Immigration and Internal Migration


The study of immigration has traditionally been one of the major strengths of the CSDA research profile, and the tradition continues while evolving in important ways. Two prominent projects in our last submission have been completed. The NSF PIRE project on Children of Immigrants in Schools successfully met its objectives of training, research, and comparative international collaboration and the “New Immigrants in the Hudson Valley Project” produced a doctoral dissertation that won the university’s distinguished doctoral dissertation award. Currently, CSDA’s immigration research is focusing on three main areas. One is to examine the process of international migration from immigrant-sending countries to the United States and Europe, which involves major data collection efforts. The second focuses on the assimilation and social environments of children in immigrant families. And the third centers on new immigrant destinations, now expanded from a focus solely on the U.S. to include new destinations abroad. At the same time, the study of neighborhood internal migration in the U.S. and other aspects of the spatial distribution and segregation of the population continue as described in more detail below in the Spatial Demography theme. The growth and development of this area of research demonstrates the vitality of CSDA and reflects its ability to bring researchers together.

A key to the first area of research is the maturing of the work of Liang (Sociology). Based on the successful data collection (modeled on the Mexican Migration Project) on international migration from China to the United States, he has been examining different aspects of migration process, supported by NIH, NSF, and the Ford Foundation. The project has led to several important findings. For example, Liang and his coauthors show that migration networks (which have long been demonstrated to be a powerful force in migration) work differently in China as compared to the case of Mexico (from Mexican Migration Project). In the Chinese case, because of the long distance from China to the United States and associated high cost of migration, migration networks have a delayed effect, i.e. migration networks do not facilitate migration of other family members immediately but rather show up several years later. Liang’s work also highlights the importance of political capital. Aspiring households with political connections are enjoying advantages in terms of opportunity to migrate to the U.S. and pay lower cost. Echoing the large sociological literature on market transition, they argue that while market transition has clearly provided opportunities for increased mobility for individuals, the role of political power has not diminished. Thus this contribution is both empirical and theoretical.

Taking advantage of data for both US and Europe-bound migration, Liang and his associates also systematically analyzed the role of local government in the process of international migration from China to US and Europe (mainly to Italy). They show that in communities that send emigrants to Europe, local government openly encourages international migration as a prosperity strategy. In communities that send international migrants to the United States local government plays a minimum role because some of the immigrants are using clandestine channels. Much more migration selectivity is observed in US –bound migration communities than in the Europe-bound migration communities. In addition, political capital is much more powerful in US-bound migration communities than in the Europe-bound communities. Currently Liang is studying how international migration affects migrant-sending communities in China. This is connected with a large body of literature on migration and development. China’s recent economic rise in many ways depends on this Chinese immigrant or ethnic capital because much of the initial investment in China was provided by overseas Chinese who left China in earlier years. The new research works in this direction using more detailed data on migrant-sending communities. The key objectives are to show how immigration is linked to the entrepreneurial activity, health outcomes, fertility preference, and improvement of public infrastructure (including donation for health clinics and educational facilities) in migrant-sending communities. With data on both US and Europe bound migration streams and working with Yao Lu (Columbia University), Liang adopts a comparative perspective to study the international migration process. The comparative perspective has been highlighted by migration researchers as the frontier of international migration, as well as an area we said we planned to develop in our last application. Liang’s research promises to advance our understanding in this area. One of Liang’s doctoral students (now at Brown University) used Liang’s migration data along with data from Mexican Migration Project to carry out perhaps the first systematic comparison of Mexican and low skilled Chinese immigrants in the U.S. The prominence of Liang’s research on international migration has been covered by many media outlets, including The New Yorker, the New York Times, Economist, National Journal, and International Business Times among others.

The second line of research in immigration pursued by CSDA colleagues focuses on the assimilation and social environments of first and second generation immigrants in the US. This aspect of our work has benefitted greatly from the arrival of two new colleagues, Brandon (Sociology) and Dreby (Sociology) whose work expands the scope of research into immigrant children, complementing our previous focus. Increasingly important to immigrant child well-being is family structure, childcare and pre-school. Brandon has used data from the Current Population Survey to compare living arrangements of immigrant children to U.S.-born white children with U.S.-born parents. He found that foreign-born children lived with married parents more frequently than did U.S.-born white children with U.S.-born parents, but by the third generation, there is a rise in living with single parents among some immigrant children. The noticeable “downward assimilation” among some second and third-generation immigrant children fits a theory of segmented assimilation and is of concern because single-parent families confront more social problems and socio-demographic risks. In a second study Brandon has examined the child-care arrangements of children in immigrant families using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). This work found great diversity in the child-care arrangements of children according to their nativity status. Children in immigrant families, especially those in low-income immigrant families, were found less likely to use center-based child care, as were Mexican, Asian, and other Hispanic children. Because quality center-based child care has been shown to benefit preschool-age children and help prepare them for school, both scholastically and psychologically, less use of center-based child care among children in immigrant families compared to children in non-immigrant families is a potentially troubling finding.

