“Staggered” Migration Processes, Experiences of Temporality, and Media Consumption

Robertson (2015a) refers to the experience of Asian migrants in Australia who go through a multistage migration of various temporary visas toward the hope of eventual permanent residency, as “staggered” forms of migration. This shifting migration pattern not only involves blurring of boundaries between temporariness and permanence but also unique experiences of temporality. Korean temporary visa-status migrants’ contingent, multi-directional, and multi-stage pathways can be well explained through these staggered migration processes. Just like the Asian migrants in Australia, Korean visa migrants in the US were also governed by time. In this regard, 1 suggest that the concepts of contingent temporality and indentured temporality (Robertson, 2019) are effective in understanding visastatus migrants and their media practices.

Jungyeon (H1B —> Permanent resident): After we did the initial interview, finally and luckily, my family received the green card in fall of 2015. We migrated 22 years ago, so it was a long wait. My whole life has been affected by the immigration/visa status. I would have selected a different major if I wasn’t concerned about the visa. I did accounting because many advised that it would have an advantage for getting a job and maintaining a sponsor for the visa. When 1 was searching for job, I don’t know how many times 1 was refused due to my status. As soon as I got the green card, the first thing I did was quit my job and start the teacher certification. My friend told me that after receiving the green card, I look relaxed. Honestly, 1 think I’ve got much lazier since then. I realize that my unstable status kept me always busy and get-going. Sometimes, I even miss that speed and vigilance.

This follow-up-interview quote from Jungyeon reveals the long waiting process, and the everyday struggles she went through due to the migration governance. Jungyeon went through various visa stages throughout her life from F.1 (student) to H1B (temporary worker), first for two years and a second renewal for three years, and then finally to green card. Every step of immigration status change involved much stress, money, and even self-studied immigration law knowledge. For instance, at the last moment of receiving green card, due to her lawyer’s sudden death, she had to figure out the Child Protection Act (CPA) by herself. If she had not done that, she would have opted out of the green card process, filed by her mom when she was a child, after waiting so long. Likewise, every step of her mundane life (choosing the major, traveling overseas, getting a job, dating, spending her leisure time) was disrupted and restructured by the unanticipated and unpredictable immigration status. Thus, what she experienced in every step of her migration journey until she received her green card was “contingent temporality” a “constant juggling of future on the biographic timescale across a dynamic institutional timescale” (Robertson, 2019, p. 174). In addition, she recognizes that she experienced a different kind of speed of time, tempo, before and after being a permanent resident.

Going through this contingent temporality, my study found that these temporary migrants often found cyberspace as an alternative space to connect and belong without the feeling of temporariness or conditional acceptance. Jungyeon was a very active social media user who utilized Instagram, Telegram, Pinterest, and Facebook and confessed that these online communities have aided her to find true friends whom she could build relationships with regardless of her location or (immigration) status. Although she also had close friends offline, she expressed that at moments she felt a wall between those friends and her due to their permanent immigrant status in the US. They could never fully understand what she was going through due to this issue and she felt tired of explaining all the complications due to her status. However, with online communities who normally shared certain leisure interests and often lived in different countries or shared similar situations, she was free from the burden and difference.

The story ofYeri, who stayed in the US for nine years and returned to Korea, shows another experience of temporality: “indentured temporality” (Robertson, 2019), which indicates some forms of stopping or delay in migration trajectories or transnational daily lives.

Yeri (Fl —> H1B —> Korea): I have to renew my visa every year. Almost every six months, 1 need to do all the paperwork. 1 was restricted to travel during the renewal process which takes about four—five months. 1 once couldn’t even drive because my license had expired and my visa was still in the process. 1 had to literally ask for rides every time 1 had to buy things, go to the church, or meet someone. I spent more than $10,000 for the lawyer fee. Just going through all this process, I felt really exhausted.

Yeri, a post-doctoral student in higher education with a well-paid job, is easily regarded as an emancipated cosmopolitan elite migrant. However, her transnational daily life was often suspended or constrained by the institutional time scales of immigration policy.Time often functions as a border in temporary migrants’ lives and sometime leaves migrants stuck in time, or even instantaneously illegal (Robertson, 2014). Especially, the visa migration reveals this border of time tangible in many ways: temporal limitations on duration of stay (five years for Fl, 12 to 39 months for OPT (Optional Practical Training)), temporal eligibility criteria in the Child Protection Act, processing times for change of status (four months for OPT approval, more than a year for green card), temporal limitations on work rights (20-hour restriction for work in the school for Fl, no work permit for dependent visa F2 and H4). Due to the conflict of these different time scales—biological, work-related, immigration law, family-related—migrants were stopped working or driving and stuck in isolated relationships or unhealthy marriages.

During this time of slackness or waiting, many migrants confessed too much time or sometimes, at the opposite extreme, lack of time and thus increased anxiety and stress. In both ways, I argue that media consumption was a big part of how they dealt with time. For instance, participants consumed much Korean television as a tool for avoiding this stress or just to keep time going. This phenomenon was most explicit for migrants when they experienced transition (to a new place, new visa status, or new job) and as the temporariness of these temporary migrants represents, transitions frequently appeared in their everyday lives. More than two-thirds of my participants stated that they had increased their media use after migration to the US and the ten migrants who returned to Korea after the initial interview revealed that their media use was apparently reduced. Especially with the emergence of smart mobile phones, migrants in this study often confessed the fear of being addicted to Korean news or Korean television.This kind of media practice could be understood through their emotional emptiness and boredom during this indentured temporality. This hunger for media in migrants’ daily lives has been similarly analyzed in a few studies (Christiansen, 2004; Gillespie, 1995; Smets,2018) but 1 believe more concrete observation of the role of media in the experiences of temporality in temporary forms of migration is greatly needed and important.

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