Life Course, Media Practices, and Migration Decision-Making of Skilled Migrants

Life course perspectives can be used as a tool to explore the passage of time and the evolution of life trajectories of people (Kôu et el., 2009). For instance, geographers have used life course frame to explain an individual’s life via the structures of events and transitions and migration scholars often adopt this approach to understand the influence of life paths, social networks, diasporas, and immigration policies on migration decision-making (Collins and Shubin, 2015). Scholars have argued that this migration “decision-making” is a “flow” and process rather than a singular event (Griffiths et al., 2013) and “drivers of migration” not only include the economic, political, demographic, social, and environmental features but also temporal factors. Acknowledging that the “decision to migrate” is a temporally informed process allows us to understand that these decisions are much more complex than a rational calculative one (Collins, 2018). Here in this study, 1 suggest that the conceptual framework of life course by Kôu et al. (2009)2 is useful in investigating migration and media research, especially with “middling” migration populations such as the skilled migrants.

Korean temporary visa migrants discussed various “drivers of migration”, including personal career path, strategic family planning, and employment issues. The combination of household paths and education-employment paths leading to migration decision were explicitly revealed for my dependent-visa participants.The fact that all ten dependent-visa-status migrants were women reveals how the macro, meso, and micro contexts together structure skilled-migration decision. For instance, most of them admitted that they followed their husbands’ educational—employment path and many of them had to leave their job or study. Although this was not an easy decision, many of them pointed out the timing made much more sense for them to migrate to the US

Hani (F2 —> H4): Since my husband and 1 discussed moving to the US for study abroad, it wasn’t really hard to quit my job. And, anyways, I knew 1 had to have a baby.

Dahyun (F2 —> permanent resident): We met in the same company as workers. I thought hard about moving to the US before marriage, but after marriage, I thought it was a natural process. We planned that 1 would have a baby during his study, and it happened.

Likewise, for dependent-visa women, the biological timescale of having a baby coincided with the institutional scale of their husbands’ education—employment paths, and thus led to migration. Adding to these factors, media consumption functioned as a kind of driver for the migration for these women: most of the dependent women mentioned watching and loving American dramas before migration. However, interestingly, these migrants confessed that they do not watch American dramas any more after migration to the US

In this temporal migration journey, my study revealed that homeland media use was steeply increased when migrants dwelled in the US This was mainly due to the language and culture stress of Korean migrants who struggled to survive in the uneven global structure of transnational everyday lives. In fact, homeland media consumption provided my participants with some kind of ontological security that supported a sense of homeliness and daily reassurance (see Lee, 2019). Especially, 1 found that the Fl-status international students who felt the most temporariness (usually no jobs and no houses yet) showed the most Korean media time compared to H1B or L1 skilled migrants. Moreover, homeland news consumption influenced in their decision of future trajectories. The more heavily they used homeland news, while they related and identified to their Korean (political) identity strongly, migrants expressed that they did not want to go back to Korea since they consumed too much negative and dark news on Korean society. Then, conversely, when the ten migrants ended up returning to Korea, they all confessed that they consume less Korean media content compared to when they were in the US In this regard, the way media practices are influenced by and, at the same time, how media affect these life course paths is an important question for media scholars. When media practices are investigated in relation to the complex and multi-layered life course, we are able to understand the role of media better in temporary migration.

Although media practices may have influenced information gathering and emotional attachments regarding their migration path decisions, however, it is important to recognize that the actual migration trajectories often did not result in the direction these migrants planned and imagined. This is true if we consider the fact that at the time of the original interviews (early 2014), except few, most of them expressed that they would like to stay in the US for quite a while, then go back to Korea far later. Previous studies on international students have tended to see their future trajectories as stayreturn binary with push-pull factors (Bijwaard & Wang, 2016; Wu and Wilkes, 2017). While these studies introduced various factors, such as social ties, personal, economic, and professional, that influence post-graduate migration decision, again in my study, 1 suggest that temporal factors, so to say timing, is critical in understanding post-migration routes. Below are quotes from follow-up interviews (five years later) with Minhyuck and Momo.

Minhyuck (Fl —> OPT —> H1B —> Permanent resident —> migrated to Australia): I never knew that I would end up here when 1 was interviewed five years ago. Going through the hardships in the immigration process, 1 just had to quit my job in the US At that time, an offer came from Australia, and that is all. That was the only reason I came here.

Momo (Fl —> OPT —> H1B —> Returned to Korea): 1 remember my interview back then, and seriously, I have to confess that my media practices have changed so much! After 1 got a job and moved to a new place (more rural) where there were no Korean people around me, my Korean media consumption drastically decreased. Now back in Korea, still 1 don’t consume that much.

Just like Minhyuck and Momo, most migration journeys did not follow their plan or intention, but at most times, people had to choose among the available options at an unpredictable moment. For instance, while middle-class visa migration is voluntary in nature, Chaeyoung (F2), Hyerin (F2), and Lisa (F2) all expressed strongly that they wanted to stay in the US yet ended up returning to Korea due to their husbands’ career paths and family issues. More specifically, institutional time scales such as immigration policy changes due to the Trump administration and biological time scales such as parents’aging and sickness impacted their migration journey. In case of Jonghyun (LI) and Eunha (L2), within the five years they had to return to Korea and then move to Singapore and then to Saudi Arabia, all the migration processes dominantly controlled by the company’s decision and timing.

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