Ethnic Dissent and Empowerment: Economic Migration between Vietnam and Malaysia

Angie Ngọc Trần, Angie Ngoc Tran

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Migrant workers from Vietnam going to work in Malaysia as guestworkers are not just the Kinh (the majority), but also from the other 53 ethnic groups in Vietnam. I focus on five ethnic groups: the Kinh, the Hoa (ethnic Chinese), the Khmer, the Chăm Muslims and the Hrê, who engage in different migration patterns, forms of resistance and empowerment. The transnational labor brokerage state (LBS) system has affected female and male migrants differently, from the dehumanizing recruitment phase, to the precarity and open protests while working in Malaysia, to forms of empowerment, including remittances, debt defaults, and Stepwise International Migration in which workers migrate to different countries to improve their conditions. These guestworkers draw their strategies from their economic and cultural resources in ethnic hierarchies, to survive, thrive in the LBS system, or bypass it altogether. They engage in different spaces of dissent. Physical third space is occupied not according to the legal-illegal categories in terms of the law, but in the tacit acceptance of the community in which the migrants live and work. Metaphorical third space is about discourse of dissent, uttered by non-state competing authorities, to challenge the state’s authority through ironic and subversive mimicries. My findings are based on eight years of research and fieldwork interviews in Vietnam and Malaysia (2008-2015), a significant period of change in labor export policies.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Labor Economics
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Migration Studies

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