong Kong for many years. Recently, as a result
of a landmark case, there has been widespread debate on equal treatment for
foreign workers. In 2011, the Hong Kong High Court ruled that a Filipino
6 In special circumstances, employers may apply for an additional extension of a maximum
length of six months.


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

domestic worker who had lived in Hong Kong since 1986 should be
allowed to apply for permanent residency in the city. It was suggested
that the ruling could lead to more than 100,000 other foreign maids
winning rights to residency (Hunt, 2011). In 2012 the government won
an appeal against the ruling. In 2014, the Court of Final Appeal ruled
that the domestic worker was not entitled to permanent residency, ending
the controversial legal battle over the migration rights of foreign domestic
Mainland China has an abundance of low-skilled labour and as such
does not rely on the import of foreign labour supplies. Rural to urban
migration of low-skilled workers has been the main form of labour
supply. However, as will be discussed, due to the restrictions under the
household registration (hukou), rural migrants are treated as outsiders and
are deprived of their entitlement of basic welfare and government-provided

Low-income Internal Migrants

Outsiderness is not only experienced by foreign international immigrants
but can also be experienced by internal migrants. In most developed
countries, all citizens are free to move within the boundaries of the nation
state and are entitled to equal access to social assistance. This is generally
the case for citizens in South Korea and Taiwan, although there are some
restrictions. For example, in Taiwan the minimum standard living
expense varies slightly in different counties and municipalities, so citizens
need to have resided in the area for a set period of time in order to access
local social assistance. However, exclusionary practice in South Korea
and Taiwan is not as obvious as in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
This section will focus mainly on the restricted rights of internal migrants
from Mainland China to Hong Kong, and those from rural areas to the
cities in Mainland China who have moved residence within their own
In Hong Kong, while there have been many years of intimate links with
Mainland China through cross-border migration, new immigrants entering
the city under the OWP scheme since the 1990s have create much social
tension. Those coming under the OWP comprise mainly unskilled dependent women and children who are often the spouses of certain categories
of Hong Kong residents the once-illegal immigrants granted residence

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


during the early 1980s and older low-income working men who are increasingly involved in cross-border marriages. According to the Hong Kong
Census and Statistic Department, marriages by male Hong Kong residents
registered in Hong Kong, which involved Mainland Chinese women,
increased around 23 times from 703 in 1986 to 15,978 in 2007, and there
has also been a gradual increase of Hong Kong women marrying Mainland
Chinese men.
Historically the OWP scheme had required signicant waiting time,
and some spouses and children waited over a decade to be reunited with
their families in Hong Kong. However, the situation has improved recently
where all spouses who have waited for at least ve years are eligible to enter
the city under the OWP scheme (Bacon-Shone, Lam, & Yip, 2008). Moreover, new arrivals often experience difculties in adapting to life in Hong
Kong, particularly in employment and living environment (Home Affairs
Departments, 2008).
The OWP is not the only way Mainland Chinese can gain residence
status in Hong Kong. For those in the privileged groups such as professionals, they can enter by employment through various channels. One
such method is through the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talent and
Professionals which came into effect in 2003. Unlike the OWP scheme,
there is no set quota or restrictions on employment sectors and the
spouse and unmarried dependent children may be admitted with the applicant to stay in Hong Kong (Immigration Department, 2009).
The treatment of Mainland Chinese spouses and dependent children
under the OWP scheme is clearly different from the treatment of spouses
and dependent children of skilled professionals. The differential treatment
between migrants from poor and rich countries is more obvious. Family
reunion for Hong Kong people with spouses and children in economically
developed countries like the USA, UK and Australia is not subject to such
tight control. Migrants from these rich countries can apply for a work permit
and work in Hong Kong as long as they can nd a job there. They do not
need to be professionals, specialists or have special talents. While the governments agreed human rights obligations involve facilitating family
reunication at a rate that Hong Kongs economic and social infrastructure
can absorb without excessive strain, the OWP scheme and policies targeted at new Mainland Chinese immigrants have been justied in terms
of excessive economic and social strain (Bacon-Shone et al., 2008, p. 3).
This in effect has created not only a barrier to social cohesion and


