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The contributors investigate the inter-relationships between migrant remittances and the family in Asia. They argue that, in the context of Asian transnational labour migration where remittances tend to become a primary currency of care, the making or breaking of the family unit is mainly contingent on how individuals handle remittance processes.



Introduction: Migration, Remittances and the Family

1. Introduction: Migration, Remittances and the Family

The unprecedented rise in both the volume and the velocity of transnational labour migration in and from Asia in recent decades has led to significant social and economic changes not just on the scale of nation-states and communities but also within the most immediate core of human experience, the family. As people become increasingly mobile in response to the restructuring of the global economy, the family – and the accompanying processes of formation, maintenance and dissolution – continually adapts itself to changing or emerging livelihood strategies and the resultant shifts in living arrangements. New concepts such as the “transnational family” and “global householding” have been developed within migration scholarship to capture ongoing transformations of the Asian family as a result of migration. The “transnational family” is broadly defined by the notion that the family continues to share strong bonds of collective welfare and unity even though core members are distributed between two or more nation-states (Yeoh, 2009), while “global householding” emphasises the view that the formation and sustenance of households are increasingly reliant on the international movement of people and transactions among household members who reside in more than one national territory (Douglass, 2006).

Lan Anh Hoang, Brenda S. A. Yeoh

Remittances as Gendered Processes


2. Transnational Remittances and Gendered Status Enhancement in Rural Bangladesh

Overseas migration from Bangladesh has grown rapidly over the last 30 years, involving around 8.4 million workers between 1976 and 2012. From about 50,000 in the 1980s, about 200,000–250,000 workers emigrated annually during 1992–1993 to 2004–2005. This figure stood at approximately 600,000 in 2011–2012 (, accessed on 18 June 2013). Revenues from remittances, at a record high of USD 11 billion in 2010, now exceed various types of foreign exchange inflows, particularly official development assistance and net earnings from exports (, accessed on 6 November 2011). It is not surprising that 90 per cent of migrants remit regularly, as earning an income is the main purpose of the largely contract labour migration from Bangladesh (Orozco, 2010).

Nitya Rao

3. Remittances and Women’s Agency: Managing Networks of Obligation among Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand

Of the total migrant remittances to developing countries, it is estimated that some 30–45 per cent are from other developing countries. Such South–South remittances have not received a great deal of attention in the literature but their volume indicates that they are significant and should not be ignored. This chapter explores a particular example of such South–South flows – namely the remittances of Burmese migrant workers from Thailand. Because of the ongoing economic failure in Myanmar,1 many young Burmese come to Thailand, either with documents allowing them to work as “irregular” migrant workers or without any kind of documentation (Kusakabe and Pearson, 2010a), and like other migrant workers they tend to remit relatively substantive sums to their families back home. Official remittances to Myanmar were 0.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2009, but a 2008 study showed that the actual level of remittances is at least four times as large as the official figures from Integrated Regional Information Networks indicate (IRIN, 2010). The World Bank (2008) reported that USD 125 million was remitted through formal channels in 2007. However, IRIN (2010) noted that remittances from Thailand alone were estimated to amount to USD 300 million, which is five times the reported level of overall foreign direct investment in Myanmar.2

Kyoko Kusakabe, Ruth Pearson

4. “Good” Sons and “Dutiful” Daughters: A Structural Symbolic Interactionist Analysis of the Migration and Remittance Behaviour of Northern Thai International Migrants

International labour migration from Thailand may be understood as part of a generalised process of global capitalist expansion and the increasing mobility of labour both within and across national borders. Yet the diverse experiences of international labour migration become meaningful only from the vantage points of migrants’ own experiences and beliefs, as shaped by the particular sociocultural context in which they live. International labour migrants may be understood as social actors, negotiating moral positions in different social fields as they try to accumulate respect and status, and construct personhood (Malkin, 2004). This chapter uses a structural symbolic interactionist approach to explore the labour migration and remittance behaviours of Northern Thai men and women who went abroad for employment in another East or Southeast Asian country. It focuses on the sociocultural norms that contextualise and shape migrant men and women’s remittance behaviour, the purpose of those remittances and their symbolic meanings, and the ways in which migrants and their families deploy actual and symbolic remittances to reconstruct their identities, reduce stigma and improve individual and familial status.

Teresa Sobieszczyk

5. “So They Remember Me When I’m Gone”: Remittances, Fatherhood and Gender Relations of Filipino Migrant Men

The Philippines is one of the leading senders of migrant labour into the global economy, with over 8.2 million Filipinos – or about 10 per cent of the current Philippine population – working and residing in some 140 countries. These labour migrants, in turn, have played a pivotal role in supporting the Philippine economy, remitting over USD 21 billion – or about 12 per cent of the country’s GDP – back to the Philippines (BSP, 2013). As an Asian Development Bank (ADB) paper noted, “Remittances have become the single most important source of foreign exchange to the economy and a significant source of income for recipient families” (Ang et al., 2009: v).

Steven McKay

Remittances and Generational Dynamics of Change


6. Migrant Remittances, Population Ageing and Intergenerational Family Obligations in Sri Lanka

In the early decades of the 21st century, countries are increasingly participating in the global economy. Many developing nations, such as Sri Lanka, send not only goods but also labourers into international markets. Since the late 1970s, working-class Sri Lankans have sojourned in West Asia as guest workers in ever-growing numbers.1 In 2009, when the data that are analysed here were gathered, Sri Lanka had a population of 20 million, and roughly 1.8 million transnational migrants worked abroad (SLBFE, 2010: 4, 142). Migrants thus constituted 9 per cent of the population, and over half of themigrants were women (SLBFE, 2010: 6). Some 89 per cent of these sojourner women worked as domestic servants, most of them in the Gulf (SLBFE, 2010: 11). Female migrants’ most often stated goal was to earn money abroad, buy land and build a house in Sri Lanka and improve their family’s status. Recently, members of the younger generation (often well-educated children of the older labour migrants) have been going abroad, heading not only to the Gulf but also to more desirable destinations, such as Korea, Cyprus, Malaysia, Israel and Italy, sometimes with the hope of settling permanently in their host country.

