Comparative Migration Studies (Jan 2024)

Life experiences and cultural adaptation among migrant workers in Malaysia

  • Azlizan Mat Enh,
  • Andika Wahab,
  • Arina Anis Azlan,
  • Kartini Aboo Talib,
  • Andi Muhammad Tri Sakti,
  • Fazal Mohamed Mohamed Sultan

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 1
pp. 1 – 22


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Abstract This study examines the state of migrants’ cultural adaptation in Malaysia, and how such an adaptation can help build our understanding of migrants’ life and employment experiences in the country. In doing so, this study has adopted a quantitative approach, with a completed survey towards 410 migrant respondents, living and working temporarily in Selangor, Malaysia. A multiple regression analysis finds that the three most significant predictors contributing to the respondents’ cultural adaptation are “positive experiences” (β = .677, p = .000), “closeness” (β = − .107, p = .008), and “social relationships” (β = .095, p = .032). While “positive experiences” and “social relationships” influence the migrant workers’ adaptation positively, the “closeness” predictor on the contrary (negative). Another predictor, “disconnection”, is found to be not statistically significant. The one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) reveals significant differences in the respondents’ cultural adaptation based on such demographic characteristics as age, gender, level of education, nationality, length of employment, and sector of employment. For instance, female migrants are strongly associated with a higher level of “positive experiences” [F(1, 408) = 6.321, p = .013] and “social relationships” [F(1, 408) = 5.634, p = .018], while male migrants tend to rely on cultural proximity (i.e., “closeness”) [F(1, 408) = 6.828, p = .009]. The discussion section highlights attributes such as the gender factor in cultural adaptation, preservation of cultural identities, and creation of migrants’ symbolic places to understand how cultural adaptation intersects with the migrant workers’ daily lives and experiences. This study concludes that as Malaysia’s economy continues to rely on migrant workers, it needs to better understand the workers’ cultural adaptation and their far-reaching impact on their life experiences and employment conditions in the country.