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

integration but also a physical barrier preventing Chinese citizens from

family reunion.
In Mainland China, with the reform starting from the late 1970s and
accelerating during the late 1990s, the national and local authorities have
eased restrictions on obtaining urban residence permits, allowing most citizens to move within the country to work and live. While changes have been
made, recent reforms still contain stringent requirements that treat rural
migrants as second-class citizens, restricting their entitlement to basic
welfare and government-provided services, such as public housing (Wu,
2002; Ye, 2009) and medical health care (Hong et al., 2006; Liu, 2002)
enjoyed by urban residents. The hukou system is still a basis of Chinas
ruralurban apartheid, creating a social division between citizens. While
Taiwan also has a household registration system, unlike in Mainland
China, residency can easily be changed with the government authorities
and household registration does not serve as a tool to restrict movements
within the island. The household registration programme in Taiwan is
designed to collate and supply demographic information and register personal status and relations of its citizens.
In 2001, following earlier pilot schemes, the State Council allowed the
transfer of the hukou registration of certain migrants in all small towns and
cities in Mainland China. However, this does not equate with the abolition
of the hukou system or the removal of restrictions on Chinas internal
migration. In reality, it is replaced by locally determined entry conditions
which are geared to attracting the wealthy, the educated or the highly
skilled, which excludes the great majority of rural migrant workers. Moreover, provincial and municipal governments have set different nancial criteria to obtain an urban registration. In Beijing, a selective migration
scheme took effect in 2001. For a set of three urban hukous (self, spouse
and one child) in one of the eight main districts of Beijing, the individual
must be a private entrepreneur and have paid more than 0.8 million yuan
in taxes annually over three years or a total of 3 million yuan in taxes in
three years. The enterprise needs to have continuously hired more than
100 Beijing citizens for three years, or more than 90% of the employees
are Beijing hukou citizens. The alternative is the housing-purchasing
scheme which is based on home ownership of a commercial housing unit
in a designated district purchased at a designated market price. Applicants
must have no criminal record and not be warranted for arrest or investigation by the public security and judicial authority (Beijing Municipal
Public Security Bureau, 2008a). Recently, migrants who are granted a

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


national award can apply for a Beijing hukou but there is currently no
ofcial policy on this (Sina, 2009).
While there are special considerations such as for people who live with
spouses, parents or offspring, demobilized soldiers or those who are above
the age of 45 and have been married to a person with Beijing hukou for over
ten years, urban registration is still beyond reach for the majority of rural
migrants (Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, 2008b). These new
regulations are more of an immigration scheme to attract the high-skilled
workers, while maintaining signicant barriers against the majority of
migrants who are employed in low-income jobs.

Social Security, Labour Protection and Social Exclusion of

Low-skilled Migrants
The marginalized status of migrants is closely linked with patterns of
inequality in terms of labour protection, access to social services and
social participation, exposing the existence of institutional discrimination
and stratication. Table 2 provides a comparison of the provisions of
national social security between different groups of migrants in the four

Labour Protection for Low-skilled Foreign Migrant Workers

in Seoul and Taipei
At the policy level, with the exception of domestic workers in Taiwan and
South Korea, foreign labourers legally residing in Taiwan and South Korea
have the same protection under the labour laws as the local citizens. In
South Korea, the Minimum Wage Act covers all employees as dened in
the Labour Standards Act, regardless of their employment status or nationality. In 2011, the hourly minimum wage rate was 4,328 WON7 (approximately US$3.73). The standard workweek is regulated at 8 hours per day
and overtime payment is also regulated under the labour laws. According
to the Ministry of Employment and Labour (2010), foreign workers are
also protected by the four major insurances of the National Social Insurance
System that apply to Korean nationals. Contributions to medical and work
7 Exchange rate: US$1 = 1,159 WON approximately in November 2011.


