Retiring from temporary lives: ageing migrant labour in Asia

Megha Amrith

This project explores the ageing trajectories of contract migrant workers in Asia. Migrants from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh, among other countries, are employed on temporary and renewable two-year contracts in cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong in the domestic and construction work sectors. Immigration policies in both places view migrant workers as temporary presences and they are thus denied residence, citizenship or family reunification rights. However, in a number of cases, stays abroad last significantly longer than expected – migrants continue to renew their contracts, or go home and return numerous times. The reasons are often economic, yet migrants also build new friendships and communities that play a role in prolonging their ‘temporary existences’ abroad, sometimes over decades.

What then does it mean to age abroad as a ‘temporary’ migrant worker? How are retirement and returns imagined, and how do workers without social security benefits think about their futures? When returning home in later life, how do they reconnect (or not) with their families, communities and the idea of home after years of being away? Who cares for the ageing bodies of those who have long cared for their familial futures? As migration is often a project of self-realisation and providing for a better future, this research project will reflect upon the intersections between migration and time, and of how aspirations and inequalities are negotiated over the lifecourse.

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