RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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96 Highly Skilled Migration and infrastructures of (im)mobilities (1): Outcomes
Convenor(s) Gunjan Sondhi (The Open University, UK)
Chair(s) Gunjan Sondhi (The Open University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2019, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
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 (2): Processes
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Internal and transnational infrastructural inequalities: Four cases of highly skilled migration from and into China
Cora LingLing Xu (Keele University, UK)
This paper draws on in-depth interview and participant observation data from four separate but inter-linked research projects on highly skilled migration from and into China to explore how the intersection of internal and transnational infrastructural inequalities have shaped the migration trajectories of highly skilled migrants. These four projects include 1) bi-directional higher education student migrations between mainland China and Hong Kong, 2) rural-to-urban migration of Chinese academics, 3) British-educated Chinese students’ study-to-work transition and 4) foreign English teachers’ job-seeking experiences in China. In this paper I will highlight the roles of three sets of infrastructural inequalities, including firstly, internal infrastructural inequalities such as rural-urban divide and differentiated Hong Kong-mainland higher education practices; secondly, transnational hierarchies of higher education systems and visa regimes (e.g. the global dominance of the British higher education in relation to the emerging Chinese higher education and the visa regimes of both countries in regulating foreign highly skilled immigrants); and thirdly, the intersection of such internal and transnational infrastructural inequalities over a prolonged period of time. I will discuss how these three aspects have together shaped the trajectories of these four groups of highly skilled migrants from and into China. By synthesising these larger qualitative data sets, this paper contributes to the literature through incorporating the domestic and transnational infrastructural inequalities and theorising highly skilled migration through the temporal and institutional lenses.
Loss of Status for Highly Educated Female Refugees
Nevra Akdemir (University of Osnabrück, Germany)
This study tackles refugee women with highly educated professional occupations as a very small and exceptional group of highly skilled migrants. The reason for this focus is that women who have professions in their countries before migration and hold a high level of social capital, face a loss of status through the migration / asylum process. Women in professional occupational groups can get a residence permit without applying to asylum. Therefore, the refugee process emerges in very special circumstances and makes the stories of women in this position remarkable. In this research the loss of status of refugee women is explored at the intersection of economic, social and political dimensions. Regarding the economic dimension, the paper explores whether the refugee women are able to exercise their profession or not according to the German employment-education framework and the occupational groups. The paper further explores whether refugee women can continue to develop their career; and what are the reasons for exclusion. In the social dimension, which is the second dimension, the focus is on the social services they need because of their gender codes, such as the obligation to care, and the problem of loss of status in their social networks. In the third dimension, loss of political status, the paper will examine if women with backgrounds of high education are able to maintain their role as a political subject in origin country, or intervene in the socially constructed environment they live in. In this frame, refugee women in public sphere will be questioned through the focus on involvement of professional organizations, associations and trade unions, public life or not.
Infrastructures of immobility: enabling international distance education students in Africa to not move
Markus Roos Breines (Open University, UK)
Parvati Raghuram (The Open University, UK)
Ashley William Gunter (University of South Africa, South Africa)
Scholars such as Massey (1994) and Sheller and Urry (2006) have demonstrated that mobilities are part of contemporary everyday power geometries and is a resource to which people have unequal access. Why some people choose immobility and what has to be mobilised to enable this immobility is less clear. This paper draws on interviews with international distance education students in Namibia and Zimbabwe studying at the University of South Africa (UNISA) to explore the spatio-temporal underpinnings behind why the students chose not to move to study. More specifically, it outlines the infrastructures of reach that enable student immobility. However, as these infrastructures are often incomplete students have to rely on other students as intermediaries to ensure their study progresses. This paper thus explores how immobilities require extensive systems of mobilities of other people and objects as well as agency of the students. In doing so we move away from considering immobility as a result of limited access to mobility to set a new research agenda where the infrastructures of immobilities are at the centre.
Permanent transience: The multiple (im)mobilities of highly-skilled migrants in the education hub of Dubai
Jill Ahrens (University of Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Education hubs consist of a cluster of academic institutions that engage in transnational education activities. Depending on the local context, a range of international and local actors, resources and infrastructures are brought together for the purpose of training, knowledge production and innovation activities. In the United Arab Emirates over 30 international universities have established branch campuses and these institutions have been actively recruiting a growing number of international students and staff. Even though the UAE regard the recruitment of highly-skilled migrants as a means to grow and diversify their economy, their immigration system does not offer any routes towards legal citizenship and reinforces hierarchies along ethnic and class lines. Therefore the presence of highly-skilled migrants in the UAE is characterized by permanent transience, as well as differentiated rights and privileges. Based on in-depth interviews with those studying and working at international branch campuses in Dubai, this paper explores how individuals negotiate their multiple (im)mobilities in this Gulf emirate. While some manage to feel settled and realise their aspirations in Dubai, others chart alternative pathways that can involve return, onward or circular mobilities.