Table 2 Main Forms of National Social Security for Migrants in East Asia

Hong Kong

New arrivals (less

than seven years
Ruralurban migrants residence)
Medical Insurance




Work Injury Insurance


Maternity Insurance


Pension/Old Age

Housing Fund

Housing Accumulation

Main Public


migrant workers

Blue-collar migrant
workers (legal)

National Health

National Medical

Blue-collar migrant
workers (illegal)

Employment Insurance
Labour Insurance

Mandatory Provident

Industrial Accident
National Pension

Industrial Accident

Journal of Comparative Asian Development



Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


injury insurance are mandatory, pension insurance is reciprocal8 and unemployment insurance is voluntary. In addition, employers of foreign workers
hired under the EPS have to contribute to additional insurance programmes
which provide labour protection to these workers. Illegal foreigner workers
who have no valid working permits are not protected by the labour law and
are excluded from social protection benets because they do not contribute
to the system (Kim, 2004; Seol, 2000). However, since 1993 they have been
covered by the work injury insurance which includes bottom-line protection
of human rights.
In Taiwan, similar to South Korea, the labour contract offers non-discrimination and legitimate protection in minimum wages, working hours
and working conditions for blue-collar workers. The basic wage is stipulated at TW$959 per hour (approximately US$3.12) (Council of Labour
Affairs, 2008). Employers are required to register foreign labourers in
their company for labour insurance and national health insurance (NHI).
The standard workday of 8 hours and overtime is similar to South Korea
and is also regulated under the labour laws.
While the labour and social rights of low-skilled migrant workers are
protected at the policy level, in reality there are many violations. In our
focus groups in Seoul and Taipei, blue-collar migrant workers similarly
expressed that the above-mentioned labour protection policies are only
practised in large companies, and many employers of small companies
still breach the law. One of the main issues presented in both cities was
related to the implementation of policies. Our informant from a migrant
welfare NGO in Taipei explained the difculty of enforcing the policies:
Actually there is always a contract between the employer and the
worker, everyone has to have contract, but its only a procedure.
Employers dont implement their contract. No worker will ght
for one day off to go through the courts, I mean its impossible
for them!
Although theres an article in the Constitution in the Labour
Standard Law saying that people cannot be discriminated by races,
gender, blah blah blah. But nobody takes it seriously. (18 May

8 According to the reciprocity principle, this is applicable only to those foreign workers from
countries where National Pension mandatorily applies to foreigners.
9 Exchange rate: US$1 = TW$30.35 approximately in November 2011.


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

The violation of labour regulations by employers in Taiwan is well

documented (Lan, 2003; Tierney, 2007; Tseng & Wang, 2011). Our informant pointed out that in Taipei, many migrant workers are receiving less
than the minimum wage because labour insurance, national health insurance
and other migrant fees (e.g. broker fees) are deducted from their salary.
The problem of implementation was also noted by migrant workers in
Seoul. A Filipino male migrant worker, for example, explained that even
legal workers may not necessary have an employment contract which protects their lawful labour rights:
Illegal workers are not given a contract to sign when they start
work. But even for legal workers like us, we have contracts, but
we often have to force the company to give it to us. (5 July 2009)
Because of the strict employment condition that does not allow lowskilled workers to change employers in both Taiwan and South Korea,
this effectively means that when employers violate the law, workers have
limited options but to stay with the company if they want to remain
legal. This impact of such a policy on workers welfare was noted by one
Indonesian male migrant worker in Seoul in this way:
The Department of Labour will not allow us to move to another
company because of immigrant policies. They just ignore our complaints. They say You cant move as your company has not broken
any contractual agreement or labour law. But sometimes even
when the company breaks some laws or some agreements,
maybe salary cutting, or making us work overtime, we cannot do
anything about it. We, as foreigners, dont have any power, even
if they discriminate against us at work. We are just seen as a
foreign resident here. We cant do anything much. (5 July 2009)
Often legal workers are turned into illegal workers after entry by changing
employers or overstaying their visa. Because of their illegal status, migrant
workers have little choice but to work and live in poor conditions and are
often exploited by their employers.
Compared to Taiwan, South Korea arguably has a more restrictive
policy on migrant workers which has an impact on the high number of
undocumented migrants. For example, as noted earlier in this paper, in
Taiwan the maximum accumulated duration of employment is nine years
for blue-collar migrant workers whereas in South Korea it is six years. Furthermore, in Taiwan, blue-collar migrants are allowed to provide household

