At 5 p.m. on Jan. 18 in Physics and Astronomy Room 1425, the UCLA Asia Pacific Center and the International Institute at UCLA presented a guest lecture, given by Pei-chia Lan, on the inner workings of intra-Asian guest worker migration. This lecture was given to Asian American Studies M179: Asian Community: Border-Crossing, Diasporic Formation, and Social Transformation in the Asian World and was funded by the Eurasia Foundation. 

Lan, who received her doctorate in sociology from Northwestern University, is a distinguished professor of sociology and the Director of Global Asia Research Center at National Taiwan University. Her main areas of research are sociology of gender and work as well as migration and globalization. She is the author of “Global Cinderellas: Migrant Domestics and Newly Rich Employers in Taiwan” and “Raising Global Families: Parenting, Immigration, and Class in Taiwan and the US” (Stanford University Press 2018). Throughout her lecture, entitled “Constrained Contested Skills and Constrained Mobilities: Comparing migrant care workers in Taiwan and Japan,” Lan drew upon her academic experience and research to compare the experiences of guest workers in each country. 

She began her lecture by explaining the similarities between Japan and Taiwan. Both have a small population of foreigners and immigrants, as ethnic citizenship policies make the countries ethnically homogenous. Both also have strict policies on labor migration. Relative to Hong Kong and Singapore, Taiwan had a fairly late opening to migrant workers in 1991, while Japan is only open to “Niikeijin”, or members of the Japanese diaspora. 

When approaching this topic, Lan asked the following research question: How did Taiwan and Japan adopt very different programs to recruit migrant care workers? She asked this question in terms of visa category, skill construction and recruitment infrastructure in each country. 

Taiwan’s guest worker program ranges from three to 14 years in length and has been in effect since 1991. Neither family reunification nor permanent residency is granted through this program. There are a total of 250,000 migrant care workers in Taiwan that provide live-in standby service and are paid a monthly wage of $600-$700 USD. They receive a minimum of 90 hours of training before being employed, upon which they learn how to perform housework tasks and,  most importantly, acquire fluency in the language of the country they plan to work in. 

In Japan, care work differs from that of Taiwan, as it follows a model of institutional professionalism. Professionalism in the Japanese care system is defined by a strict set of standards and behaviors. Japan has long-term care insurance and formal sectors of elderly care, and care workers with professional training are preferred in the home country. There is also a preference for skilled migration, which is not the case in Taiwan. Wages are higher, and working conditions are often more favorable for Japanese care workers. 

Lan concluded her lecture by discussing the policy implications of her research. She mentioned reconsidering migrant care work skills, which constitutes  expanding the definition of care-work to include culture-sensitive skills. She also encouraged a collective turn toward a more sustainable recruitment infrastructure, which would entail incorporating migrant workers into a public long-term care system with the costs of training falling on the receivers of migrant care. Only time will tell whether these policy implications will come into fruition. 

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