RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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130 Highly Skilled Migration and infrastructures of (im)mobilities (2): Processes
Convenor(s) Gunjan Sondhi (The Open University, UK)
Chair(s) Jill Ahrens (University of Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2019, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Sherfield/SALC Building, Room 8
Session abstract International migration and its infrastructures which link “technologies, institutions and actors” (Xiang and Lindquist 2014) are oriented toward enabling mobility. Intermediaries such as employment and migration brokers are part of the infrastructure that facilitate international labour migration of low-skilled workers. Works uncovering these institutions has revealed the uneven geographies and relations of power which shape such international labour mobilities and produce various migrant categories (Lin et al 2017, Xiang and Lindquist 2014). Moreover, some of these infrastructures also become the route through which the politics of inequality can be bypassed. Finally, it is not only intermediaries of mobility but also of immobility that has come to attention (Stockdale and Haartsen 2018).

Highly skilled migration (HSM), of which international students are a part, has an infrastructure that is orientated toward selectively enabling mobility and immobility. However, there has been limited research within HSM research on such infrastructures. Existing research on HSM has highlighted the roles of education brokers, employment agencies and migration intermediaries that facilitate mobility through work/education opportunities. Additionally, the geography of these discussion has focused on employers/education institutions within the global north, and brokers in the global south. However, as attachment of nations and internationalism are both being reconfigured in the contemporary moment, there is a need to make visible these and other infrastructures of (im)mobility of highly skilled migrants along other corridors. Moreover, there is also little on immobilities, despite the relationality of mobility and immobility (Adey 2017). This is surprising since the infrastructures that support the migration industry (Cranston 2017) are relatively immobile and place-bound (though not static). Infrastructures are dynamic; and that dynamism has a temporal dimension to their accretion and accumulation (Anand 2015).

This session focuses on a) how infrastructures shape the outcomes of the (im)mobile professionals and students; and b) what are the processes that shape and are shaped by infrastructures that differently enable (im)mobility of highly skilled. Through an examination of the processes and the outcomes of infrastructures within which highly skilled (im)mobilities are located, the papers in the session explore the uneven geographies and relations of power which shape such international labour mobilities within existing and emerging migration corridors.
Linked Sessions Highly Skilled Migration and infrastructures of (im)mobilities (1): Outcomes
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Chasing time: the complex relationship between state institutions and migration intermediaries in the regulation of international migration
Linn Axelsson (Stockholm University, Sweden)
In recent years, there has been a rise in interest in the infrastructures that shape international migration. Research on intermediaries in highly skilled migration has mainly focused on companies involved in matching employers with highly skilled professionals or in providing relocation packages, accommodation services, travel services and cross cultural training (Beaverstock 2018, Cranston 2014, Koh and Wissink 2018). Little attention has been given to the role that migration intermediaries play in visa application and work permit application processes and, more broadly, in migration governance. This paper shifts the focus to the micro-scale interactions between state institutions and migration intermediaries in highly skilled migration in the day-to-day implementation of immigration policy. It draws on a case study of the so-called certification system, a fast-track introduced in 2011 by the Swedish Migration Agency to reduce the processing times for work permit applications. By unpicking how this fast-track is the outcome of complex micro-scale interactions between the Swedish Migration Agency and two sets of migration intermediaries – immigration services providers and visa departments of multinational corporations – the paper shows that the regulation of international migration involves a complex interplay between state and non-state actors. This includes strategizing, bargaining and even forms of collaboration, and where both sets of actors stand to potentially gain.
Immigrants wanted? - The position of highly skilled foreign migrants within China’s emerging immigration system
Tabitha Speelman (Leiden University, The Netherlands)
As part of its sustained economic development, China is attracting more foreign immigrants. The Chinese state now has to adapt to this increase in immigration. While most research on international migration to China so far has explored the increasingly diverse foreign communities in the country, this project focuses on policy development and the role of (state) policy experts in the gradual building up of China’s immigration system. A qualitative research approach, consisting of textual analysis and semi-structured interviews with a wide range of related actors, is suited to mapping out different strands of policy discourse and identifying gaps between them. By examining the case of immigration policy experiments in Shanghai, China’s most international city, the paper identifies the main actors involved in facilitating and hindering China’s immigration policy development. The policy experiments in Shanghai aim to attract more highly skilled foreign migrants by offering more flexible work visa to qualifying professionals. They are among the most ambitious in the county, but have had limited success due to conflicting policy objectives within the Chinese state. This contradiction in China’s immigration policy development illustrates a larger tension in China’s internationalization, as its top leadership simultaneously commits to further opening up the country and limiting foreign influence.
Infrastructures, Channels, Apparatus, Institutions: What else comes across through the process of migration?
Joana Sousa Ribeiro (University of Coimbra, Portugal)
Infrastructures, channels, apparatus and institutions are being considered second order agents in migration process, specially in what regards the category of “skilled migration” (among others, Sandoz, 2018).The main aim of this paper is to explore migrants´ representation, recruitment and recognition, and the role played by the so-often called “meso-actors”. This paper draws on biographical interviews of nurses and doctors who came from non-EU countries (Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine) to Portugal, alongside accounts collected from Portuguese working abroad. Additionally, semi-structured interviews with international recruitment agencies and several national and international institutional actors were carried out; and official documents from the last decade of immigration, emigration and health policies were analysed. Despite focusing on a singular labour intensive sector – the healthcare – the discussion examines the intertwined relations with other sectors particularly education and labour market. Overall, the paper intends to critically discuss the emergence of several meso-actors and the respective mechanisms of power that it envisions, namely the ones regarding selection, in-exclusion processes, acculturation and privatisation. For doing that, it draws on the Foucauldian concept of dispositif, which enables a comprehensive analysis of the current feedbacks, side-effects and cumulative causation mechanisms of migration.
Transnational education geographies and Brexit: UK branch campuses as infrastructures for (re)negotiating highly-skilled im/mobilities
Jana Kleibert (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space / Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
Marketisation and globalisation have been important facets of UK higher educations’ transformation over the past decade, making higher education an important economic (export) sector that depends on mobilities of capital, labour and students. The article discusses the development of international branch campuses of UK institutions as a flexible technology that is deployed to selective enable highly-skilled im/mobilities.
Overseas branch campuses have an ambivalent relationship with migration: they can substitute for physical migration and enable universities to deliver degrees abroad to “immobile” students unable or unwilling to migrate to the UK; they facilitate intra-regional migration as many branch campuses are devised as “hubs” attracting students beyond host country citizens; and finally, they may act as stepping-stones for international (student) migration, for instance through articulation arrangements that explicitly require students to spend a certain time at the home campus in the UK. With uncertainty over post-Brexit migration policies, branch campuses are assuming a crucial role in the internationalisation strategies of British universities. The paper asks: How are the internationalisation strategies and (economic) geographies of British universities reconfigured during uncertainty over Brexit? Based on qualitative interviews with key decision-makers on international higher education in the UK, it is shown how branch campuses are being deployed as infrastructures enabling universities to disembed themselves from the UK, to rescale activities to London, and to re-embed themselves in Europe. Branch campuses thus are seen to enable spatial and territorial fixes at different scales.
Eleonore Kofman (Middlesex University, UK)