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


services whereas in South Korea workers are not allowed to work in domestic service (except for ethnic Koreans). The estimated number of illegal
workers in Korea is 200,489,10 compared with 34,00011 in Taiwan. While
illegal workers in South Korea arguably receive better protection than
workers in Taiwan as they are covered by the industrial accident compensation insurance, the effectiveness of this measure is doubtful because
they could be deported if they request treatment for injury from accidents.
At a community level, our informants in Seoul reported that church-based
groups provide much support (including medial, counselling and social networks) to both legal and illegal workers. This point is supported by the fact
that many websites of such organizations openly offer assistance to both
categories of migrant workers.
However, what is particularly interesting is that some participants in
our Seoul focus groups expressed their preference to be undocumented
workers. During our interviews with both legal and undocumented
migrants, participants expressed the benet of being illegal is that they
could evade employment restrictions forced upon legal blue-collar
migrant workers. In particular, the biggest advantage of an undocumented
migrant is the freedom to change employers:
If you are legal, even if you dont like the job, you cannot change
jobs. But if you are illegal and you dont like the job, you can quit
anytime. Its very difcult when I am engaged to the factory. So
even if the salary is not satisfactory, I cannot quit because of the
contract (Female Indonesian legal migrant worker in Seoul,
aged 1830, 5 July 2009)
Nevertheless, our informants also noted the downside of being illegal; the
main disadvantage is the constant fear of being caught and sent back home.
At the everyday level, foreign workers in both Seoul and Taipei frequently
encountered social discrimination and marginalization in the workplace. Much
media coverage has reported discrimination towards them, particularly exposing differential treatment from local workers. Our informants in both cities
alluded to such experiences. The following are some of their comments:
Everyone has their own jobs, theyre all different but I think our
jobs are a bit tougher than theirs We are the migrant worker,
10 2008 gure from the South Korea Ministry of Labour.
11 2010 gure (Huang, 2010).


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

we should be a little more tired than they are, this is for sure. (Male
Vietnamese migrant worker in Taipei, aged 1830, 17 May 2009)
We, foreigners, foreign workers including illegal workers, work in
the 3D industry: Dirty, Difcult and Dangerous. If I can give a suggestion to the Department of Labour: they should standardize
working safety procedures. Especially for foreign workers, they
should put in the contract all the terms about working conditions.
My working condition in my rst company was really dirty and
really dangerous and really hard! (Male Indonesian migrant
worker in Seoul, 5 July 2009)
Although migrant workers often feel that they are not being treated equally
to locals, many have learned to internalize discrimination by believing that
their status as outsiders is subordinate and justies ill-treatment.

Social Security and Public Services of Internal Migrants in

Hong Kong and Beijing
Citizenship rights entail equal social security protection for all citizens.
However, institutional arrangements such as the hukou system in Mainland
China and the OWP for new arrivals in Hong Kong often restrict internal
migrants access to ofcial social welfare on an equal basis to local residents, thus fortifying their status as outsiders. South Korea and Taiwan
do not have such systems that limit the mobility of internal migrants.
Although migrants moving from rural areas to the cities may experience
some discrimination, this happens in daily social practice rather than institutionalized through state policy.
In Hong Kong, the government has created a barrier preventing vulnerable migrants from receiving social security services on an equal basis to
local permanent residents. The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance
(CSSA) scheme, the main form of means-tested social assistance programme in Hong Kong, provides a safety net for those who cannot
support themselves nancially for various reasons, such as old age, disability, illness, unemployment and earnings too low to meet their basic needs.
Prior to 2004, Hong Kong permanent residents and new immigrants shared
the same residence requirements for CSSA. The condition which now only
applies to permanent residents is to have continuously lived in Hong Kong

