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Session Overview
RS16_04a_IC: Migrants’ Agency at Work and Upward Mobility
Thursday, 31/Aug/2017:
9:00am - 10:30am

Session Chair: Patrizia Zanoni, Hasselt University
Location: Intercontinental - Arcade II
Athenaeum Intercontinental Hotel Syngrou Avenue 89-93 Athens, Greece Floor: Lobby Level

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Emerging Patterns of Socio-Spatial Mobility within the EU: The Case of Young Italians in Berlin

Stefania Animento

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany

In this paper I investigate practices of spatial mobility developed by young South European migrants as a response to precarization, which has further expanded into their lives since the crisis. Many of these young people, who are mainly middle class and well-educated, have moved to North European metropolises. Such mobility is more liquid and flexible than Fordist forms of work-driven migration. It also takes place within a favourable migration regime such as the inner-European one. However, it does not necessarily result in lower precarity. While literature shows that human capital and high skills are the keys to the access to labour markets abroad, my research on young Italian migrants in Berlin sheds light on contradictory dynamics. While some migrants experience upward social mobility, many of them end up working precariously in low-wage sectors and dwelling under uncertain conditions. According to literature, their paths of incorporation should diverge depending on the resources to which they have access. However, given their similar backgrounds, there is a lack of knowledge about what resources are more specifically relevant to them. What elements mostly affect young middle class migrants´ abilities to anticipate future paths and thus face precarity? I tackle this question through a mixed-methods analysis based on a set of 50 interviews, an online survey and participant observation. The analysis challenges conventional understandings of class, gender and ethnicity. I claim that we need to seriously consider the restructuring of labour markets that is currently taking place in the Global North as well as the effects of the European „free mobility regime“ on migration patterns.

Methodological nationalism and the role of research in the closure of migrants’ labour market participation

Hans Siebers

Tilburg University, Netherlands, The

Ethno-migrant inequality remains a persistent trait of the labour market in Europe (Heath and Cheung, 2007; Van Tubergen, Maas and Flap, 2004). Scholars have put forward several explanations. First, migrants may have less access to human capital formation (education, on-the-job learning, language proficiency, skills acquirement) (Duvander, 2001; Rafferty, 2012). Second, they may have less access to resources embedded in social capital and network ties (Lin, 2000), drawing on Bourdieu (1986), Granovetter (1983) and Putnam (2000). Third, there is the impact of government legislation and formal institutions regarding guest labourers (Van Tubergen et al., 2004) contributing to the precarity of labour conditions many migrants confront (Anderson, 2010; Lewis et al., 2015; Siebers, 2015; Houwerzijl, 2013) and there is the discursive impact of government policies fuelling ethno-nationalist conflicts (Siebers, 2010; 2015; Siebers and Dennissen, 2015). Fourth, migrants may have to face discrimination (Andriessen et al., 2010, 2012 and 2014; Blommaert et al., 2012).

Little attention has been paid so far to the possibility that scholars themselves may be contributing to the production of such inequality. Drawing on Andreas Wimmer’s and Nina Glick Schiller’s (2002;2003) critique on methodological nationalism, I will first demonstrate how some branches of literature are indeed marked by looking at ethno-migrant inequality in the labour market from an (ethno-)nationalist lens. Thus, their research designs and interpretations of findings produce serious biases. Second, these biases feed ethno-nationalist approaches of migrants in politics, policies and interactions in work setting that contribute to the widening of the ethno-migrant gap in the labour market.

The intersections of state policy, individual agency and the labour market experiences of undocumented migrants

Alice Bloch

University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Drawing on interviews with 55 undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, China and Turkey who were living in London at the time of their interview this paper will examine the complex ways in which undocumented migrants experience the labour market within the punitive and exclusionary state practices that target and penalize undocumented migrants and their employers. It is clear that incrementally punitive policies including raids on businesses, fines on employers found to be employing workers without the correct documentation and the constant threat of deportation can and do exacerbate the potential exploitation of undocumented migrants, in relation to working conditions, workplace relations, labour market mobility, workplace rights and wages. However, what is less examined are the complex and variable ways in which undocumented migrants are active agents who can, on occasions, improve their working conditions, their skills and their wages even within the constraints of their status and state policies. The focus of this paper is on the multiple ways in which state policy, individual agency and the labour market experiences and strategies among undocumented migrants interact.

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