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Irregular migrants in the hidden economy

Researchers from City University London and London Metropolitan University to investigate the working lives of irregular migrants in London.
by Hollie Jenkins

City University London's Department of Sociology has been awarded a grant to investigate how trust, gender and power impact the working lives of undocumented migrants living in London. The research, which is collaborative study with the Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University, aims to provide invaluable information for policy makers and civil society organisations on the labour market experiences of undocumented migrants and how both they and their employers negotiate the risks involved with working in the hidden economy.

The two year project, is titled 'Undocumented Migrants, Ethnic Enclaves and Networks: Opportunities, traps or class-based constructs' and has been awarded an Economic and Social Research Grant for £289,318. It will be led by Professor Alice Bloch from City University London and Professor Sonia McKay from the Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University.

Professor Bloch says: "People living in the UK without rights of residence or the right to work, known as undocumented migrants, need to negotiate complex decisions and relationships in order to find and sustain employment.

"Trust and reciprocity are generally identified as important components of co-ethnic networks. However, there is necessarily an inbalance of power in these working relationships and we want to look at how class, ethnicity and gender play a part in the decisions and options of undocumented migrants working in London.

"Similarly we want to look at the employers themselves and how they weigh up the risks of employing people without correct documentation, in terms of the potential for fines if raided and caught employing undocumented migrants."

The research will focus on the experience of three migrant groups of Chinese, Turkish (including Kurdish) and Bangladeshi origin.

Professor Bloch says the research will provide important insights for policy makers.

"There are four main themes that will frame the research. The first are the routes through which undocumented migrants access employment, investigating the reasons why some use co-ethnic networks while others do not. We also want to see whether social capital theories can help us understand the unique position of undocumented migrants, given their unequal relations and their lack of assignable resources. The third area of interest is the power relationships within social networks especially within ethnic enclave employment. Lastly, the research will explore the tensions within the conflicting policy agendas of employment rights, immigration control and human rights from the perspectives of employees and employers."

Professor McKay joined in welcoming the commencement of the projecting, saying:

"The Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University is pleased to be working in collaboration with colleagues at City University London on this exciting new project. In examining decisions to use or not to use co-ethnic networks in the search for work in or out of ethnic enclaves, we intend to investigate not just those who utilise 'their' networks but those who do not."

Professor McKay also referred to the project's engagement with stakeholders:

"The project will have a strong focus on bringing together academics, representatives from NGOs, trade unions and organisations that work from the perspectives of workers and of employers, to give the research the wider focus that will enrich its outcomes. We are very pleased to have received support from a number of trade unions, NGOs, government bodies and representatives of minority ethnic workers and our strong focus on collaboration will, we believe, be a key to a successful project."

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