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Dealing with Deportability: Deportation Laws and the Political Personhood of Temporary Migrant Workers in Singapore

  • Charanpal S. BAL (a1) (a2)

By severely constraining the political personhood of temporary migrant workers, states’ use of deportation laws seeks to curb agitation among these workers. Despite this, various episodes of unrest have been witnessed in both liberal and illiberal regimes across Asia. Drawing on a case study of Bangladeshi migrant construction workers in Singapore, this paper examines the development of migrant labour politics as deportation laws, and their enforcement, construct these workers as “use-and-discard” economic subjects. Data for the paper are drawn from multi-level sources—government, industry, media, and non-governmental organization (NGO) reports; interviews with key actors; and a participant observation stint in a construction firm—collected between 2010 and 2014. The paper argues that, rather than solely constraining, deportability serves as a constituent of certain forms of tactical worker contestations in the workplace. Specifically, under different workplace conditions, deportability can translate into differing forms of worker tactics, ranging from accommodation to confrontation and desertion. The outcomes of these strategies, in turn, have significant repercussions for the ways in which civil society groups and state-actors, respectively, challenge and reconfigure the political personhood of temporary migrant workers.

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Charan Bal is a Visiting Lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Political Science in the Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung. He completed his PhD in Politics at Murdoch University’s Asia Research Centre in November 2013. He researches on migrant labour politics in Asia. The author would like to thank Lynette Chua, Daniel Goh, Garry Rodan, and Jane Hutchison for the support and constructive suggestions they have made in the research and writing of this paper. Thanks also go to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions and comments. The usual disclaimers apply. Correspondence to No. 10, Jalan Hegarsari III, Hegarmanah, Bandung 40141, Indonesia. E-mail address:

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Asian Journal of Law and Society
  • ISSN: 2052-9015
  • EISSN: 2052-9023
  • URL: /core/journals/asian-journal-of-law-and-society
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