Staggered Pathways

Temporality, Mobility and Asian Temporary Migrants in Australia

We often think about Australian migration stories in terms of the classic ‘settler’ migration narrative of the 20th century. In this narrative, migrants permanently left an ‘old’ homeland for a ‘new’, following a more or less linear pathway from ‘arrival’ to ‘belonging’ as they became citizens and made new lives in Australia with their families. The Staggered Pathways Project seeks to understand distinctly the 21st century migration experiences of young Asian migrants in Australia, which can be very different to the ‘settlement’ stories of previous generations.

Today, many young people in Asia, especially from the middle class, see living and working in an English-speaking country like Australia as an opportunity to have new experiences and craft both global careers and global lifestyles. These 21st century migrants don’t always see their moves as permanent, especially when they first arrive. Australian migration policy is also now heavily skewed towards ‘transient’ migration, with temporary visas now outstripping permanent visa entries. Over one million temporary migrant residents live and work in Australia. However, many of these migrants are not just short-term visitors. They stay on for extended periods, transitioning across different visa categories over time. This creates extended periods of what author and journalist Peter Mares calls 'long-term temporariness'. These pathways involve multiple ‘steps’ towards the possibility of permanent residency and citizenship, yet there is little certainty of eventual outcomes for migrants. Staggered Pathways also create, however, opportunities for back-and-forth circulations between Asia and Australia and onward migration to other regions. Young and educated Asian migrants are particularly prominent within these new patterns of mobility.

The Staggered Pathways Project unveils the complex social realities of these new migration experiences, focusing in particular on how transnational mobility reshapes young Asian migrants’ lived experiences of time – from the timings of their life milestones, to the pace of everyday life in different places. Drawing on extensive narrative interviews and visual ethnographic material from migrants’ lives, the project investigates the complex nexus between social mobility, spatial mobility and experiences of time in a global era in which complex social and economic insecurities are fundamentally reshaping career, migration and life trajectories. It highlights how for the young and ‘middling’ migrant, pathways through migration and to adult life are seldom smooth, nor are these pathways clearly demarcated by ‘departure’ and ‘arrival’. Instead, transnationally mobile lives often involve contingencies, unexpected detours, and reimagined aspirations and desires in relation to work, place and social life.

On this site, you will find ‘Time Maps’ – interactive visual displays of the journeys and experiences of a selection of participants in the study. The Time Maps show the timeline of migrants’ journeys of arrival, belonging, decision-making and ongoing mobility. They include direct quotes from the interviews as well as textual and visual artefacts that migrants have provided that relate to their experience – photographs, emails, immigration documents and more. Participants’ names and sometimes other details about their lives that could identify them have been altered so that they could choose to remain anonymous. Time Maps allow you to be immersed in the real journeys of 21st century migration to Australia, with all their complexities and ups and downs.

This project was conducted between 2015 and 2018 and was funded by a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council.

Many thanks are due to the participants in the project who so kindly and openly gave their time and shared their incredible stories.

Time Maps

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