Revisiting Life Choices: Remigration Decision-Making of Highly Skilled Chinese in Japan in the Life Course

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 10:30 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Ruth ACHENBACH , Department of Japanese Studies, University of Hamburg, Germany
The economic rise of industrializing nations leads emigrants of these nations to reconsider their (re)migration decisions. With a return of the “lost brains”, the destination countries that often face demographic change and ensuing skills shortage may lose important talent, challenging their competitive ability. However, with the notable exception of studies by De Jong & Gardner (1981) and Kley (2009), migration decisions remain underresearched and little understood. In case of highly skilled migrants, migration decisions are often reduced to rational career considerations or a macro-perspective on economic development gaps.

This study addresses this oversimplification and fills the even larger gap in research on return migration decisions by analyzing decision-making processes of highly skilled Chinese in Japan. Drawing on a qualitative study based on interviews with 120 Chinese migrants to Japan (interviewed in China and Japan in 2011–12), the study categorizes factors influencing return migration decisions and traces their influence for both genders in different life stages. By examining migrants’ struggle to combine what is best for themselves, their careers and their families, this study analyzes which combination of factors is decisive for staying, delaying the return decision or returning. While it adopts an individual perspective, the position of the migrant in the household, developments in his profession and the economy as well as politics of both nations are serving as the larger framework. It hypothesizes that with rising responsibilities within the company and for family (ageing parents, spouse and children) priorities shift and decisions are revisited at life course events (e.g. end of training in a company, promotions, marriage, birth of a child, start of schooling).

The resulting model of return decision-making in different life stages refines overly simplified existing models. In addition, the understanding of influential factors can be used to better support highly skilled migrants (and retain talent).