Academic journal article Migration Letters

Migrating Skills, Skilled Migrants and Migration Skills: The Influence of Contexts on the Validation of Migrants' Skills

Academic journal article Migration Letters

Migrating Skills, Skilled Migrants and Migration Skills: The Influence of Contexts on the Validation of Migrants' Skills

Article excerpt

Abstract

Notions of skill are geographically and historically specific; migration regimes, professional regulations and national policies influence possibilities of effective validation of migrant knowledge abroad. Migration scholars convincingly demonstrate how migrants actively circumvent national requirements to fit into the dominant culture of the society of residence while preserving their own identities. Yet, without exception, social inequalities research exclusively addresses the integration of migrants into the receiving context, taking skills as a fixed attribute migrants simply 'bring with them'. I argue that the context of origin of migrants for skill acquisition and validation during the migration process needs to be considered as well. The way skills are defined, acquired and valorised in the country of origin has an influence on how migrants mobilise them in the receiving society and on how they perceive their chances for negotiating strong positions in the labour market of the host country. The article draws on a study of Polish migrants to the UK with secondary and tertiary educational certificates who work in routine or semi-routine occupations.

Keywords: skills; highly skilled migration; deskilling; Polish immigrants; United Kingdom

Introduction

Highly skilled migrants are considered a prototype of a socially mobile group because they possess "transnationally valid forms of cultural capital" (Weiß, 2005: 716), meaning that their skills can be utilised in any suited labour market. First, it is because nation-states have been reducing barriers to the movement of these wanted professionals who now are capable of choosing optimal environments. Second, the majority of professionals who move within the networks of corporations and international organisations are liberated from nation-state commitments (Nowicka, 2006). The European Union, through instruments such as recognition of educational and professional credentials has also been creating a framework for the free movement of (technical) skills. However, for most of the well-educated migrants deskilling is a common experience (SOPEMI, 2006). Many of the new Eastern European workers in paid employment in the UK are university graduates in low-wage jobs (Milewski and Ruszczak-Zbikowska, 2008). This raises the question of the specific workings of migration with regard to the possibilities of utilizing skills acquired abroad.

There are several significant gaps in the migration research on skilled workers, the most common criticism being that it is gender-blind, that it neglects the aspects of family migration and deskilling among women (Kofman, 2007) and that it is usually limited to a few sectors of the economy: banking and finance, technologically intense sectors such as information and communication (Beaverstock, 2012), international organisations (Nowicka, 2006), medical services (Raghuram and Kofman, 2002; Kingma, 2006) and science and education (Ackers and Gill 2008). Problematic is to view deskilling through the lens of deficiencies (Thränhardt, 2005), and it is not clear how the general tendency towards a degradation of work (Doussard, 2011) influences the deskilling of migrants and in what respects deskilling of migrants differs from erosion of skills among workers affected by unemployment (Possarides, 1992).

From this wide range of problems facing the research on the social mobility of international migrants, I pick one issue which I think is of key importance. The research exclusively addresses the problem of deskilling - and, more broadly, of the integration of migrants - in the receiving context, taking skills as a fixed attribute of migrants. Drawing on studies on migrant subjectivity and on the research on migrant transnationalism, I argue that the context of origin of migrants for skill acquisition and validation during the migration process needs be considered as well. The way skills are defined, acquired and valorised in the country of origin has an influence on how migrants mobilise them in the receiving society and on how they perceive their chances for negotiating strong positions on the labour market of the immigration country. …

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