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  • New Zealand Population Review, 33/34: 69-93 Copyright © 2008 Population Association of New Zealand

    Changing Asian Immigration and Settlement in the Pacific Rim

    WEI LI*

    Abstract As a result of receiving countries‘ immigrant admission and integration policies, source country development, and economic globalization trends, contemporary international migrants have become increasingly heterogeneous with regard to their origin and destination countries, socio- economic and demographic profiles, and the impacts on both sending and destination countries. This paper addresses these issues in the Pacific Rim countries through a comparative perspective. It starts with a brief overview of immigration policies and then discusses the spatial and socio- economic consequences of contemporary international highly-skilled and low-skilled migration, including changing social hierarchies and settlement forms. The final section explores some of the opportunities and challenges facing cross-national studies on immigration.

    he Asia-Pacific region is the site of an increasing share of the

    world‘s international migrants. Of the estimated 200 million

    people living outside their countries of birth in 2005, just over 100

    million were resident in Asia, North America and Oceania (United Nations

    2006). International migration accounted for 15.2 percent and 13.5 percent

    respectively of the resident populations of Oceania and North America in

    2005, but only 1.4 percent of Asia‘s population. Notwithstanding this small

    immigrant share in their own populations, China, India and the Philippines

    remain the top three migrant sending countries with, respectively, 35, 20

    * Wei Li is Associate Professor in the Asian Pacific American Studies, School of Social

    Transformation and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at the Arizona State University. This paper is based on two keynote addresses she delivered in New Zealand in 2007 – the first at the BRCSS New Settler Researchers Network National Conference, February 22-23, 2007 and the second at ―Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads: New Research on Population, Migration and Community Dynamics‖, Conference in Wellington, May 15-17, 2007. Her email address is:


  • and 7 million people born in these countries living overseas in 2005. The

    high proportions of immigrants in North America and Oceania reflect the

    fact that the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are long-

    standing immigrant receiving countries.

    This paper reviews briefly some characteristics of immigration

    policy in the four major immigrant receiving countries on the Pacific Rim.

    Using Asian immigrants and temporary migrants as examples, the impacts

    of changing geopolitics and economic globalization on immigrant

    settlements and socio-economic hierarchies in the receiving countries are

    compared. The paper concludes with some reflections on opportunities and

    challenges facing cross-national studies on immigration.

    Historical Immigration Policies: Exclusion and Restriction

    The importance of international migration for the development of the four

    Pacific Rim economies and societies raises questions about how receiving

    countries‘ immigration admission policies and their enforcement

    mechanisms regulate such inflows over time and the consequences of these

    regulatory measures. Lee (2003:7) has observed that ―immigration law

    emerges as a dynamic site where ideas about race, immigration, citizenship

    and nation were recast. Chinese exclusion, in particular, reflected, produced,

    and reproduced struggles over the makeup and character of the nation

    itself.‖ National immigration policies in the receiving countries have

    continuously screened out immigrants on the basis of race/ethnicity,

    nationality, class and gender characteristics. How Asians have been treated

    in the past as well as under contemporary immigration policy is inseparable

    from the relationships between their ancestral homelands and the

    destination countries, regardless of their citizenship status, nativity, identity

    and behaviour.

    Historically, immigration admission policies toward Asians in the

    four Pacific Rim receiving countries were those of exclusion (Canada and the

    United States (U.S.)) or restriction (Australia and New Zealand; Table 1).

    They were based on racialized and Eurocentric ideologies for nation

    building and intensified during periods of intense labour competition and

    economic recessions. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 remains the first

    and only federal legislation in the U.S. that excluded a group of immigrants

    purely based on their race and class (Canada passed their version of Chinese

  • Exclusion Act in 1923).

    The significance of this law was long overlooked. Daniels (2004: 3)

    notes that the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, ―which has long been seen as a

    minor if somewhat disreputable incident, can now be seen as a nodal point in

    the history of American immigration policy. It marked when the golden

    doorway of admission to the United States began to narrow…‖. Ten years

    later, the 1892 Geary Act not only extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for

    another ten years but also required Chinese immigrants to carry ―certificates

    of residence and certificates of identity‖ with them at all times. Failing to

    do so could result in detention and deportation. No other groups were

    required to carry such certificates until 1928, when ―immigrant

    identification cards‖ were first issued to any new immigrants arriving for

    permanent residency. These were eventually replaced by the ―alien

    registration receipt cards‖ (that is, ―green cards‖) after 1940 (Lee 2003:42).

    Immigration enforcement also intersected with international

    obligations and asymmetric geopolitical power relationships. If both

    sending and receiving countries were more or less on an equal footing in the

    international arena, negotiation and bilateral agreements were likely to be

    the means for managing international migration. Otherwise, the more

    powerful side often unilaterally enforced their laws. This was evident in

    Sino-U.S. relations leading to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, versus the

    Japanese-U.S. negotiation resulting in the 1907 ―Gentlemen‘s Agreement‖

    (Takaki 1998). Although still perceived as unequal since the Japanese

    government had to ‗voluntarily‘ curb emigrants, these migrants

    nevertheless were permitted to bring wives into the U.S., compared to the

    prohibition of Chinese women immigrants that resulted from the 1875 Page

    Act. Additionally, immigration enforcement was differentially practiced

    along the northern and southern borders of the U.S. (Lee 2003).

  • Table 1: Policies toward Asian immigration in four Pacific Rim countries

    United States Canada Australia New Zealand

    Exclusion: (1882-1943)

    1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

    1907 Gentlemen‘s Agreement

    1917 ‗Asiatic Bar Zone‘

    1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act


    1910 $200 in cash for ‗Asiatic‘


    1923 Chinese Exclusion Act

    Restriction: (1901-1955)

    1901 Immigration Restriction Act

    (dictation test – foundation for White

    Australia policy)


    1881 Chinese Immigrants Restriction

    Act (poll tax £10 and tonnage


    Transition: (1943-1965)

    1943 Repeal of 1882 CEA

    1946 for Filipino and India

    1952 ‗Asia-Pacific triangle‘

    (~100/country - >2000total)


    1947 repeal of 1923 CEA (only allow

    entry of wives and children)


    1955/1958: Migration Act (abolish

    dictation test citizenship after 15yrs of



    1944 Finance Act (abolish poll tax &

    tonnage restriction against the Chinese)

    Non-discriminatory: (1965-)

    1965 Immigrants & Nationality Act

    (family reunion (80%) & professional

    (20%); Citizenship after 5yrs)


    1967 est. ‗points system‘; allow Asian

    immigrants to bring families


    Mulitculturalism policy (abolish ‗White

    Australia‘ policy. Nondiscriminatory

    points policy. Citizenship after 3yrs



    Abolition of source country preference.

    1986 Business Immigration Policy

    targeting entrepreneurs from Asia

    Selective: (1990-)

    1990 Immigration Act (140,000

    employment-based, 10,000 employment

    creation ≥$1 mil.; diversity)

    1998 ACWIA: H-1B visa 65,000 

    190,000 (until 2002)

    2005: additional 20,000 with US Masters



    1978 Entrepreneurs stream;

    1986 Investor stream (≥CAD$400,000

    net worth $800,000)

    Past 5 years: 220,000 skilled from China,

    India & Pakistan

    2002: Canadian experience class added


    1981 Bu


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