Abstract: In the global migration landscape, China has not been conventionally perceived as a destination country for immigration from abroad. Much scholarly and policy attention to date have focused on the ‘internal’ migration of rural migrant workers as part of the country’s rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Yet, in its rise as a global economic power, China has become an emerging destination for international migrants from both developed and developing countries in recent years. For example, unofficial estimates of the number of African immigrants residing in Guangzhou, one of China’s largest coastal cities, are as high as 100,000-200,000 — many of whom have irregular migration statuses.

Increasing numbers of foreign migrants in some Chinese cities have seen the rise of a public discourse against the so-called ‘three illegalities’ (sanfei) of illegal entry, illegal residence, and illegal work. Against this backdrop, the enactment of the Entry and Exit Administration Law 2013 (EEAL) has been considered by policymakers as one of the most important immigration legislation to date for regulating new immigration patterns. The new law introduces a variety of restrictions on the entry, residence, and employment of migrants, penalties and sanctions for immigration breaches, and whistleblowing obligations on employers and members of the public to report ‘sanfei’ activities.

Drawing on comparative insights from the literature examining the relationship between precarious migration statuses and migrants’ vulnerability in the workplace, this paper analyses how several key features of the EEAL regime — situated in a socio-political context of ‘combating sanfei’ — can undermine migrants’ employment rights and protections. This analysis is contextualised in the growing ‘precarisation’ of the Chinese labour market. This paper breaks new ground by advancing knowledge and developing theoretical lens in a heavily under-examined field of inquiry concerning labour immigration in China, which is likely to become increasingly important in the near future as the country confronts the challenges of significant demographic shifts.

About the speaker: Professor Mimi Zou teaches at the Faculty of Law, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She received her law doctorate (DPhil) and master's (BCL) degrees from the University of Oxford. Her current teaching and research interests are in employment law, contract law, and Chinese law. Before coming to CUHK, Professor Zou was Junior Dean of St John's College at University of Oxford, Lecturer and Research Fellow at Utrecht University, and Senior Tutor at Sydney Business School. She has held visiting positions at the Australian National University, Tsinghua University, Zhejiang University, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, Utrecht University, University of Sydney, and the University of Oxford.