#Brexit: A Reminder About the World’s Migrant Workers

Migrant workers.

We see them across the city, working the hard jobs on the street, studying for university degrees, and earning wages to support themselves and others. They are domestic migrants, traveling to urban Chinese centers of opportunity from rural hometowns in hope and pursuit of a better life – for themselves and their families.

Considering the political turmoil and societal hesitation towards migrant and immigrant workers worldwide, both domestic and international minority laborers have found the validity of their presence in the new home cities and countries questioned. The migration debate has become a particularly integral part of the recent referendum ruling in favor of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

In the wake of #Brexit and all that will follow, the world’s leaders, thinkers, and citizens may observe numbers and statistics alone and forge judgments and opinions about the state of national affairs accordingly. However, we at Collective offer a more nuanced, personal approach.

We’ve interacted with migrant workers right here in Shanghai. We’ve listened to their stories. We’ve researched and studied the context around the controversies. We’ve begun to highlight how, and why, so many Chinese make the move from rural towns to major cities along the eastern coastline.

Lest the world forget the people behind the policies, the families behind the facts and figures, we at Collective wish to share stories of hope and opportunity.

With that in mind, here are 5 types of migrants who make up the diverse and active society in Shanghai:

1. The Son or Daughter Far from Home

Usually in their 20’s or 30’s – they are a younger adventurous type of person that is either working or attending university in Shanghai. Although these individuals typically work low-paying, part-time jobs in the service industry, they financially support their families back home. They moved to Shanghai for improved living conditions but don’t feel well integrated into the city. To them, the city is a place to earn a wage, and all they really want to do, once able, is to return home indefinitely.

Young Migrant Workers Shanghai Brexit - Collective Responsibility
Young adult migrants in Shanghai work low-paying jobs or attend university, while supporting their families back home. Photo Credit: COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY

2. The Factory Worker Looking for a Fresh Start

These individuals encompass middle-aged construction workers and street vendors. They typically move to Shanghai to either work in factories on the outskirts of the city or end up opening a small business, such as food stalls or mechanics shops, and live quite modestly with their spouse and children. The blue-collar migrant is very similar to the son/daughter returning home in regards to their perception of the city; big cities are place to earn a wage but can never be home.

3. The Businessman Seeking a Fortune

This migrant is in his late 30’s to early 50’s and typically works in high-grossing industries like technology, trade, banking, and finance. He or she normally holds a university degree and has international experience. A solo traveler and resident of the city, this type of migrant is enthusiastic about his life in Shanghai; he feels integrated to the Shanghainese lifestyle and community and is likely to settle down in Shanghai.

4. The Young Urban Professional

This migrant is slightly different from the Businessman. He or she represents individuals under 30 working in diverse sectors in Shanghai. These migrants typically work mid- to high-paying jobs as hairdressers, car designers, boutique owners, etc., and also support their relatives back home. Individuals in this category typically went to vocational school and have minimal international experience. Oftentimes, they have very positive feelings towards city life. They live very comfortably in Shanghai and are very willing to settle here.

5. The Migrant Family

You can’t miss the Family when you roam the city of Shanghai, a nuclear core of multiple generations and values. Typically, the parents are migrants, whereas the children are born in Shanghai. The dynamics between the first generation of migrants and the second generation may contrast in regards to their integration to the Shanghai community and their perception of the city life. While the parents plan to go back to their hometown and live a peaceful retirement there, the children certainly do not think they will follow their parents. The younger generation would rather settle in Shanghai; they identify as Shanghainese and consider Shanghai home.

Family Migrant Workers Brexit - Collective Responsibility
The parents are migrants, the children are born in Shanghai, and their dynamics and feeling toward living in the city may contrast. Photo Credit: COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY

A Reminder

All too often, when people discuss the state of migration and immigration, they tend to forget everything a migrant’s life entails. They forget that a statistic of how many millions of “other” people plan to enter their cities and neighborhoods is exactly that – a simple statistic. However, by diving deep to the individual and personal level, we can all find much more in common with those who would otherwise be labeled as “The Other.” Many of us can even trace our own roots through history back to migrants.

We can remember. We can relate. And then, we can engage in global debates and decisions from a human perspective.

We at Collective will be releasing profiles and our report on “Hope and Opportunity” in the coming week, as well as sharing our own insights regarding the potential impact of #Brexit on environmental policy. Follow us for our research and insights, and stay tuned for more content.


This blog post was originally written by Collective Responsibility Research Analysts Mike Hager and Rim Karoui. It was repurposed for today’s events by Collective Responsibility Research Analyst Gabrielle Williams.

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