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


for at least one year immediately before the date of application. Beginning
from 2004, as a result of the governments 2003 report of the Task Force on
Population Policy that pointed to the need to ensure a rational basis on
which Hong Kongs social resources are allocated, new immigrants are
not eligible for CSSA until they have resided in Hong Kong for over
seven years, unless under very special circumstances.
The seven-year requirement is also a condition for the allocation of
public rental housing and purchase of Home Ownership Scheme (HOS)
ats. In addition to income and asset limits, at the time of allocation of
public rental housing and at the application of HOS, at least half of the
family members included in the application must have lived in the city
for seven years. In effect, families of new immigrants are in a disadvantaged
While the economic rationality behind the seven-year residence
requirement has been legitimized by the government (Labour and
Welfare Bureau, 2009), without tackling issues faced by new immigrants
such as work, childcare and family violence, these immigrants are left
with little social protection. For example, many victims of domestic violence are women from Mainland China who are married to older Hong
Kong men. Due to prolonged duration of separation between the
husband and wife before they arrive, disparity in age and disillusionment
upon arrival, they often nd it hard to adapt to the new environment and
conicts occur frequently between the couple (Wong & Hu, 2006). If they
have resided there for less than seven years, they are ineligible to apply
for CSSA and public housing. Consequently it is not possible for them
to leave their spouses even when the couples may be facing intense disputes.
In our female new arrivals focus group, a number of informants were
victims of domestic abuse. For example, one woman who left her
husband with her seven-year old daughter after being constantly abused
could only live on her childs CSSA allowance for survival. It was impossible for her to nd any full-time employment as there was no one to take
care of her daughter:
I could not nd a job. My daughter has many holidays. How could
a job offer me so many holidays? It is impossible. I have to accommodate myself for the job, no job would accommodate itself for me
You could not apply for anything with the time limit [residence
requirement] of seven years My life was pathetic. I was


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

helpless. (New arrival woman, resided in Hong Kong for four

years, 18 February 2009)
The low-income groups in Hong Kong are more likely to have limited
supportive relationships beyond their families (Lee, Ruan, & Lai, 2005).
Since most new arrival women lack social networks and access to necessary
information, it makes them particularly exposed to violence as they have
no one to turn to for help. The seven-year residence requirement for eligibility to apply for CSSA effectively means new immigrants who are
facing genuine hardship are left outside the safety net.
Government policies directed at new arrivals have contributed to their
social stigma, leading to difculties in social integration. This can be illuminated through discussions with local respondents on new arrivals settlement experiences and their social welfare:
There are more people using CSSA now. Who are they? They are
usually new arrivals The government hasnt thought about this,
why are the new arrivals using the CSSA immediately when they
come to Hong Kong? (Age 46 + , married woman with children,
employed as a security guard, 22 February 2009)
Discrimination and social stigma against new arrivals have a detrimental
impact on feelings of belonging. As a result, these immigrants often have
many difculties in adapting to and integrating into the new environment.
In Beijing, similar to new arrivals in Hong Kong, rural to urban
migrants often face institutional barriers that are not experienced by local
residents. One example is their restricted access to the Minimum Living
Standard Scheme (MLSS). Similar to CSSA in Hong Kong, it is the
major social assistance programme which provides a safety net ensuring
minimum living standards for poor and vulnerable households in urban
areas. The anti-poverty programme initially focused on the chronically
poor, but later extended to the long-term unemployed, which led to a rise
in the number of beneciaries from 2.6 million in 1999 to 20.6 million in
2002. However, even with this extension of coverage, it only reaches at
best a third of the poor in China (Chen & Barrientos, 2006). The provision
of welfare is exclusively to households with urban registration status and
with per capita income below the locally set poverty line, thus non-registered migrants are explicitly excluded from entitlement through MLSS.
At the core of the social security system in China are its social
insurance programmes which include old-age insurance, unemployment

