Asian women medical migrants in the UK

Raghuram, Parvati (2006). Asian women medical migrants in the UK. In: Agrawal, Anuja ed. Migrant Women and Work. New Delhi, India: Sage, pp. 73–94.


Introduction: The volume and geographical spread of Asian female migration as well as its impact on the sending countries has led to a rapid growth in research on such migration (Limand Oishi 1996; Yamanaka and Piper 2003). Broadly speaking, there are two strands to this literature, that which focuses on intra-Asian migration (Huang and Yeoh 2003; Wickramasekara 2002; Chin 2003) and that which follows the broad contours of brain drain migration, from countries of the Third World to the First (Parreñas 2001; McGovern 2003). The extent of intra-regional migration in Asia, the conditions under
which much of this labour is performed and the new forms of political and civil engagements that have emerged as a result have all evoked feminist attention (Yamanaka and Piper 2003; Piper 2003; Barber 2000). Research on the movement of women from Asia to work in OECD countries, particularly the US (Espiritu 2002; Parreñas 2001) and the U.K. (Anderson, 2000) echoes many of the same concerns. In
much of this literature female labour seems to primarily involve body work, work where the female body or 'femininity' are implicated in the nature of work provided (see for instance, Gulati 1994). For instance, most Asian women labour migrants move to take up jobs as domestic workers, sex workers and nurses, professions that
are defined by notions of femininity. As Bowlby, Gregory and McKie (1997) argue such notions can act in oppressive ways to structure women's entry into occupations
but also shape the form of international female migration.
However, women who move from the Third World to the First as well as within Asia also take part in the less feminised sectors of the labour market such as IT where
gender exclusivity and male dominance are the norm, although such participation has received much less attention (but see for instance, Yeoh and Willis 2004; Raghuram, 2004a; Raghuram 2004b). Shortages in these sectors in many First World countries have reawakened debates about brain drain and more recently of 'brain circulation' (Saxenian 2001). These forms of migration are also encompassed in the burgeoning literature on highly skilled migration (see for instance, Iredale 2001) yet much of the literature on these topics does not acknowledge the presence of Asian women in skilled migration streams (but see Kofman and Raghuram 2004; Raghuram and Kofman 2004).
As more and more countries use labour market needs and the ability of migrants to fill skills shortages as important principles for selecting migrants, it is important to examine the ways in which Asian women too are significant players in skilled migration streams. Recognising the presence of Asian women in skilled migration expands the way in which we think of migrant Asian women and highlights the variations between women who migrate in different ways and through different routes. In this paper I take some tentative steps towards this by highlighting the presence of women doctors who migrate from the Asian subcontinent to the UK, working in a sector where the discourse around migration is relatively ungendered, but often implicitly masculinised. I suggest that migrant women too play an important part in UK's professional labour markets and explore how recognising the presence of Asian women in medical migration can alter the ways in which we think of the presence of Asian women in the UK.1 The rest of the paper is divided into three sections. The first section looks at some debates around migrant women's participation in the labour market and contrasts that with contemporary debates on the broader literature on women's participation in the professions. The following section outlines the extent of migrant women's participation in one sector, i.e. the medical sector of the labour market and the final section outlines some of the implications of these patterns for the way we think about Asian female migration.

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