(SOM1a) Roots and Returns I: The Politics and Poetics of “Home” and Return Migration

Friday Jun 21 9:00 am to 10:30 am (Eastern Daylight Time)
Online via the CSA

Session Code: SOM1a
Session Format: Paper Presentations
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Sociology of Migration
Session Categories: Virtual-CSA

The concept of “home” may take on various forms for migrants, from an actual place to an imaginary construct interwoven with their sense of belonging. Migrants often express emotional ties to their homelands as a way of connecting to their “roots” and making sense of their lives. Just as “home” can be physical and symbolic, returning to it can also be understood as a practice and an imaginary. Return also involves states (both home and host), which may encourage, force, or deny it. This session investigates the politics and poetics of “home” and return to enrich our understanding of them. Tags: Home And Housing, Migration and Immigration

Organizer: Sara Hormozinejad, University of Toronto; Chair: Sara Hormozinejad, University of Toronto


Maricia Fischer-Souan, Sciences Po Paris and Université de Montréal

Everyday Poetics of Dislocation: Reflections on the Emotional, Imaginative, and Reflexive Worlds of Migrant Narratives

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” the saying goes. Yet qualitative interview-based research in the social sciences seldom delves into the figurative and non-literal speech acts that proliferate in interviews. This paper offers a methodological reflection on how to enhance the lyrical sensibilities of researchers in qualitative interviewing with international migrants. Structured around the idea of everyday migrant poetics – or poetics of dislocation - it contends that imagery, emotion, and reflexive thought-processes are cornerstones of rich biographical migration narratives and require a level of inter-relational “communion” between interviewee and interviewer, as opposed to “conquest” for information. A lyrical stance allows researchers to make sharper distinctions between cognitive and affective registers of participant discourse and meaning-making. Moreover, recognizing the emotional components of biographical interviews may heighten the co-creation of knowledge and understanding, something which both the reflexive stance in the social sciences and lyrical sociology converge upon. The latter’s emphasis on momentaneity, location and emotion is highly relevant to the former’s concern with recognizing the social dynamics involved in the constitution of knowledge. Finally, and where interviewing in migration research is specifically concerned, a lyrical and emotional stance toward migrant narratives may be well equipped to illuminate the phenomenological aspects of migration, from complex processes around (return)migration decision-making and the relationship between structure and agency in migrant experience, to the spatio-temporal distinctions around meanings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’.

Anne-Cécile Delaisse, University of British Columbia - Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Home, Belonging, and Decision-Making: A Study of Vietnamese Highly Skilled Migrants' Return

Vietnam is the third biggest student sending country in the world (after China and India), with over 100,000 students abroad (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2023). Although previous estimates suggested that only 30% of Vietnamese international students return home post-graduation (OECD, 2013); recent studies highlight that this proportion is increasing given the country’s important economic development (Hoang and Ho, 2019; L. Pham, 2019; Q. N. Pham, 2019; T. Pham, 2022; T. Pham and Saito, 2020; Tran et al., 2022; Tran and Bui, 2021). Existing research on Vietnamese returnees tends to focus on their navigation of and integration in the local labour market. On the one hand, there is a gap in the literature examining the decision-making of Vietnamese highly skilled returnees. On the other hand, given the focus of recent studies on Vietnamese returnee’s positioning in the labour market, there is a risk to picture their movement of return only through an economic lens, that is, mostly strategic and motivated by economic opportunities. This paper examines the multiple, intricate factors shaping the return decisions of highly skilled Vietnamese migrants in Vancouver, Canada, and Paris, France. I argue that their decision-making involves intricate interactions between their perceptions of the ‘home’ country, considerations beyond financial or career-related aspects, and the strategic or unexpected timing of return. Additionally, these processes are further shaped by migrants’ intersecting identity markers and migration trajectories. This paper draws from a critical ethnography on the (transnational) belongings and daily activities of Vietnamese migrants in Vancouver, Canada, and Paris, France, as well as returning migrants in Vietnam. Methods included 22 observations and 86 interviews with 64 participants; 10 Vietnamese international students in each city, 15 additional recent Vietnamese migrants in Paris and 16 in Vancouver, as well as 13 migrants who have returned to Vietnam from France (6) and from Canada (7). By considering the viewpoints of highly skilled migrants in Vancouver and Paris who have considered or decided against returning to Vietnam as well as the experiences of people who did return, this paper provides insights into the multifaceted factors that shape their decision-making as well as their idea of ‘successful’ return. Firstly, highly skilled Vietnamese migrants’ return decision-making is intertwined with their perceptions of their home country and their envisioned scenario of return. For example, participants have diverse viewpoints on Vietnam’s booming economy. Those preferring to stay in their receiving countries tend to approach the situation with caution, emphasizing economic uncertainties and instabilities. In contrast, those desiring to return mostly adopt an optimistic and adventurous stance, finding excitement in high-risk, high-reward opportunities. These differing outlooks are influenced by identity markers such as gender and region of origin, as well as migration trajectory (e.g., context and family strategies associated with their migration). Secondly, while financial or career-driven considerations are indispensable in participants’ return decision-making, these considerations intricately intersect with other significant factors. Participants weigh different elements contributing to their quality of life in Vietnam, such as proximity to family, education opportunities for their children, and access to amenities that allow them to uphold a standard of living comparable to that in their receiving countries. Thirdly, temporality plays a crucial role in participants’ return decision-making and the concrete experiences of the returnees. For example, returnees’ experiences can vary greatly if they go back upon graduation or after acquiring work experience in the receiving countries, or if they return to Vietnam upon securing a satisfactory job offer. While certain participants can strategically plan the timing of their return, unforeseen life events can also unexpectedly prompt their repatriation. In conclusion, this presentation aligns with the overarching theme of the session, "Home, Belonging, and Return Migration," by highlighting factors influencing some migrants to return to their country of origin while others settle in the receiving countries; taking into account different identity markers and migration experiences. Furthermore, the paper addresses participants’ transnational belongings. When contemplating a return, participants predominantly cite factors drawing them back to Vietnam rather than reasons to leave their receiving countries. This underscores that, for the highly-skilled Vietnamese migrant participants in this study, the notion of return, whether as an action or an idea, does not conflict with their sense of belonging in the receiving countries.

