Decision-Making, Irregular Migration, and Benefits : A Case of Chin Migrant Workers in Malaysia

Tual Sawn KHAI*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Malaysia is a primary destination country for many economic migrants from Myanmar, including those from Chin State. Their remittances are essential sources of income for their families' survival. However, the diversity of workers' migration experiences, the challenges to finding regular migration pathways, and finally, the benefits of working in Malaysia remain unclear. This study employed nongovernmental referrals and snowball sampling to explore the above research questions. Findings indicate that the primary driving factors for Chin people's migration are poverty, a decline in agricultural production due to climate change, and a lack of employment opportunities at home. In addition, in Myanmar, people in Chin State experience structural discrimination based on ethnicity, religious affiliation, military oppression, and human rights violations. Barriers to regular migration include: (1) access to broker services; (2) the high cost of a legal work permit; (3) complicated paperwork and lengthy bureaucratic procedure; (4) geographical challenges to accessing the registration center; and (5) the high cost of living in the city while waiting for application results. For many, the irregular migration journey is a huge sacrifice, though female migrants are especially vulnerable, including to sexual harassment by brokers. However, the higher wages they can earn in Malaysia sometimes enable them to repay their debts and support their family's basic needs and welfare. The findings suggest that the national and local governments must enhance the socioeconomic conditions of the Chin people to minimize the "push factors" as well as streamline the regular migration process to facilitate those who choose to migrate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-219
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Burma Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

First, the author would like to express his sincere gratitude to all Chin migrants who took part in this study as well as those who assisted in the data collection process in Malaysia. Second, the author wishes to thank Prof. Wilma C. Abig, who supervised the master’s thesis, as well as the entire panel of reviewers, including Prof. Dennis Y. Batoy and Prof. Mina M. Ramirez, Dr. Erlinda G. Acierto, and Dr. Erlinda K. Natocyad, for their insightful comments and suggestions during the oral exam at the ASI in Manila, Philippines. Last but not least, the author would like to extend his sincere gratitude to Prof. Jane Ferguson for her valuable comments and English editing for this final manuscript

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Center for Southeast Asian Studies. All rights reserved.


  • Chin people
  • irregular migration
  • decision making
  • Myanmar
  • Malaysia
  • barriers to regular migration


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