Migration is a central phenomenon in the contemporary world which concerns all the countries concerned at the economic, political and social level. In this context, entrepreneurship is often seen as the solution to integrate migrants into the receiving society. Is this another neoliberal myth or is it a viable option, especially for southern countries like Latin America?
In “The Birth of Biopolitics”, Michel Foucault describes the migrant as an entrepreneur, because one of the constitutive elements of human capital, a central concept of neoliberalism, is mobility, that is to say the capacity of individual to move.
If migrating in the first place represented a cost, material, psychological and disruptive financial gains and expenses, this cost over time could translate into investment, improvement of status and remuneration. According to Foucault, “migration is an investment, the migrant is an investor. He is an entrepreneur of himself who makes capital expenditures to obtain a certain improvement ”.
Brazil has positioned itself since the end of the 20th century as an important transit country and a South-South migration destination. In this context, despite the fact that, according to a recent report by the Migration Observatory (OBMIGRA), during the period 2010-2019, the number of immigrant workers under formal contract increased from 55.1 thousand to 147, 7 thousand, what prevails in this category is informal and life earns daily.
Therefore, entrepreneurship becomes an issue and, on several occasions, it is proposed by governments and international organizations as the “best” form of socio-economic integration for migrants and refugees. The “entrepreneur” character par excellence of the migrant who puts forward Foucault is, in this way, used and even “exploited” by society in economic terms.
For the past five years, I have been researching entrepreneurship programs aimed at economically including migrants and refugees in Brazil and the results of the work have given me an in-depth understanding of the world of migrant and refugee entrepreneurship.
In the cities of Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the collectives / NGOs that we analyzed, announced their objectives in a similar way: integration of migrants / asylum seekers and refugees into Brazilian society, through training, professionalization and integration into the labor market and personal “empowerment”. The services offered by NGOs range from catering for companies, motivational lectures given by migrants and refugees, in addition to participation in fairs and gastronomic events, with typical dishes of the countries of origin.
The growth of these collectives focused on entrepreneurship has increased a lot in recent years, in a perspective that sees entrepreneurship as a solution for the integration of migrants, especially in southern countries such as Latin America. But what about intraregional migrants (like Bolivians and Venezuelans), or extra-regional migrants (like Syrians and Angolans) after training, heralded as a means of empowerment and financial independence? Are these people, in fact, included economically? Or is the so-called “empowerment” happening?
Myths and reality of migrant entrepreneurship
When transforming into their own business, the personal and cultural history of the migrant / refugee emerges, in this context, as a factor of attraction and attention, both for what he sells and for himself . The Syrian who fled the war or the Venezuelan who had to leave his country because of the humanitarian crisis becomes, therefore, an entrepreneur of himself.
Migrants and refugees are introduced and trained to mobilize the potential for transformation and inspiration generated by their trajectories, which can be found in event catalogs and on NGO websites or in conferences of type TEDx, for example. This underlines the communicational work that neoliberalism operationalizes, by linking the idea of inspiration through trajectories of overcoming and success. The migrant entrepreneur or the refugee becomes the favorite character of this story.
If we agree that another of the hallmarks of neoliberalism is the operationalization of the notion of freedom in a place where individualism translates into the idea of ”be your own boss, be the owner of your time, be a entrepreneur of yourself ”, We would thus have the migrant or refugee entrepreneur as an agglutinating character of the neoliberal model: this individual who, coming out of a context of loss,“ takes the turn ”into an entrepreneur of himself.
However, the reports collected in our research contradict the elaborate picture of the “successful” migrant and refugee on the subject. No guaranteed labor rights, no budget predictability, because if an event is canceled, the impact on income is irremediable, migrant entrepreneurs and refugees were even more vulnerable to the pandemic. Yet like most home cooks, the lines between privacy, family time and leisure are blurred and everyone is drawn into the routine of buying inputs, cooking, packing. , to take them to the event, which becomes the centralizing element of these lives, the consequence of which the report of fatigue, illness and, above all, debt.
Although this description can be shared by many Brazilians and Latin Americans in a similar situation, two factors specific to migrants and refugees are highlighted: the absence of a support network for family and friends, because they are foreigners. , and difficulties in accessing credit, which exacerbate vulnerability and dependence on fragile sources of income.
The rebirth of the subject of rights
What we discovered from our research is what the pandemic reveals about neoliberalism. Reality is made up of testimonies from people living in the present without having at least guaranteed a future, in a condition of permanent precariousness. This reality becomes even more complex in developing countries like Latin America. So, what we need to discuss for a transformation of the exhaustive routine of these people is another type of communicational work, which does not hesitate to point out the failure of a model that aspires to sacrifice as a means of to exist.
Although entrepreneurial migrants and refugees are a specific sector and are still in the minority, throughout the research one of the last questions we asked was whether the person feels empowered? And the answer was always the same: “I feel tired”. To overcome this reality, from a global approach of the migratory phenomenon as a social phenomenon, it is time to claim new subjects, not that of the company itself, but the rebirth of the rights of the subject: economic , social and cultural.