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


insurance, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, maternity

insurance and the housing provident fund. The basic function of these programmes is to decentralize labour risks and safeguard the basic livelihood
security of workers. While contributions to the ve social insurances and
the housing provident fund are mandatory for all workers under labour contracts, including migrant workers, in reality, due to the typically low-skilled,
informal and mobile nature of the migrants employment, many are not
covered by these insurance schemes. A 2005 United Nations Development
Programme report estimates that less than 5% of the migrant workers
receive full or partial pension insurance (Scheineson, 2009). In Beijing,
according to a NGO working for rural migrants we interviewed, less than
half of the migrant population are actually contributing to the ve insurance
Recent efforts have been made to improve the legal protection of
migrant workers. In 2007, the National Peoples Congress adopted a new
Labour Contract Law requiring all employment contracts to be put in
writing within one month of employment and that employers must fully
inform the worker about the nature of the job, working conditions and compensation. Furthermore, it seeks to limit abusive practices by eliminating
short-term contracts. However, according a World Health Organization
report, its enforcement has not been very effective (Cui, 2010).
The consequential impact is evident in the area of healthcare. Without
employment-based health insurance coverage, health care access is close to
impossible for migrant workers. Virtually all ruralurban migrant workers
have to pay for their health care at the point of service, as they are not
covered by health insurance. The high cost of health services and the
lack of any health insurance has resulted in under-utilization of health
care services among migrant workers, leading to a series of ineffective
health-seeking behaviours (Hong et al., 2006). In times of illness, our participants engaged in methods such as unsupervised self-treatment or resting
at home without seeking any formal medical care:
I buy myself medicine. I cannot afford the medical service provided by the hospital. (Age 3145 years, married male, selfemployed, 14 March 2009)
Ofcial discrimination against migrants on the basis of their hukou
status exists in education as well. Under the hukou system only people
with permanent hukous can send their children to local state-subsidized
public schools. Since the local government has only been providing


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

nancial support according to the number of school children with permanent residence permits, rural migrants children receive no governmental
subsidies, thus obliging many schools to either go on collecting tuition
fees or charge miscellaneous fees (, 2006).
Since 2006, to ensure the right to education for children of migrant
workers, the law was amended with a new provision which stipulates that
when both parents or legal guardians are migrant workers living with
their children in locations other than where the family is registered, the
local governments where they live and work must provide for the childrens
education (Xinhua News Agency, 2006). Nevertheless, in practice, extra
fees for migrants children continue to be collected by schools.
Our respondents acknowledged that additional fees were still being collected by schools and they felt that the main problem is due to the
implementation process:
The government has special requirements to protect migrant
workers, but it is useless. The lower level does not follow the
order of the upper level they collect heavy fees from us. (Age
3145, married male, self-employed, 16 March 2009)
In addition, they criticized the poor quality of education in many
private schools for migrants children and they pointed to the difculty
for their children to enrol in good quality public schools because of their
migrant status. For example, one migrant worker encountered great challenges to enrol her child to a local school:
Our home is close to XY12 Primary School. However, the school
prefers local students to those who come from the rural area. The
school rejected my childs application. He is forced to study at a
school far away from home. It is discrimination! (Age 3145,
married female, self-employed, 6 March 2009)
The restrictions and loopholes of the hukou system have created not
only an institutional divide between rural and urban citizens, but have
also contributed to the social stigma towards internal migrants at the everyday level. While ofcial Chinese press statements portray recent hukou
reforms as eliminating discrimination in the household registration
system, in reality, as Chan and Buckingham (2008, p. 604) rightly
suggest, the hukou directly and indirectly continues to be a major wall
12 Pseudonym is used to maintain condentiality.

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


in preventing Chinas rural population from settling in the city and in maintaining the ruralurban apartheid. These regulations have created institutional barriers preventing vulnerable citizens from receiving basic
social services on an equal basis as their urban counterparts.

Discussion and Conclusion

Institutional arrangements that govern low-income migrants in Seoul,
Taipei, Beijing and Hong Kong often construct and reinforce social exclusion. Dimensions of social status, class and ethnicity impact on the
inclusionexclusion dynamic, and patterns of disparity can be observed
in terms of their access to welfare services, labour rights and social
In Korea and Taiwan, issues related to internal migration are relatively
minor compared with Hong Kong and Mainland China, where internal
migrants are treated as inferior to their local counterparts because of the
differential approach of the government. In Hong Kong, new arrivals
from Mainland China, largely made up of spouses and children of Hong
Kong citizens, face much more entry restrictions when attempting to
reunite with their families than middle class or professional workers from
Mainland China, who can enter via less restrictive immigration policy for
Mainland China talents. Furthermore, the new arrivals do not have the
same access to social welfare as the locals (Chui, 2002; Law & Lee,
2006) and social exclusion continues to be a problem even after gaining
full citizenship because of negative stereotypes. As So (2003, p. 531)
rightly argues, the governments policy of exclusion has sowed the
seeds of discrimination, polarization and conict against mainland
spouses and children in Hong Kong society.
In socialist Mainland China, while the government has created a very
comprehensive social insurance programme for its citizens, at the policy
level there is still a clear divide between rural and urban hukous (Nielsen,
Nyland, Smyth, & Zhang, 2007; Zhu, 2003). Furthermore, as our study
in Beijing reveals, while internal migrants are entitled to the same national
social insurance, in reality, due to the implementation process, rural to urban
migrants often do not receive full benets (Chan & Buckingham, 2008).
Nevertheless, it needs to be noted that in recent years the central government in China has been more active in absorbing migrant workers into
towns and small cities than the previous policy of stringently and rigidly


