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Author: Florian Bochert
Date: Wntr 2021
From: Harvard International Review(Vol. 42, Issue 1)
Publisher: Harvard International Relations Council, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,888 words
Lexile Measure: 1560L

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Opening a bank account, obtaining a driver's license, or even getting married--while many of us may take these activities for granted, they are impossible for people without a formal nationality, or so-called stateless persons. Yet, the lack of a bank account is just a minor detail compared to the more severe consequences of being stateless, particularly a lack of access to healthcare, education, or employment. As Isa, a stateless person from the former Yugoslavia, explains, "To be without documents and a nationality is as if you never existed in this world." Together with at least 10 million stateless people across the globe, Isa belongs to the most vulnerable group of humans, who are often even described as "legal ghosts." Wellknown examples of such demographic groups not having the nationality of any country include the Rohingya in Myanmar or Eastern Europeans after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, public awareness about the issue of statelessness has increased due to increased efforts by the UN and many international non-governmental organizations. In fact, the UN has even launched a campaign to end statelessness by 2024, identifying flawed administrative procedures, which can be fixed rather quickly in theory, as the main cause of statelessness.

However, this campaign is unlikely to be successful because the public discourse so far has forgotten about the connection between statelessness and informal employment. As part of globalization, what Professor Nina Glick Schiller calls a new "global labor regime" has emerged, in which transnational companies looking for inexpensive labor will incentivize workers to move from their less-developed home countries to more prosperous nations. While the workers, which include both stateless and documented persons, undoubtedly hope for a better future, they soon encounter restrictive and complicated administrative procedures in their new country that effectively prevent them from applying for citizenship. With few legal protections, stateless labor migrants in particular then become a pawn sacrifice of the "global labor regime." This strategy of capitalizing on human defenselessness renders informal labor possible at the expense of stateless persons, particularly in newly industrialized countries in Southeast Asia like Malaysia. Therefore, merely blaming flawed administrative procedures will be insufficient to properly address the issue of statelessness. More creative and comprehensive solutions such as a "transnational labor citizenship," a type of proxy identity provided through membership in a transnational civil society organization, are needed so that the seeming contradiction of non-existent humans does not become reality for even more people.

How Statelessness and Informal Employment Connect

To understand why the "global labor regime" is even effective at incentivizing low-skilled workers to migrate, it is important to discuss the precarious living situations that many migrants face at home. On the one hand, such insecure conditions are caused by the subsistence-level living standards found in many parts of the world, where low-skilled workers typically receive low wages...

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