Sara Hormozinejad, University of Toronto

Returnees' lives in (e)motion: Investigating the emotional dimension of return migration through the cultural notion of reesheh (roots) in the case of Iran

This article offers insight into the emotional dimension of voluntary North-South return migration by examining returnees’ own understanding of their return trajectories. In the study of voluntary return migration, scholars have directed substantial attention toward the economic determinants, guided by the rational choice theory and the modernist discourse. The economic models, however, are often universalist and overlook the nuances of North-South return shaped by non-economic factors and culturally specific criteria. To gain a nuanced understanding of how migrants’ perception of return shapes their return trajectories, this paper moves beyond the economic models and investigates the seemingly puzzling case of return migration to Iran, wherein migrants engage in returning from a prosperous host country in the Global North to the challenging living context of their homeland in the Global South. Such return migration experiences offer a rich and complex field for research on migration and emotion. Despite the evident difficulties of living in Iran, there exist Iranians who, after undergoing the often time-consuming and resource-intensive emigration process and residing in Global North host countries with stable socioeconomic and political conditions, choose to return to their homeland. Similar to the main trend in migration studies, which has been greatly focused on assimilation and integration, the study of Iranian migration has been concerned with Iranian migrants’ relation to the host society and the ways in which they form and negotiate diasporic identities and navigate racism and anti-Muslim resentment, particularly in their Global North host countries. I assert that not only scholarship about return migration to Iran is notably limited, return as an integral subprocess of international migration is undertheorized. To investigate the often-overlooked dimensions of return, this study draws on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with fifteen Iranian return migrants and asks: How do migrants make sense of their voluntary North-South return migration? What do culturally meaningful notions reveal about their return? How do they explain the role of emotions in shaping their decision-making process? Departing from the economic cost-benefit analysis of cross-border movements and adopting a bottom-up approach that considers migrants’ perception of return, this article shows how culturally meaningful notions can reveal the emotional dimension of return migration. The Iranian return migrants who shared their experiences with me referred to the culturally relevant and symbolically important notion of reesheh (roots and rootedness) as a key reason for motivating them to return to Iran despite the challenging living circumstances in their home country. This nuanced Persian concept embodies a strong sense of emotional attachment to the homeland and encompasses a range of sentiments, including love, belonging, responsibility, care, and hope. This article posits that emphasizing the salience of emotions in return migrants’ narratives prompts a re-examination and expansion of three commonly-held rationales in the scholarship and public discourse about North-South return migration: 1) North-South return is a matter of life course factors such as age and duration of stay abroad; 2) Parents may hesitate to return from their Northern hostland to their Southern homeland; 3) Women may manifest a reluctance to partake in North-South return migration. This article underscores the emotional aspects that underlie North-South return migration, highlights migrants’ notable agency, and rejects the modernist portrayal of emotion as epistemologically subversive.