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

segmenting the rural and urban sectors of the pre-reform period. The central
government has tried to create order in rural to urban migration through
inter-governmental co-operative arrangements and has taken a more positive view of inclusive urbanization, resulting in surges in population mobility and expansion of industrial production in the rural areas, thus placing
the ruralurban divide on a new footing (Chan, 1994; Lei, 2001).
However, in practice, not all rural to urban migrants can enjoy equal opportunities of acquiring urban hukou. Those with higher income or with better
social networks enjoy much higher chances, while it is virtually impossible
for low-income casual workers.
In Beijing, issues related to the foreign blue-collar workers are relatively minor as Mainland China does not rely on foreign workers. Unlike
Seoul and Taipei where foreign workers are heavily concentrated in the
manufacturing industries, in Hong Kong they are mainly employed as domestic helpers. In principle, foreign workers in Seoul and Taipei enjoy the
same minimum wage and full protection under labour legislation as the
local workers, while in Hong Kong foreign domestic workers are not
entitled to the statutory minimum wage because of the non-interventionist
attitude of the government. While at the policy level there has been
improvement in the labour conditions of foreign migrant workers, in
reality many migrant workers in all three cities fail to enjoy full benets
compared with the local workers. The exclusionary frameworks, including
practical arrangements and regulations governing change of employer and
maximum years of stay, make these protections ineffective or inoperative
and institutionalize the foreign migrant workers as outsiders. The actions
of the government in these three places has reinforced low-skilled migrants
temporary status. In particular, these exclusionary frameworks have contributed to the problem of illegal/undocumented workers in Korea (Kim,
2004; Seol, 2000).
One inherent factor leading to the development of exclusionary policies
is the under-valuation of migrants contribution in the four East Asian
societies. These four cities have gone through rapid economic growth in
the past two decades. While the contribution of relatively cheap foreign
labour is one of the essential elements of economic success, workers
effort is largely unrecognized. Temporary migration schemes for bluecollar workers and immigration restrictions on internal migrants that
discourage their settlement in the host societies often have the effect of
excluding them from equal rights as well as carving hegemonic notions
that migrant workers and their families impose a burden on the host

Migration, Social Policy and Social Exclusion in East Asia


societies. For example, new arrival families in Hong Kong are stigmatized
as greedy and welfare dependent, rural to urban migrant communities in
Beijing are blamed for aggravating hygienic problem in urban areas, and
blue-collar migrant workers in Taiwan and South Korea are accused of
snapping up the jobs of local people. These biased perceptions help to
rationalize the exclusionary policies against low-income migrants.
Another important observation in our research is the differential treatment
of migrants with different social status, reecting social inequality along class
cleavage, urbanrural divisions, and inequalities in global status between rich
and poor countries. In the four societies we studied, the respective governments have placed very stringent restrictions on low-income migrant
workers and migrant families. In general, they do not enjoy the full social
welfare benets of local people in one way or another. However, each of
the four cities has policies to attract investment migrants, professionals and
people with special skills, or at least there are fewer restrictions on working
permits, years of stay, change of employers, right of abode, and even naturalization. Very often, even the relatively less well-off and less skilled workers
from economically well-off developed countries are welcomed. Similarly
observed by a number of scholars, highly skilled workers are given special
consideration under the international policy, while measures to protect and
facilitate the movement of low-skilled workers are virtually non-existent
(Hugo, 2009; Stahl, 2003). Beijing seems to be a little bit different from the
other three cities as it is still under a socialist regime, and foreigners from
Western countries still face some restrictions. However, as we have pointed
out earlier, higher income rural to urban migrants are enjoying more opportunities in transferring their hukous to the city. On the other hand, workers from
Asia, especially low-income Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia
and Pakistan have to face exclusionary policies. The high presence of Southeast and East Asians in 3D jobs, where protection is often inadequate, manifests racial discrimination against migrant workers from these regions.
Ironically, they are discriminated against by Asians who have become rich
only in recent decades, like Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.
This paper has clearly demonstrated that the marginalized status of lowskilled migrants can be connected to patterns of disparity in terms of their
immigration conditions, labour rights and social welfare. All four societies
have policies to prevent migrant workers from obtaining full citizenship,
and thus maintain their outsider status. Even with internal migration
such as in Beijing or Hong Kong, there are great disparities between the
opportunities and social rights of the low-income workers and the higher


