People on the Move: Analysing Global Immigration Patterns

18 July 2013

Dr Anna Boucher
Dr Anna Boucher's research explores the ways in which gender enters the design of immigration policy.

As immigration policy becomes an increasingly divisive issue both in Australia and globally, one academic is examining an unspoken undercurrent of the debate: gender.

Dr Anna Boucher, from the Department of Government and International Relations, is currently working on a new book analysing the gendered dimensions of migration, entitled Gender, Migration and the Global Race for Talent.

Through comparing Australian and Canadian migration policies, Boucher hopes to uncover the ways in which women enter the migration cycle as skilled workers, and the particular barriers they face.

"The book looks at how gender plays into the focus for the 'best and the brightest' skilled migrants around the world," she says. "We often think of a skilled migrant as being genderless, but then when we start to interrogate our assumptions a bit more, they are actually probably an IT expert or a doctor, and often the assumption is that's a male migrant."

By harnessing insights from 90 interviews with high-level bureaucrats, key policy makers, feminist and ethnic groups, as well as original archival research and statistics, Boucher is attempting to piece together a more nuanced picture of the ways in which gender enters the design of immigration policy. According to her preliminary findings, some visa types are "more or less gender friendly", leading to an underrepresentation of female migrants in skilled immigration policy.

"There's no real country that is a great exemplar of gender awareness in skilled immigration policy," she posits. "Sadly, the focus on highly skilled temporary labour in recent years seems to not really accommodate female migrants very well."

Boucher believes the media-saturated focus on asylum seekers, while important, is nonetheless distorting public perceptions of the broader immigration milieu.

"I think the asylum seeker debate is a bit of a red herring," she says. "Asylum actually makes up a pretty small percentage of Australia's immigration intake: less than 8 per cent. A lot of other areas of immigration that are really important are ignored because of the disproportionate focus on asylum. There's a gender story in all types of immigration, and yet usually it's totally absent from mainstream debates."

To further understand the complexities of global immigration patterns, Boucher is collaborating with Dr Justin Gest from Harvard University on another project, Crossroads of Migration: A Global Approach to National Differences. This work represents the first scholarly attempt to create a systematic typology of immigration outcomes, based on OECD data and original data collected from countries such as China, Singapore and South Africa.

"Unlike other migration studies, we try to bring in much more of a focus on the global South," she notes. "What we've noticed is that 48 per cent of immigrant stock is in the global South, yet a lot of the scholarship is antiquated and focuses on mainly Western Europe. And of course that's just anachronistic in the current world, where the global South is becoming a central economic power bloc."

Boucher says her interest in immigration studies was likely sparked from being of migrant background herself, with her mother migrating to Australia from Poland in the 1950s. Such family migration motivates another of Boucher's research projects on elder migration from China to Australia; an issue she considers of increasing importance as Australian immigration becomes more Asian-based.

"It's a good time to be a migration researcher in Australia," she says. "There's a lot to write about as there has been an absence of scholarship for quite a while. The Department of Government and International Relations is very big now and there are a lot of new staff from overseas, so there's an exciting and vibrant energy here."

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