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In Session: Thailand Studies in Labor, Religion, and Migration
“The Superman College”: Migration as development agenda in Thailand to Israel labor migration regime
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany
Thai migrant workers have been working in Israel’s agriculture since the late 1980s in temporary labor migration programs (TLMP). This migration regime institutionalized following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and as part of Israel’s shift from a collective welfare state into neoliberal social politics, fostering the normative environment for marginalization and exploitation of migrant workers. Around the same time, the Thai government started to officially promote labor “export” in order to address the rising unemployment in the country. Most of the migrants originate in the North-East region, known as Isaan, placed in the bottom of Thailand’s socio-economic hierarchies following unequal treatment form the country’s central regimes. In this paper, I analyze the effect of neoliberal policies on the lives of migrants, while highlighting the dynamics and actors who are part of it in Thailand and Israel. I do so by situating my ethnographic data with return Thai migrants from Israel within the discourse on “migration as development”. The data was collected through fieldwork in a village in Isaan, where hundreds of its residences have been working in Israel since the 1980s. Within this context, I analyze the ways in which labor migration in Thailand has been promoted as an individual pathway for upwards mobility through entrepreneurship and the implementation of knowledge and skills acquired in the country of migration. Furthermore, I argue that returning migrants create their own local imagination of how migration can affect their lives and what are the economic and political structures that are needed for it to prevail.