Griffith researcher explores lost opportunities of temporary migrants from South East Asia in Australia

Griffith Asia Institute member and Head of School of Government and International Relations, Professor Juliet Pietsch’s latest research has just been published by Cambridge Elements as part of the Global Development Studies series.

Much of the scholarship in development studies focuses on developing countries. However, many of the same issues can be seen in developed countries, where migrants now constitute a sizeable proportion of the poor and politically disenfranchised. In immigrant-receiving countries such as Australia, temporary migrants in low-income households are most at risk of poor social and health outcomes.

The circumstances of Australia’s disenfranchised migrants, trapped in social and political conditions with limited financial resources, were made clear at the onset of Melbourne’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-2020. After struggling through the first wave with relatively little attention, on a grey mid-winter’s Saturday afternoon, thousands of new migrants in the Flemington public housing towers in Melbourne’s inner north were placed into a hard lockdown, with no warning. Many of the residents of the locked down towers were from non-English-speaking backgrounds, with a significant proportion from war-torn and traumatised backgrounds. Even as the lockdown got underway, there was little to no consultation or deliberation with the residents about the logistics and potential health impacts.

This research explores the experiences of temporary migrant workers from Southeast Asia in Australia, demonstrating that migrant workers, on the whole, live without a political voice or clear pathway to permanent residency and citizenship. The research is informed by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s theoretical framework of capabilities.

According to Professor Pietsch:

“One of the most critical capabilities is having a sense of political agency and control over one’s environment.”

Given the significant increase in temporary migration flows around the world, this Element, titled “Temporary migrants from Southeast Asia in Australia” draws attention to the necessity of migrants to be provided with political capabilities.

This publication is freely available from Cambridge University Pressuntil 15 September 2022.