Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Social Science, Media and Communication and Centre for Asia Pacific Social Transformation Studies (CAPSTRANS)


The growing number of foreign workers is having a significant impact on the development of Malaysia’s economy. Nayu workers migrate to work through well-established networks. This study seeks to understand the migrant networks they create and use including their functions and outcomes before, during and after the migration processes. It draws on fieldwork carried out over six months between November 2008 and April 2009 which employed a qualitative approach involving participant observation and in-depth interviews of Nayu irregular migrant workers from the far Southern provinces of Thailand employed at Tom Yam restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.

The study found that migrant networks are an essential element in the successful movement of Nayu non-migrants from the far Southern provinces of Thailand to Malaysia, and within Malaysia itself. Since the 1970s the migration process has become chain migration. The networks involving migrants, returned migrants, non-migrants, owners of Tom Yam restaurants and their families and relatives in the villages, play an essential role in the various stages of migration and involve economic, social and cultural aspects.

The study shows that within the migration networks differences exist between men, women and Kathoey workers in terms of their positions in the networks, and their access to the networks which exist separately for men, women and Kathoeys. Gender structures not only the migrant networks but also the spatial patterns of men, women and Kathoey workers and their leisure time after work.

This study is one of the few contemporary empirical studies of irregular migrants in Southeast Asia working in the informal service sector that deals with how the functions and outcomes of migrant networks contribute to migration processes.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.