Michele Ruth Gamburd

7. Differential Impacts of Migration on the Family Networks of Older People in Indonesia: A Comparative Analysis

Elementary questions of migration research often require discussion grounded in family and community structures: Which members move? What ties remain to the home community? What information, goods and other people then move along the same channels? Any individual member’s migration is, in effect, a potential geographic extension of norms that guide family solidarity. Yet at the same time it can mark a break from those norms. Migration provides avenues for meeting commitments, but also ways of escaping them. This chapter considers how family networks adjust to meet these uncertainties, and examines particularly the impacts of younger members’ movements on the population aged 60 and over. We begin by summarising briefly the context of migration from rural areas in Indonesia, drawing on published results of Ageing in Indonesia, a longitudinal anthropological demography of three rural communities.1 A comparison of local-level data is not of merely provincial interest. The evidence points to more general issues in Indonesian and European migration history, and the second section draws on wider literature to show how transnational migration evolves out of longstanding patterns of local and distance movement within a country. The third section then presents data on distance migration and remittances from the three communities in the 2000 and 2005 survey rounds, together with case studies that are necessary to interpreting aggregate patterns.

Philip Kreager, Elisabeth Schröder-Butterfill

8. Migration, Remittances and Social and Spatial Organisation of Rural Households in China

Just 40 years ago, China’s urbanisation was only 20 per cent. Today it has surpassed the 50 per cent mark. Such rapid urbanisation is a result of not only skyrocketing economic growth but also massive rural–urban migration. The remittances that migrants sent home have for the past 30 years been crucial for the livelihood of the rural Chinese. “Going out” or dagong, meaning leaving home to work somewhere else, is widely considered to be the only means for rural households to overcome poverty and improve their standard of living. In the Chinese countryside, arable land is extremely limited. Massive poverty and starvation are still fresh in the memory of the rural Chinese – 30 million people died in a famine just half a century ago. It is therefore not surprising that millions have left farms to look for urban work since the economic reforms that began in the late 1970s have made such mobility possible.

C. Cindy Fan

9. Filipino Children and the Affective Economy of Saving and Being Saved: Remittances and Debts in Transnational Migrant Families

In 2006 over 50 million migrants from the Asia-Pacific region sent home more than USD 113 billion in remittances (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2007). Six years later and 10 million more migrant workers worldwide, these remittances hadmore than doubled to USD 260 billion, representing 63 per cent of global flows to all developing countries (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2013). With the scale and scope of remittances and migrants from the Asia-Pacific region continuing to comprise the highest regional total in the world, not only are an estimated 70 million Asian households – that is, one out of every ten – benefiting from these financial flows (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2013) in terms of subsistence, poverty alleviation and economic mobility (Massey et al., 1993) but also national governments and their GDP, where the amount of remittances have far exceeded the value of official development assistance and foreign direct investment in countries such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Indonesia (Rosewarne, 2012). In the Philippines, the inflow of over USD 21.4 billion (nearly 12 per cent of GDP) in 2012 (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), 2014) and outflow of almost 4.28 million migrants in 2010 solidifies the country as the third largest remittance recipient in the world which, in terms of Southeast Asia, accounts for over half of all remittances (International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2013) and leads as a migrant-sending country to top destinations such as the USA, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Italy, Qatar, the UAE and the UK (World Bank, 2011).

Cheryll Alipio

(Non-)Remittance and the Family in Crisis


10. Rethinking Remittances through Emotion: Filipina Migrant Labourers in Singapore and Transnational Families Undone

At particular times and in particular places, there are moments where lives are so explicitly lived through pain, bereavement, elation, anger, love and so on that the power of emotional relations cannot be ignored.

Kay Anderson and Susan J. Smith (2001: 7)

In 2003 I met a Filipina, Eva,


who was deployed in a South Korean bar as an entertainer in one of the “camp towns” that emerged to cater for the US military personnel who were stationed at nearby bases. Although Eva did not receive all of the salary that she was promised, she was very clear in her intentions to save and use all of her meagre income and any tips she received from her customers for a single purpose – to pay for the costs associated with the annulment of her marriage back in the Philippines. I later discovered that her husband was a drug addict and dealer, was currently serving a jail term and had been physically abusive to Eva throughout most of their marriage. Annulment was also linked to Eva’s crystallising transnational project of formalising her relationship with her American soldier boyfriend, whom she had met while working in Korea, through marriage – something that seemed far more achievable if she were no longer married in the Philippines (see Constable, 2003, for further discussion of such negotiations among Filipina transnational migrants).

Sallie Yea

11. Transnational Labour Migration, Debts and Family Economics in Vietnam

A report commissioned by the World Bank in 2006 suggests that large parts of international remittances, which increased by 58 per cent to USD 232 billion between 2001 and 2005, were associated with the unprecedented rise in international migration from developing countries (Yeoh et al., 2005: 88). The need for foreign exchange earnings together with the pressure to relieve domestic unemployment are two principal reasons for the promotion of transnational labour migration by labour-sending countries (Wickramasekera, 2002: 8). The potential of reaping positive economic benefits from international migration is immense for poorer countries. However, amore important question arising from these facts and figures is whether increased remittances are automatically translated into enhanced wellbeing for migrant families and, if not, why and in what way migration fails to lead to development in its broadest sense.

Lan Anh Hoang, Brenda S. A. Yeoh


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