Skilled Americans in China: Migration Motivations, Return Intentions and Cross-border Mobility

Authors: Yining Tan*, Arizona State University
Topics: Ethnic Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism, Asia
Keywords: skilled migration, migration motivations, return intentions, cross-border mobility, China
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Global South countries are increasingly becoming destinations for skilled international migrants. While much has been explored about skilled migrants from developing countries to developed countries or their return to the homeland in the Global South, less attention has been paid to the emerging trend of skilled migrants from Global North to Global South. This paper aims to bridge the literature gap by providing empirical evidence on skilled Americans in Pearl River Delta Region (PRD) of China.

Guided by the mobility literature, this paper asks the following questions: 1. Who are the skilled Americans in China? What motivates them to move to China, and PRD region, in particular? 2. What are the future migration plans and return intentions for skilled Americans in China? Does COVID-19 have any impacts on their plans? 3.What are the factors influencing the cross-border mobility of skilled Americans to China? Drawing from semi-structured interviews, this paper found that skilled Americans in China are mostly self-initiated “middling migrants”. They moved to China for a variety of reasons including economic opportunity, family consideration, and lifestyle choices. Their future migration plans varied from returning to the U.S. or moving to a third country to staying in China permanently. The global outbreak of COVID-19 and the associated border control forced some Americans to return home while encouraging others to stay longer in China. Their cross-border mobility is shaped by the geopolitical powers between migration sending and receiving country, the local employment market, and migrants’ social characteristics.

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