Newly arrived Dreby (Sociology) has been studying Mexican migrant children. Dreby’s earlier study draws on fieldwork and interviews with over 140 members of Mexican transnational families including migrant parents in Central New Jersey, children living back home in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca and children’s caregivers. It explores how family separation during international migration affects the relationships between family members. Her current research, funded by the Foundation for Child Development, explores the experiences of young children growing up in Mexican immigrant households in Ohio and New Jersey. The project documents the ways variations in legal status within families and settlement patterns in new destination sites impact the lives of immigrant children.

Other researchers are also working on issues surrounding the second generation in the US. With support from a CSDA Junior Researcher Award, Chung (Sociology) has been investigating how American-born or raised sons and daughters of Asian immigrants in different household structures negotiate their unequal family roles and adult responsibilities while growing up and how their decisions about ethnicity and culture in their adult lives are shaped as a consequence. Hernandez (Emeritus Sociology), Denton (Sociology) and their collaborators have been documenting differences among the children of different immigrant groups and in comparison to those in native households, using Census 2000, 2010, and ACS data. This work has been supported by NICHD, as well as by the Hewlett Foundation and others. They find that when the situations of children are analyzed by parental country of origin rather than by broader categories, such as race or continent, the diversity of family characteristics and neighborhood environments is much greater than is indicated by the common characterization of contemporary immigration as bimodal.

These studies of children in the US are complemented by a study of immigrant children living in Australia. Brandon has contrasted health behavior outcomes and the social connectedness of adolescents in immigrant families with the outcomes of adolescents in non-immigrant families in Australia. In this setting first and second generation adolescents are less likely to drink alcohol and lack social support than third generation adolescents, but are less likely to be physically active and have membership in a social club or group than third generation adolescents. Second generation adolescents are more likely to smoke than third generation adolescents. Findings suggest that immigrant adolescents appear protected from negative risks, yet at the same time, do not benefit from Australia's cultural traditions for physical activity and social participation.

The third area of research on immigration by CSDA associates is the recent work on new immigrant destinations both in the U.S. and abroad. As well documented by others, there has been a new pattern of diversification of immigrant settlement in the United States that has major implications for immigrants themselves and immigrant-native relations. With support from the Russell Sage Foundation and working with CSDA associate Deane (Sociology) and Douglas S. Massey from Princeton University, Liang (Sociology) has been collecting data on Chinese low skilled immigrants and their settlement patterns in the U.S. through employment agencies based in New York City. Using spatial data analysis techniques, Liang found high level of diversification of spatial distribution of employment locations. This new settlement pattern among low skilled immigrants has resulted in increased salary. However, health (especially mental health) and health care access might be a concern because these low skilled immigrants have limited English language proficiency. Working with other colleagues, Liang plans to extend this line of research to other Asian and Hispanic immigrant groups who reside in new immigrant destinations in the United States. Dreby’s new project to study Mexican immigrant children’s well-being in new destinations complements this area of CSDA research profile.

In terms of internal migration in developing countries, the most important work being done at Albany is on internal migration in China. As a result of China’s transition to a market economy, a massive volume of migration (mainly from rural to urban places) represents the most important demographic reality in China and perhaps in the world today. The most recent count of the floating population from the 2010 Chinese census gives an estimate of over 200 million migrants, clearly the largest migration flow in the world history. With the transition to a market economy and the extremely large size of migrant population, China presents an unparalleled opportunity to study migration related issues and test migration theories on such a large scale. With two major grants from NIH, Liang’s research on migration has established some important benchmarks for migration studies in China, including historical trends of migration, migration and rural industrialization, migration and gender, education of migrant children, and new spatial patterns of migrant population in China in the 21st century. With support from NSF and CCK Foundation, Liang has also been engaged in a study on migration and transformation of rural China. Based on fieldwork and survey data, Liang and his team have analyzed a variety of issues linking migration to development in rural China: remittances and alleviation of poverty, remittances and household health expenditure, migration and business formation, and migration and non-farm employment.

In collaboration with CSDA associates Gage (Anthropopogy), Deane (Sociology) , and Hernandez, as well as scholars from China, Liang plans to examine several major issues related to migrant children’s education, school choices, mental health and physical health, and under age 5 mortality. Similar issues will be examined as well for the left behind children in the countryside. The Chinese case also provides a comparative lens for the study of children who are affected by the migration process, either in the context of internal migration or international migration (the second generation immigrants in the U.S.).

CSDA’s immigration research contributes directly to the “population dynamics” theme of NICHD. A key component of this work is the Urban China Research Network, established at Albany in 1999 to facilitate international and collaborative work on study of migration and urbanization. Under the leadership of CSDA associates Liang (Sociology), Messner (Sociology), and Huang (Geography and Planning), the Urban China Research Network has received external grant support from Lingnan Foundation (2008-2011), which has just been renewed for an additional 2 years. Another major project currently under review at NIH is a study of migration and well-being of children in China. With an estimated size of 58 million migrant children in cities and left behind children in the countryside, the well-being of migrant children has important consequences for future of urban China as well as social stratification in China. Together with the ongoing work by described above, as well as the related work described under spatial demography, we are poised to continue to make innovative, strong contributions to knowledge under this theme.

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