This paper examines the state's contradictory roles in globalising its workforce and transforming its regulatory capacities, and the implications these changes have for the human and citizenship rights of an increasing number of migrant workers. We investigate foreign workers' protection and rights at both ends of the migration chain by using the specific examples of the Philippines and Japan. The discussion identifies areas for greater activism and mechanisms for the promotion of the rights of migrants from both 'above' and 'below'. First, the highly aggressive role of the state in globalising labour markets is theoretically discussed. The paper then examines the role of the Philippine state in labour export and the implications of its embrace of neo-liberalism for its capacity to strongly pursue migrant worker welfare. The contradictory positions of the state in promoting globalisation, on the one hand, and discourses of human rights for migrant workers, on the other, are highlighted. In the Japanese case we examine the role of the state in both regulating and restructuring its labour market, and the structural dependence placed on the legal and illegal importation of migrant labour. Despite this dependence, we reveal the contradictory positions held within Japan's state apparatus which result in a deliberate marginalisation of migrant workers. The important role of NGOs in disseminating information to migrant workers about their rights in Japan is highlighted. We explore the relationship between the individual and the state in the context of globalisation through the discussion of citizenship as a negotiated concept. We then examine the changing reality brought about by globalisation processes in terms of responsibility towards the protection of any worker (regardless of passport) but also with regard to activism on behalf of migrant labour. Finally, we emphasise the important future role to be played by NGOs in making the needs and rights of globalised workers more broadly recognized and attended to at both local, national transnational levels.