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IDIA2014 Conference
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
3-4 November 2014

Migrants, Mobile Finance and Marginalization: Exploring Remittance Processes and "Ghettoization" in Singapore

Arul Indrasen Chib
Nanyang Technological University
Singapore

Narendiran Sundararajan
Nanyang Technological University
Singapore

Mohamed Sirajudin
Nanyang Technological University
Singapore

Mohamed Jinnah
Nanyang Technological University
Singapore

Full paper

Abstract

Migration has a huge impact on global economy, and the movement of money, through remittances, follows the movement of people. In Singapore, remittances from South-Asian migrants averaged around 1.4 billion USD (“Remittance Flows Worldwide,” 2014), one example of a contribution that has led the United Nations to acknowledge migration as a vital force in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. In Singapore, there are 1.1 million foreign workers, with one-third in the construction sector mainly from South and Southeast Asia (Yeoh, 2007). Their growing number has led to an increase in migrant-targeted services offered in cultural ghettos (Kitiarsa, 2008). Existing traditional modes of remittance services available in these areas play a role in this "ghettoization,” which in turn could affect the socialisation of migrants in host countries, resulting in marginalisation. Mobile phones have been the primary Information and Communication Technology (ICT) device for migrants (Thompson, 2009), and the social support meted out to migrants through mobile connectivity is also established (Thomas & Lim, 2010). Additionally, mobile-aided financial services, i.e., mFinance, have been beneficial in providing fast, secure and convenient financial transactions (Mampaey, 2011). However, this adoption of mobile phones does not translate into usage of mFinance due to various knowledge gaps. The remittance process has to be seen as a social process more than just an economic process of money-transfer (Hasalová, 2010) as it entails socialisation with fellow countrymen in a familiar environment.  In-depth qualitative interviews of 13 South-Asian interviewees in Little India district revealed that mFinance makes their remittance process more convenient, and have no issues with credibility and security, if guided on its usage. Hence the instrumental and informational support of doing their remittances through mobile phones is welcomed. However, they admitted that this alone may not prevent them from congregating in the “ghettos,” but might free up time for more meaningful socialisation, like interacting with their countrymen and grocery shopping. So they still prefer the existing emotional and social support meted out by the remittance process, of going to the banks in these localities, which is a potential hindrance to the adoption of mFinance. The study findings would be beneficial to the government in the formulation of pro-social and local-integration policies for an inclusive society, banks in terms of wider outreach, and NGOs through public education and sustainability programmes. 

Key words

Migrants, Migration, Mobility, mFinance, Remittance, Marginalisation, Ghettoization, Singapore, Asia, South-Asian, Indian