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

income group. For those who have obtained full citizenship, they still have
to face discrimination in everyday life. Their unequal and inferior access to
social rights compared with local citizens accrues and proliferates by discriminatory and stigmatizing discourses. In particular, it is the lack of multicultural policy and the anti-migrant sentiment that cultivated the
migration policy of these societies. From these experiences, we can see
that while legislation for the protection of migrant workers is crucial in alleviating marginalization, the sincerity in implementing these policies and
promoting a multicultural society is equally important.
To a certain extent, the governments of these four cities tend to put more
emphasis on economic development and productivity than on human rights
and labour welfare. Maintaining a pool of low-paid migrant workers seems
benecial to economic competitiveness. However, government policy planners frequently play down the negative effect of marginalizing migrants and
cultivating an exclusionary ethos in society. Understanding the institutional
frameworks of immigration and social policies allow us to concretely recognize the extent of marginalization of certain migrant groups and dynamics of
inclusion and exclusion of community relations. More importantly, we
should be aware of the accumulation of the detrimental impacts of class
inequality, disadvantaged global status of Asians and ruralurban divisions
on both migrant workers quality of life and cohesion in society as a
whole. Although some of these exclusionary migrant policies may seem
economically rational in the short term, they will create conicts and problems within the city which is costly to remedy in the long run.

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About the Authors

Lucille Lok-Sun NGAN is Afliated Research Fellow of the Social and
Policy Research Unit at the Department of Social Sciences, The Hong
Kong Institute of Education, and Honorary Lecturer in Sociology at the
University of Hong Kong. She received her doctorate degree from the University of New South Wales, Australia. Her research focuses on migration,
cross-border movements, Chinese diaspora, transnationalism, ethnicity, life
course, gender, family and ethnic relations. Her recent publications include
The Chinese Face in Australia: Multi-generational Ethnicity among Australian-born Chinese (co-authored; Springer, 2012); Decentered Transnational Linkages: Chinese Returned Migrants in Hong Kong, in
Transnational Migration Identications in Asia: Living Intersections,
edited by C. Pluss and K. B. Chan (Springer, 2012); Social Welfare, Governance and the Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion in East Asia (coauthored) in A Handbook of East Asian Studies, edited by M. Izuhara
(Edward Elgar, 2013, forthcoming); and Chineseness: The Inuence of
Family and Marriage on the Identity of Long-established Australian-born
Chinese, in International Handbook of Chinese Families, edited by
K. B. Chan (Springer, 2012).
Kam-Wah CHAN is Associate Professor at the Department of Applied
Social Sciences, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. He
obtained his PhD from the University of Bristol, UK. His main research
interests include social welfare policy, Asian welfare models, gender
studies, housing studies, poverty, and retirement protection. His recent
books include Women and Housing: An International Analysis (co-edited;
Routledge, 2011), The Crisis of Welfare in East Asia (co-edited; Lexington


Journal of Comparative Asian Development

Books, 2007), Gender and Social Work Theory and Practice (co-edited;
The Chinese University Press, 2006, in Chinese). He has published in
various academic journals such as International Social Work, British
Journal of Social Work, Journal of Asian Public Policy, International
Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Critical Social Policy, and
Housing Studies.