Ka Po Kong, University of British Columbia; Frankie Cabahug, University of British Columbia

Reimmigration, Resettlement and Reintegration: A Case Study of Recent Hong Kong Re-return Immigrants

In the 21st century, return, repeat, and circular migration have become more prominent, introducing new time-space dynamics and intensifying research interest in non-static migration patterns. Existing literature has identified patterns of human migration activities, including repeat and circular migration between immigrants and guestworker host countries (Constant and Zimmermann, 2003, 2011, 2012), and onward emigration due to global labour market changes (Aydemir and Robinson, 2008; Nekby, 2006). For example, Bratsberg et al. (2007) document an increasing migration trend among Pakistani immigrants returning to Pakistan and later returning to Norway, defining a re-return (or post-return) dynamic. This re-return migration dynamic suggests a unique experience for those who possess previous experiences with the host country and re-engage in settlement and integration. While increasing discussion focus on motivations, incentives and enabling factors for return migration, limited research examines and follows up on re-return immigrants resettlement and reintegration trajectories. The scarcity of research on re-return immigrants can be attributed, in part, to a prevailing assumption that their prior familiarity with the host society ensures a smooth process of resettlement and reintegration. Consequently, their experiences remain inadequately examined. Within Canada, there is a recent influx of Hong Kong immigrants. According to the Canadian 2021 Census, more than 210,000 Hong Kong immigrants are residing in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2023). Among these Hong Kong immigrants, re-return immigrants in Canada face unique challenges in resettlement and reintegration. In the Canadian context, funding guidelines for settlement services set by the federal government may limit the availability of programming geared towards return immigrants, as the continuum of services is designed primarily to address the needs of newly arrived immigrants (House of Commons, 2003). Settlement services are not provided once immigrants achieve naturalisation, and even competitive programs pertaining to internship and workplace mentoring opportunities restrict their eligibility to newcomers who have arrived within five years or less (Canadian House of Commons, 2019; MOSAIC, 2023). Re-return immigrants in Canada are, therefore, generally denied access to necessary integration and settlement services, leaving them more vulnerable to adaptation barriers. In light of this, the paper asks: 1) Do Hong Kong re-return immigrants and Hong Kong migrants share similar experiences of (re)settlement and (re)integration in Canada? 2) How do Hong Kong re-return immigrants navigate and evaluate their resettlement and reintegration? In 2022, the UBC School of Social Work conducted a survey study on Hong Kong re-return immigrants and migrants in Canada. The study surveyed Canadian passport holders (N = 107) who returned from Hong Kong to Canada and Work permit migrants (N = 251) across various settlement domains such as health, housing, employment, community, and family. Participants were asked about the primary stressors within these domains. From descriptive statistics, this paper reveals that Canadian passport holders identified challenges related to healthcare accessibility, education of children, and family responsibilities (e.g., childcare) as significant settlement stressors. This discrepancy is further reflected in their higher average age, implying an increased likelihood of medical needs and family structures with dependent children. However, Canadian passport holders demonstrated advantages with familiarity with the Canadian setting. They reported less stress in employment, housing settlements and language barriers in contrast to Work permit migrants. Surprisingly, Canadian passport holders exhibit similar stressors on adaptation to Canadian society (26%) and loneliness (17%) to Work permit migrants (23% and 17%, respectively). Meanwhile, more Canadian passport holders (60%) reported having immediate family members and new friends (96%) in Canada than the latter group (23% and 92%, respectively). Despite their access and quantity of local social ties, Canadian passport holders conveyed similar concerns regarding social integration. These results contradict the claim that prior familiarity with the host society secures smooth integration, suggesting a need for further qualitative research to contextualise their integration experiences. Future research on re-return immigrants is also recommended to incorporate intersectionality into analysis, considering factors such as sex and class. This study explores re-return immigrants’ experiences, challenges and trajectories of resettling and reintegrating to their host country. The quantitative findings reveal that barriers to social integration are not exclusive to newcomers but are also relevant to re-return immigrants. This paper aims to offer insights for policymakers regarding integration and settlement services to support their return to home.

Non-presenting author: Miu Chung Yan, University of British Columbia