Transnational Mobility in East Asia and beyond and its Institutional Actors

Panel Organizers

Momoyo Hüstebeck (University Duisburg-Essen/AREA)
KWON, Jaok (Heidelberg University)


Momoyo Hüstebeck (University Duisburg-Essen/AREA)
KWON, Jaok (University Heidelberg)


Anja Senz (Heidelberg University)


KWON, Jaok (Heidelberg University)
Ruth Achenbach (Frankfurt University)
Momoyo Hüstebeck (University Duisburg-Essen/AREA)
Julia Marinaccio (University of Bergen)
JIN, Xiaoying (Heidelberg University)

Panel abstract

This panel aims to discuss the diverse involvement of institutional actors in transnational mobility and the subsequent (un)expected consequences that influence migratory flows as well as the processes by which migrants integrate. Existing migration studies have focused on the individual level, such as the motivation for migration, settlement processes, identity-building processes, and the belonging experienced by migrants in their host society. At the institutional level, previous research has shed light on migration policy at all governmental levels. Despite the growing scholarly attention given to migration studies along with globalization and the increase in transnational mobility, the existing discussion has paid little attention to the complex interactions among various institutional actors that influence the lives of migrants. What are the specific interests and powers of the diverse institutional actors at the local and national levels? In particular, how does the involvement of institutional actors in migration policy impact the transnational mobility of labor migrants in and beyond East Asia? Moreover, why is it important to discuss the involvement of institutional actors in migration policy in the East Asian context? Through these research questions, this panel attempts to bridge the discussions on transnational mobility at the individual level and in terms of its institutional framework.

As part of the panel, Kwon will present research on the migration policy for Korean youth at the central and local governmental levels with respect to transnational labor opportunities in the IT sector. She will address the dynamic interactions among institutional actors at the local and national levels concerning the enhancement of transnational mobility and the resultant birth of “global nomads” among Korean youth at the transnational level. Achenbach will analyze the contradictory demands of Japanese migration policy on the one hand and of Japanese companies on the other, placing special emphasis on the agency of Chinese graduates in shaping their labor market outcomes in her presentation. Hüstebeck will focus in her presentation on the migrant policies of Japanese municipalities. She will also scrutinize the intergovernmental tensions concerning the integration of an increasing number of migrants despite the lack of a national migrant policy for low-skilled workers. Marinaccio will present her findings from a mixed-methods research design in which she explores the processes and actors underlying voter mobilization in the transnational spaces of overseas Taiwanese in Austria and the interests and motives  that drive individuals to engage in or refrain from political participation, both in terms of voter mobilization and voting. Jin will present research on the institutional actors involved in integrating East Asian immigrants, specifically newly migrated Koreans in Germany, focusing on a prominent NGO, The Federation of Koreans in Germany, to reevaluate the role of Korean migrant integration within the German context over time.

KWON, Jaok: Birth of Global Nomads among Korean Youth in the IT Sector: Interactions of Institutional Actors at the Local and National Levels

The transnational mobility of youth has become an important social marker for understanding the transition from youth to adulthood. For young people, transnational mobility is considered to be a means to enhance life chances through the accumulation of social and cultural capital. The transnational mobility of Koreans has accelerated since government restrictions on overseas travel were relaxed in 1989. In particular, because strong discourses on the global experience have dominated since the neoliberal Lee Myung-bak government (2008-2013), the transnational mobility of Korean youth has accelerated. Previous research on the mobile aspirations of youth in Korea has clarified how global experience has been praised in the Korean labor market and education sector (Abelmann et al. 2009). Meanwhile, it is still not clear how institutional actors are involved in the creation of the transnational mobility aspirations of Korean youth, particularly regarding participation in the global labor market. This paper aims to analyze the background of the context in which, as well as the processes by which, institutional actors at the local and national levels conceptualize the mobility aspirations of Korean youth towards participation in the global labor market, with a special focus on the IT sector. This paper investigates governmental policies on youth mobility in the IT sector, such as the definition of particular forms of knowledge as ‘desired’ skills, state-sponsored educational programs, and the subsidies offered by institutional actors from different levels. Based upon this examination, this paper raises critical questions regarding the increasing labor market uncertainties of youth at the global level caused by the creation of ‘global nomads’.

Ruth Achenbach: Japanese Labor Markets Demands vs. Career Goals: The Case of Chinese Graduates in Japan

Chinese graduates appear to be perfect candidates for solving many of Japan’s problems, including a shrinking labor force, a demand for skilled workers, and problematic relations with its powerful neighbor to name but a few. These graduates bring a Japanese degree to the table and (oftentimes) experience working in Japan in lower-skilled sectors that taught them language and cultural skills that should ease the transition into Japanese society and its high-skilled labor market. However, among international students, only approximately one-third find work in Japan after graduation, and even those who stay usually do not consider staying long term. There have been only a few studies on Chinese student migration (Liu-Farrer 2009) and on the role of institutions in international graduates’ labor market outcomes in Japan (Liu-Farrer and Shire 2020). However, these perspectives have not yet been combined, leaving a research gap in the explanation of the labor market outcomes for the largest group of international students in Japan.

This presentation dissects the contradictory demands of the Japanese visa system, which asks for specific qualifications, and of Japanese companies, which require different skills from their employees. It argues that in order to explain the return rates and transnational labor market outcomes of Chinese graduates, both the actual restrictions imposed by institutions (and their interplay) as well as this group’s understanding of those restrictions are key. This presentation is based mainly on qualitative data from interviews with Chinese graduates obtained in 2011/2012 and incorporates a perspective on the evolution of migrants’ perceptions of said institutions over the course of their migration. It investigates the mismatch between political regulations for accessing the Japanese labor market on the one hand, labor market restrictions on the utilization of skills in Japan on the other hand, and migrants’ strategies for bridging this gap.

