Research by Associate Professor Marie Segrave sheds light on experiences of social inclusion among unlawful migrant workers

Unlawful migrant workers are frequently positioned as either taking Australian jobs or as powerless victims of human trafficking and slavery. Yet despite having no formal rights or protections, evidence shows they are included in society and valued as productive workers, consumers and active members in the community.

It has been estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 non-citizens are working ‘illegally’ in Australia. However, public concern has tended to focus on the vulnerability of lawful migrant workers rather than those with no formal rights or protection. When they are spoken of, they are often framed as taking Australian jobs or as powerless victims of unscrupulous and abusive employers. In a recent article, Associate Professor Marie Segrave pays attention to the everyday experiences of unlawful migrant workers and how they experience social inclusion through their work and interactions in public and commercial spaces.

By shifting the focus from law and policy to the everyday experiences of unlawful migrant workers and their employers, this research reveals the sites and strategies used by these groups to avoid detection and achieve a sense of belonging and inclusion. Findings highlight how the interdependence of workers and employers acts to subvert the laws and policies designed to exclude unlawful labour. This mutual dependence also facilitates practices of inclusion. By prioritising the continuity and quality of labour over legality, employers enable unlawful migrant workers to be valued as productive employees alongside lawful workers. In public life, workers seek to avoid detection by law enforcement by being independent, self-reliant and appearing as law-abiding, valued members and consumers in the community, challenging myths that criminalise unlawful migrants. By paying attention to everyday experiences of this misunderstood group in our society, this research sheds light on how social inclusion is achieved despite exclusionary laws and policies.

Marie Segrave is Deputy Director of Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre and Associate Professor in Criminology at Monash University. This article is published in a recent special issue of Theoretical Criminology.