The Intermediary Trap: International Labour Recruitment, Transnational Governance and State-Citizen Relations in China
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Delivering the 2012 York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) Asia Lecture on the occasion of YCAR’s 10th anniversary, Dr. XIANG Biao explores the high cost of legal transnational labour migration for unskilled Chinese labourers. Although legal labour migration from China has become more effective, efficient and streamlined, the costs of finding and securing work overseas have been on the rise. In his exploration of the reasons why, Xiang points to intermediaries—commercial labour recruiters— as the key. He argues that intermediaries’ dominant position in cultivating, facilitating and controlling legal migration allow them to charge high fees to potential migrants. This results in the “intermediary trap”, where both the state and the migrants depend on intermediaries to manage and facilitate labour migration overseas. In this text based on his lecture, Xiang examines China’s hierarchical chains of migration intermediaries, from Beijing to rural villages, arguing that they constitute a transnational labour disciplinary system and point to new state-citizen relations.