Comparative Politics

B04 - Migrant Workers, Informal Economies, Immigration

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 01:45pm to 03:15pm | Location:

Leading Reform: State Executive Power and Foreign Labor Policy in Japan: Konrad Kalicki (National University of Singapore)
Abstract: Once established, admission policies for economically indispensable but stigmatized low-status foreign workers become woven into the core processes of policy formation. Over time, these policies interlock under governing authorities and newly emerged vested interests, making it difficult for states to fundamentally change a policy’s direction. Given this propensity toward the status quo, how can democratic states initiate substantial reforms in deeply ingrained foreign labor policies? Shifting the scholarly focus beyond Western democracies, this paper delves into the political dynamics shaping contentious admission policies for low-skilled labor migrants in Japan—Asia’s leading industrialized democracy. It underscores the pivotal role of state executive powers in brokering entrenched interests, steering away from the existing policy framework. Utilizing extensive interviews with Japanese policymakers, the paper demonstrates how the unforeseen and controversial shift in Japan’s three-decade-old policy that occurred in 2018 was enabled by the gradual consolidation of the prime minister’s office within the Japanese state’s institutional structure at the expense of bureaucratic politics, with the centralization of policymaking reaching its culmination under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the context of his “Abenomics” agenda. These findings offer broader insights into the development of understudied labor importation regimes in democratic East Asia, which has become increasingly reliant on foreign migrant workers.

Marginalization, Informal Work, and the State in the Global South: Evidence from 14 Cities in Africa and Asia: Graeme Young (University of Glasgow)
Abstract: Informal work is a dominant feature of urban economies in the Global South. As it has gained prominence on the global public policy agenda, with local and national governments and international institutions seeking to incorporate it into development efforts, the need to develop a critical political economy approach to informality has become increasingly acute. While research has begun to explore the central role of the state in producing and sustaining economic activity outside of its official legal, regulatory, and/or taxation structures, significant data gaps remain that prevent a fully nuanced picture of the forms of inequalities and marginalization that define informality from emerging. This paper seeks to address this problem by presenting evidence from a major survey and focus groups conducted in 14 cities in Bangladesh, China, India, the Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tanzania, taking advantage of a unique and original dataset to draw comparative insights into the dynamics of informal economies while tying these to different national and local political economy arrangements. In doing so, it highlights how informal economic activity is shaped by questions of state power and patterns of economic exclusion and exploitation that vary across contexts but nevertheless have important common characteristics. This paper therefore presents an empirically grounded conceptual framework on the relationship between informal economies and the state, and explores the extent to which this can inform a comparative political economy of cities in the Global South that places at its heart traditional questions about labour, capital accumulation, and political institutions.

State Policy toward Philippine Migrant Workers: A Typological Framework: Erik Kuhonta (McGill University), Kazue Takamura (McGill University)
Abstract: How do labor-exporting states address the conditions of their migrant workers? Do such states seek to actively support their workers abroad? Or are they unable to redress the dire conditions of their laborers? This paper addresses these questions through an in-depth case study of the politics and policy of one of the largest labor-exporting nations in the world, the Philippines. Its central premise is that labor-exporting states show much variation in behavior toward migrant workers: some bureaucrats assiduously work with migrant workers; other bureaucrats evince minimal interest; while executive leaders sometimes respond rapidly to a crisis and other times, simply express vacuous, rhetorical support. We therefore seek to make more nuanced the range of actions that such a state pursues when confronted with the needs of their migrant workers. We examine variation of Philippine state behavior by providing a typology of state action and decision-making. We look at four types of action that range across a spectrum from control of migrant workers to support of workers: (1) disciplinary, (2) regulatory, (3) rhetorical, and (4) responsive. By disciplinary, we are concerned with behavior that moulds, coerces, or punishes individuals, often going beyond the dictates of law. By regulatory, we refer to action that seeks to bring individuals in line with stipulated laws. By rhetorical, we are interested in action that addresses the interests of migrants, but remains on a largely discursive level. By responsive, we emphasize policy that seeks to systematically address and ameliorate the concerns or grievances of individuals.

Regionalization of Immigration Policy in Small-Town Quebec: Kathryn Barber (York University)
Abstract: Quebec is unique amongst Canadian provinces because it is the only region that directly selects certain streams of migrants (economic and humanitarian) resulting in a unique immigration infrastructure. While the major urban centres of Quebec (Montreal and Quebec City) continue to host the largest number of newcomers, the regionalization of immigration to smaller centers has increasingly become a priority for the Quebec Ministry of Immigration, Francisation and Integration (MIFI). In particular, the Ministerial Plan on the Regionalization of Immigration was introduced to promote international and secondary migration to smaller centers as a means to supplement labour gaps and coordinate government and civil society action. This presentation empirically examines government and civil society infrastructure put in place in two small centers to attract and facilitate the integration of newcomers to the community using an examination of statistical data, a regional and municipal policy review and interviews with policymakers and community-service providers.