Retiring from temporary lives: ageing migrant labor in Asia

Megha Amrith

This project explores the ageing trajectories of low-wage migrant workers in Asia, with a focus on domestic workers. Migrant women from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India, among other countries, are employed on temporary and renewable two-year contracts in cities, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, doing the everyday work of care and of maintaining households. Immigration policies in these places view migrant workers as temporary presences, who are denied long-term 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 tied to socio-economic precarity, yet migrants also build new friendships, communities and forms of belonging that play a role in prolonging their “temporary existences” abroad, sometimes over decades. While there is much public debate about the growing need for migrant domestic workers to care for Asia’s increasingly ageing populations, little is reported about the futures of domestic workers themselves who, due to their long-term “temporariness”, have to return to their countries of origin at retirement age. This is situated in a broader context of global and regional inequalities in transnational ageing care arrangements.

What then does it mean to age abroad as a “temporary” migrant worker? How are retirement and returns imagined, and how do workers with limited social protection think about their futures? When returning home in later life, how do they re-establish ties with their families, communities, and the idea of home after years 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-realization and providing for a better future, this project reflects upon the intersections between migration and time, and on how aspirations and inequalities are negotiated over the life-course. 

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