In rural communities across the Global South, families are relying on temporary and permanent out-migration for work to navigate destabilising agrarian transformations. While research indicates that success of this household livelihood strategy may depend on the legal status of international migrants, precarious legal status is not solely a problem relegated to people who cross national borders. Indeed, millions worldwide are stateless in the countries of their birth. In this mixed-method study, we assess the importance of legal status for elderly well-being among highlanders in Northern Thailand—rural communities that are experiencing both extensive out-migration and protracted statelessness. We find that elderly wealth and work outcomes are shaped by the legal status of both out-migrants and of the rural elderly themselves. Specifically, we show that when rural elderly or their migrant relatives are stateless, the elderly are more likely to engage in wage work and less likely to gain financial benefits of out-migration to the extent that citizens do. Through ethnographic engagement, we locate the contributions of legal status to rural stratification in its complex entanglements with land access and ethno-nationalism in the region, and in the ways that state and market infrastructures deploy citizenship to surveil highlanders and other minorities in Thailand. Amidst growing calls to resolve statelessness in the Global South, our research suggests that the combination of out-migration and uneven extension of citizenship in rural communities is likely to exacerbate stratification, both for migrants and for those who rarely leave home.
Amanda Flaim, Lindy B Williams, Daniel B Ahlquist, How Statelessness, Citizenship, and Out-migration Contribute to Stratification Among Rural Elderly in the Highlands of Thailand, Social Forces, 2019.