Universities, companies, and the state in the process of skilled migration

I’m a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology, and my research spans the areas of migration, globalization, and immigrant incorporation and centers on the global flows of people, knowledge, and culture. I grew up outside of Philadelphia and I’m finishing up data collection and analysis for my dissertation, titled “Global Gatekeepers: How institutions enable and constrain the global flow of skills, knowledge and migrants.”  

undefined Headquarters of an ecommerce company in Bangalore, India, January, 2020.

This multi-sited, mixed-methods project studies skilled Indian migrants as they move between the U.S. and India for work. The unique combination of employment history data and in-depth interviews gives purchase on studying new dynamics related to return migration and skilled migration that were unmeasurable in previous data. Leveraging the transnational and longitudinal nature of migrant employment history data, the LinkedIn data and interview data follow migrants as they move across national borders and addresses common issues related to drop out and selection among migrants. Further, this project develops an institutional framework on skilled migration, enriching our theoretical understanding of how universities, companies and the state shape migration patterns in both Indian and U.S. contexts.

The growth in skilled migration between the U.S. and India creates new opportunities to study the multi-directional flow of skill and knowledge. This dissertation project explores how institutions (universities, companies and the state) work together to enable and constrain the movement of people and information in this global circuit. Using a novel dataset constructed from LinkedIn employment histories, paired with 105 in-depth interviews, I problematize existing theories of skilled migration and examine new dynamics in transnational migration that were unmeasurable in previous data. The findings from this project will shed new light on the experiences of Indian migrants living in the U.S., and the impact of skilled migration on Indian society.

Thanks to the support from CASI, my goal for the summer is to finish qualitative data collection for this project. To understand how skilled migrants interact with institutions and navigate the migration process, I am conducting in-depth interviews with skilled migrants in both the U.S. and India, to compare the decision-making processes among groups with distinct settlement outcomes. Due to travel restrictions related to COVID-19, I will conduct interviews with India-based respondents via WhatsApp or Zoom, and will conduct with U.S.-based respondents on the phone until in-person interviews are feasible and safe again.

This dissertation project builds on extensive prior research on this topic. Most recently, I conducted preliminary field work in New Delhi and Bangalore from December 2019 through January 2020. Before that, I conducted a related interview-based research project for my Master’s thesis that focused on legal status and skilled migration, and interviewed Indian citizen H-1B visa holders about their experiences working in the U.S., the findings of which were published in Frontiers in Sociology last year.

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About Liz Jacobs

Elizabeth Jacobs is a Doctoral Candidate in the Sociology department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research spans the areas of migration, globalization, and immigrant incorporation and centers on the global flows of people, knowledge, and culture. Liz’s current research agenda considers how state, corporate, and academic institutions enable and constrain global mobility. Liz is conducting a mixed-methods dissertation project that aims to answer long-standing questions about skilled migration and return migration using novel data sources. She is constructing a new dataset of migration histories, using employment history data from LinkedIn to study the migration behavior of skilled migrants in the United States. Specifically, she is examining how these flows are shaped by gender ideologies, and how public and private institutions collaborate and conflict as they shape global migration.