Temporary Workers and Unlikely Settlers: The Thwarted Returns and Future Imaginaries of Trade Skilled Migrants from China Living in Perth

Ms Catriona Stevens1

1University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia

During the resources boom of the mid-2000s, a new cohort of trade-skilled migrants from China came to Australia to work and, for some, to settle. New temporary labour migration schemes enabled employers in Perth to recruit globally to fill labour market shortages. Skilled tradesmen, particularly welders and metal machinists, were brought directly from factories in China to workshops in Perth. Despite departing China as sojourners, with fixed-term plans to return, many of this cohort have since become permanent residents and citizens of Australia. Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in 2014-2016, this paper argues that the educational and occupational background of this unusual cohort, their constrained mobility capital and low migration literacy, results in migrant experiences that are qualitatively different to middle class co-nationals. This case study responds to van Hear’s (2014) call to consider more closely how class, understood as possession of forms of capital, influences opportunities and decisions, routes and destinations throughout the migration process. Despite, or perhaps because of, their unexpected transition to permanent status, many of this cohort express dissatisfaction with life in Australia, and maintain future imaginaries of return and circular migration. This in turn conditions processes of belonging and the citizenship choices they face.


Cat Stevens is a PhD candidate at UWA where she is completing her dissertation about trade skilled migrants from China living in Perth. Her findings are published in Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, Current Sociology and International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. Cat coordinates undergraduate units in migration and Asian Studies at UWA and at Murdoch University.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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