Momoyo Hüstebeck: Migrant Policies of Japanese Municipalities: Local Governments Filling the National Vacuum

The proportion of foreign residents in Japan (2.3% of the total population in 2019) has consistently been roughly a quarter less than that in Western OECD states. The limited immigration to Japan has commonly been explained by the reluctance of the national government to implement an immigration law for low-skilled workers.

Against the backdrop of this national legal and political vacuum, this paper analyses the integration initiatives of Japanese municipalities from 2006 until today. Moreover, it scrutinizes the intergovernmental tensions caused by a constantly increasing number of immigrants. This explicit research interest in the local perspective led to the following innovative research questions: How have Japanese municipalities coped with the national legal and political vacuum? Which migrant measures have local governments developed based on the existing national political and legal frameworks? What characteristics of intergovernmental relations can be identified through these migration policies?

By analyzing recent conceptual and empirical studies (Kibe 2014; Tokuda 2019; Kondô 2019), it is hypothesized that local governments have played an active role in integrating foreigners into Japanese society. In particular, cities which have gained experience with migrant workers have developed innovative political measures aimed at the social integration of foreigners in their community. However, local governments did not initially act on their own, but since 2006, they have acted on the initiatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. Therefore, the local migrant policies in Japan cannot be assessed as a bottom-up policymaking process, in contrast to those in, for example, Germany.

Julia Marinaccio: Dealing with the Absence of Absentee Voting: Voter Mobilization in Transnational Spaces in the 2020 Elections in Taiwan

Against the backdrop of mounting pressure from China and the months-long protests in Hong Kong, Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections in 2020 became a significant political event in Taiwan, drawing unusually broad international attention. The candidates, their campaigns, and the exit polls were ubiquitous in national and international media, turning Taiwan’s elections into a question of national identity—and even survival—which also resulted in high voter mobilization both in Taiwan and beyond its territorial borders. While there is abundant literature focusing on overseas policies and transnational governance, many fewer studies have explored how Taiwan’s population abroad shapes domestic politics. Moreover, there is a lacuna in research on voter mobilization and voting behavior in overseas Taiwanese spaces. Drawing on theories of transnational political participation and a case study of overseas Taiwanese in Austria, this study explores the processes and actors underlying voter mobilization in transnational spaces and the interests and motives that drive individuals to engage in or refrain from political participation, in terms of both voter mobilization and voting. The findings of this research rely on data drawn from a mixed-methods design that includes a survey conducted among overseas Taiwanese in Austria, interviews, private conversations with associations and individuals, document analysis, and publicly available data in online forums and social media groups. This research aims to contribute to ongoing debates on migrant votes in the discipline of political science and to add new findings on the transnational experiences of Taiwanese to the field of overseas Chinese studies.

JIN, Xiaoying: Korean Migrants and the Engagement of Institutional Actors for Integration in Germany

People with a migrant background comprised 26% of the whole German population by 2019 (Brücker 2019). Having been positioned as a “model minority,” East Asian immigrants to Germany and their social integration has not been at the center of the relevant discussions. However, along with the opening of the labor market to skilled workers from non-EU countries beginning in the 2000s, Germany has attracted numerous East Asian migrants. In particular, the increased ratio of Korean migrants is noteworthy. Concerning the social integration of Korean immigrants in Germany, previous research has clarified that job-based organizations and women’s organizations have played a primary role in the social integration of Korean immigrants who came to Germany as migrant workers in the 1960s and 1970s (Han 2017; Yang 2016).

This paper attempts to clarify the roles of institutional actors in integrating newly migrated Koreans by focusing on the Federation of Koreans in Germany. This organization was initially sponsored by the Korean government and has since developed into an umbrella organization representing Korean migrants in Germany since the mid-1970s. By analyzing the activities of this nationwide organization, this paper aims to re-evaluate and analyze the roles of institutional actors in promoting the integration of Korean immigrants into Germany society, particularly shedding light on the period beginning in the 2000s, when young Korean migrants began to join the German labor market. This paper argues that NGOs play a significant but limited role in integrating Koreans into German society. In contrast to older migrants, young Korean migrants have built their social networks via alternative forms. This finding is expected to fill the lacuna in research on institutional actors’ impact on new East Asian immigrants’ social integration processes.


11:00 – 11:05 Welcome

11:05 – 12:05 Presentations I: Labor Migration in North East Asia

“Birth of Global Nomads among Korean Youth in the IT Sector: Interactions of Institutional Actors at the Local and National Levels”, Dr. Ja ok Kwon, Centre for East Asian Studies, Heidelberg University. 

“Japanese Labor Markets Demands vs. Career Goals: The Case of Chinese Graduates in Japan”, Dr. Ruth Achenbach, The Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies, Goethe University.

“Migrant Policies of Japanese Municipalities: Local Governments Filling the National Vacuum”, Dr. Momoyo Hüstebeck, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Duisburg-Essen.

12:05 – 12:15 Q & A

12:15 – 12:55 Presentations II: North East Asian Migration in Europe

“Dealing with the Absence of Absentee Voting: Voter Mobilization in Transnational Spaces in the 2020 Elections in Taiwan”, Dr. Julia Marinaccio, Department of Foreign Languages, University of Bergen.

“Korean Migrants and the Engagement of Institutional Actors for Integration in Germany”, Xiaoying Jin (M.A.), Centre for East Asian Studies, Heidelberg University.

12:55 – 13:05 Q & A 13:05 – 13:30 Discussion