CFP: Conceptualising Migration Brokerage in (Im)Mobile Times


DATE OF EVENT : 25-26 April 2024
VENUE : Hybrid (National University of Singapore & Online via Zoom)


In Asia and elsewhere, the development of a temporary migration regime has been accompanied by the rapid growth of an ecosystem of intermediaries filling the “middle space” of migration (Lindquist, Xiang and Yeoh, 2012). Key to the mobility across international borders of prospective migrants is a thriving migration industry that is comprised of a wide range of brokerage actors – licensed recruitment agencies, transport providers, immigration lawyers, housing and placement agents, and informal recruiters. While the term “migration industry” often connotes pejorative meanings, it plays a strategic role in bridging the barriers to mobility and facilitating transnational migration (McKeown, 2012).

Arguably, it is precisely because migration management has become increasingly complicated and intense that the demand for brokers with the expertise of navigating labyrinthine migration regulations has increased at all levels. The more restrictive and complex labour migration policies become, the more expensive the process of migration becomes, while also increasing migrants’ dependence on brokers (Wickramasekara and Baruah, 2017).

With the rise of the migration industry in propelling migration over the last half-century, many aspects of global labour markets have been transformed. On the one hand, the receiving state is able to save costs, ensure flexibility, avoid blame and circumvent the need for formal cooperation with migrant-sending countries by outsourcing certain elements of migration governance to the migration industry while retaining regulatory authority (Goh, Wee and Yeoh, 2017). On the other hand, migrant indebtedness has ballooned, serving as a broker-facilitated mechanism in paving the way for the capital-poor to finance their migration and sell their labour abroad in exchange for remittances for their families, or an opportunity to achieve upward social and economic mobility.

As skilled mediators, migration brokers not only facilitate migration through the work of recruitment and placement, but also assume multi-faceted roles from securing visas, permits and other documentation to providing training, housing, transport and remittance services. Bureaucratic know-how and the ability to establish trust among prospective clients are important brokering traits since migrants are often required to make significant initial financial investments and/or entrust valuable personal documents for processing and handling (Marius-Gnanou, 2008; Lindquist, 2012).

In this context, this workshop underscores the importance of conceptualising the multiple roles played by the various migration brokers, and the relationships between them and with the state. We welcome new and previously unpublished work on the following themes:

  • How the range of migration brokers, alongside states and technologies, (co)produce migrant (im)mobility across borders
  • How migration brokers repair, maintain and transform mobility infrastructure in (post-)pandemic times
  • How pandemic times have transformed forms of migration brokerage, including of debt and finance
  • How migration brokers shape migrant subjectivities and reproduce migrant precarity and resilience
  • How brokers engage in social reproduction, including the rules, standards and regulations within transnational labour markets
  • How brokers (co)produce inequalities, including of freedom of mobility, within and between regions
  • The role of digital technologies in mediating the migration brokerage


Goh, C., K. Wee and B.S.A. Yeoh, ‘Migration governance and the migration industry in Asia: moving domestic workers from Indonesia to Singapore’, International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 17 (2017), 401-433.
Lindquist, J. ‘The elementary school teacher, the thug and his grandmother: informal brokers and transnational migration from Indonesia’, Pacific Affairs 85 (2012): 69-89.
Lindquist, J., B. Xiang and B.S.A. Yeoh, ‘Introduction: Opening the black box of migration: Brokers, the organisation of transnational mobility, and the changing political economy in Asia’, Pacific Affairs 85 (2012), 7-18.
Marius-Gnanou, K. ‘Debt bondage, seasonal migration and alternative issues: Lessons from Tamil Nadu (India)’, Autrepart 2 (2008), 127-142.
McKeown, A. ‘How the box became black: Brokers and the creation of the free migrant’, Pacific Affairs 85 (2012), 21-45.
Wickramasekara P. and N. Baruah, ‘Fair Recruitment for Low-Skilled Migrant Workers: Issues and Challenges’, in Safeguarding the Rights of Asian Migrant Workers from Home to the Workplace (Asian Development Bank Institute, 2017), 23-38.


Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract that includes a summary of the conceptual approach, methodological route and key findings (300 words maximum), and a brief personal biography of 150 words for submission by 8 September 2023. Please also include a statement confirming that your paper has not been published or committed elsewhere, and that you are willing to revise your paper for potential inclusion in a journal special issue.

Please submit your proposal using the provided template to Successful applicants will be notified by the mid of October. Panel presenters will be required to submit drafts of papers (4,000-6,000) words by 1 April 2024. These drafts will be circulated to fellow panelists and discussants in advance. Drafts need not be fully polished. Indeed, we expect that presenters will be open to feedback from fellow participants.

This hybrid workshop will accommodate both in-person and online participants, as needed. If possible, the Asia Research Institute will provide overseas participants with full or partial airfare as well as three nights of accommodation. Please indicate in the proposal form if you require funding support.


Prof Brenda S.A. YEOH, FBA
Asia Research Institute & Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

Assoc Prof Katharine JONES
Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University

Department of Sociology, University of Johannesburg