International Summer University in Social Work 

Undocumented Migrants and Ethical Issues

Prof. GAO Jianguo — Shandong University, China

Social workers face serious and complex legal questions and ethical dilemmas when working in programs or areas serving undocumented migrants. Ethical dilemmas in social services for undocumented migrants include conflicts between professional ethics and the law, citizenship choice conflict and the allocation of funds or agency resources. These ethical dilemmas can be identified at the levels of individual, organization and the outer world. Steps for handling the ethical dilemmas are consulting the code, reviewing laws, seeking supervision, consulting professional associations and learning social work values and theories of social work ethics.
Several organizational policies are developed to guarantee the human service and education needs of all children regardless of their or their parents’ legal status, access to emergency health and mental health care, appropriate migration-related services to undocumented minors in foster care, penalty-free placed on the children of undocumented migrants imposed because of their parents’ actions, protection of the undocumented from family violence; and to oppose mandatory reporting of migration status by health, mental health, social service, education, and other public service providers (NASW, 2009).
Changes of the hukou system, a long term registration system which served the functions of collecting information about households, controlling resource allocation and controlling internal migration (particularly from rural to urban areas) in China, will be discussed in connection to ethical issues and to social support provided by social workers. Future intentions of these changes are illustrated from a modernization perspective.

  • Hardina D. Deferred Action, Immigration, and Social Work: What Should Social Workers Know? Journal of Policy Practice, 2014, 13(1): 30-44.
  • Cleaveland C. “We are not criminals”: Social work advocacy and unauthorized migrants. Social work, 2010, 55(1): 74-81.
  • Jönsson, J. H. Local reactions to global problems: Undocumented immigrants and social work. British Journal of Social Work 44 (2014), (Suppl. 1), pp. i35- i52.
  • PICUM (Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants). Minutes from PICUM Workshop on Drafting an Ethical Code for social workers assisting undocumented migrants. Netherlands, March 2002.
  • Li, Ying/Chui, Ernest. China’s Policy on Rural-urban Migrants and Urban Social Harmony, Asian Social Science, vol. 7, no. 7, 2011, 12-22.