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Alex Ma


Alex K.S. Ma

PhD Researcher
UCL Department of Geography
University College London
Pearson Building
Gower Street


Dr Claire Dwyer,
Dr Ben Page


The Making of a New Asian Tiger?: Myanma Labour Migration to Singapore, and Remittance-led Development

As Myanmar emerges from political isolation and undergoes rapid democratic and market reform, there is a need to understand how growing labour migration and remittance flows interact with the development process on the ground. Increasing regional integration and cooperation, growing migrant services industries, and the accumulative networks of migration processes all point to a likely expansion of labour emigration from Myanmar. Nonetheless, we know little about these workers, their remittance practices, and how remittances impact upon household development.

My research hopes to address each of these questions through the case study of Myanmar-Singapore labour migration. First, I will chart the demographics and remittance characteristics of Myanma workers in Singapore using quantitative surveys. Second, I will situate these summary data within ethnographic interviews with migrants to gauge the social dimensions of remitting, such as the motivations and meanings attached to these monetary flows. Interviews will also be held with key migration intermediaries such as employment agencies and money senders to explore how migrant behaviours and market agents interact. Finally, adopting a kind of ‘follow-the-thing’ method, I will trace these remittances back to Myanmar and see how remittances translate into tangible impacts in terms of collective household development. By doing so, I aim to holistically account for the role of remittances in recipient household strategies, examining the complex structures and migrant practices through which development outcomes are produced.

* This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK)

Keywords: Myanmar, Singapore, migration and development, labour migration, remittances


My research interests mainly look at labour migration and development, with regional focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Where my Bachelors and Masters research looked at the transnational practices and migrant temporalities of Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore, my doctoral research mainly focusses on remittances and household development in Myanmar. Outside of academia, I am also an active researcher for migrant NGOs in Singapore, especially on topics related to employment and migration issues. Collaborators have included the Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME) and the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI).

2018 (TBC)
PhD Geography, UCL

MSc Global Migration (Dist.), UCL

BA Geography (1st Hons), Royal Holloway, University of London

Relevant Experience:

Postgraduate Teaching Assistant, UCL                                                                   March 2016 – May 2016

Research Intern (Migrating out of Poverty Consortium, UK DFID)

Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore                                 May 2015 – August 2015

Social Researcher (Housing Allocations Team)

Camden Borough Council, London                                                                             January 2015 – May 2015


Slawson award via Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG)
Research grant for doctoral fieldwork and research dissemination

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Studentship Grant with University College London (UCL)
2014 – 2018

Royal Geographic Society (RGS-IBG): Developing Areas Research Group (DARG)
Undergraduate Dissertation Prize (nominee) for ‘Analysis of Foreign Domestic Worker’s Usage of Digital Media in Singapore’ (in association with ACMI, Singapore).


GEOGG3048/4048: Migration and Transnationalism (PGTA)


Ma, A. (2017) ‘Temporality, self-development and welfare among foreign domestic workers in Singapore’, in Mavroudi, E., Page, B. and Christou, A. (eds) Timespace and Migration, Chapter 7, pp. 91-103. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Ma, A. (2017) ‘Labor Migration from Myanmar: Remittances, Reforms, and Challenges’, available at: