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Doing Family on the Move

Highly-Skilled Migrants in Switzerland and Germany

Florian Tissot

This book focuses on the coordination between family life and professional career under the condition of repeated mobilities. It analyses the division between the labour force work and the care work of couples of highly-skilled migrants settling in either Switzerland or Germany. A mutually exclusive model provides an innovative understanding of gendered hierarchies in career achievement. The male partners operate three parallel elements: an upward professional career, a family-life implying child(ren), and maintaining their availability to further unplanned relocations. The female partners can only coordinate two of these concurrently. In fact, the male partners combine the three elements by taking advantage of specific, and mostly invisible, care work that the female partner provides.

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6 Professional Careers Coordination

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6 Professional Careers Coordination

The present chapter analyses the decision-making process involved in migrations for professional reasons. The analysis revolves around the question of who provides the initiative for such a migration as well as the consequences awaiting the partners involved. Indeed, I take into consideration both partners rather than only the isolated individuals. In the review of the literature, I mentioned that the possibility of overcoming the “gender binaries” does not mean forgetting about the partners’ professional activities and focussing only on the division of the care work. The division of care work is of course important but so are the ways in which the two partners (try to) coordinate their professional careers through a migration for professional reasons. Thus, this first empirical chapter focuses on the initiating of a migration for professional reasons and on the ways this migration reorganises the partner’s coordination of their professional careers. It is composed of three main parts. I start the analysis by using a framework drawn from Expatriate studies (Al Ariss et al. 2012; Andresen et al. 2014) – that I call an “individual approach” – in order to spot the initiator of a migration as being either the employee or the employing company. In the second part, I present a model – that I call a “collective approach” – meant to grasp the coordinating of the professional careers in a partnership by differentiating the “primary mover”, who takes the initiative, from the “secondary mover”, who responds to that decision. The “collective approach” simultaneously complements the framework provided by Andresen et al. (2014) – the “individual approach” – and emphasises the range of differentiated consequences for the partners who initiate or respond to a family’s migration for professional reasons. In the third part, I explore the professional consequences of such migrations for the “secondary movers”. Doing so, the objective is to decentre the studies focusing solely on the professional career of the “primary mover” (whom is conceptualised there as an “expatriate” or an “highly-skilled migrant”) while considering the “secondary mover” (seen there as a “trailing-spouse” [sic.]) only as a passive “burden”. Though not every “secondary movers” I interviewed maintained a position in the labour force, my analysis here will focus on the ones who did or at the very least wanted to do so: so goal being to adopt a decentred perspective.

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6.1 Migration Triggering: An Individual Approach

In the review of the literature, I presented Andresen et al.’s (2014) study, in which are articulated different types of expatriation according to whether the subject is or not the initiator of the move50. Thus, Andresen et al. (2014) focus on the concept of initiative. Yet, they analyse who between the expatriate or the employing company and even a third company gives this initiative. This approach allows Andresen et al. to differentiate an “assigned expatriate” from a “drawn expatriate”, and “intra” from “inter self-initiated expatriates”. While this approach provides a relevant way to make sense of decisions to migrate, it fails to acknowledge the relationship between the partners. Let us still give flesh to the bones of these four types of expatriates by presenting four empirical cases each exemplifying one of these types.

6.1.1 Assigned Expatriate

In the case of an “assigned expatriate”, to whom the supervisor offers a new position abroad, the initiator of the relocation is the employing company. Katia and Dennis’ case51 illustrates this. Katia and Dennis are both German. They have three children. Katia does not work in the labour force anymore, but Dennis has worked for the same multinational consumer goods company for more than twenty years. Having completed a degree in management, he started working for this company in Germany in 1996. Since then, the company has reassigned him to the United States, Italy, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and lately to Switzerland. Altogether, Katia and Dennis have relocated to three continents and five countries for the sake of Dennis’ professional career. They had lived in Hong Kong for five years and really “loved it”, Dennis told me. As his posting in Hong Kong was coming to an end, his supervisor proposed that he relocate to Switzerland. Dennis and Katia wanted to stay in Hong Kong though, and he looked for another position there – both within the company and outside it – but did not find any. He reflects that while one can always refuse to move, once the opportunities have been exhausted, one has relatively little choice:

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Well, the final decision was that my job in Hong Kong was over and that the new job was here [in Switzerland]. … So, that is why, in the end, when all options had been exhausted, we simply had to go (Dennis, 49yrs, married).

Favell (2014) underlines that highly-skilled migration may have its own constraints which this quote provides us a way of tracking. Indeed, it shows the irony that a well-to-do family living in Hong Kong and wanting to stay may yet be unable to do so. Neither a forced migration exactly, nor a desired migration for that matter, we should perhaps speak here of an unwanted professional migration? A kind of disguised dependency, Dennis and Katia’s livelihood is fragile in the sense that it remains contingent on where the company wants him to go. Thus, the initiator of the relocation is the company that employs Dennis who, in turn, sees the relocation as the condition of his staying employed. The company led the move and assigned Dennis a new position. The decision-making process is a professional one which Dennis was not, however, really in control of. The employing company gave him a new assignment, just as they had already done four times before. In sum, Dennis would have resigned if he had found something else in Hong Kong, but he did not and could not, therefore, which underlines the assigned character of this type of migration.

6.1.2 Drawn Expatriate

A “drawn expatriate” is hired abroad by an as yet unrelated company (Andresen et al. 2014). In many cases, a head-hunter calls the (soon to be) “drawn expatriate” and says, “Listen, company B has an opportunity for you. Would you be interested? The job is in Geneva, Switzerland”. This other company then hires the “drawn expatriate”, and thereby initiates the migration. Most “drawn expatriates” possess “hard-skills”, like managerial, scientific, and technical skills, which are more easily transferable than such softer skills as proficiency in a given language (Cornelius et al. 2001; Liversage 2009). Gabriel, for example, studied in Paris and holds a Ph.D. in chemistry. He is French and has worked in industrial pharmacology for more than twenty years now. Unlike Dennis, he has changed employers several times during the course of his career. He was then contacted by a head-hunter who offered him a position in another company. This is how he tells the story of how he started working for this other company:

At the time, they [the people hiring him] wanted to develop [in their subsidiary] a function similar to the one I had created in Basel, where I was one of the two leaders of the group. I had created that function (Gabriel, 54yrs, divorced)52.

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The quote highlights the competitiveness of the pharmaceutical sector53. Gabriel’s new employer asked him to recreate the system he had developed for his former employers. Gabriel is thus a typical example of a “drawn expatriate”, illustrating a social process that combines “hard-skills”, a competitive environment, and the involvement of head-hunters. The initiative of the move comes from a competing company that wanted to hire Gabriel away from the company he was already employed by.

6.1.3 Intra Self-Initiated Expatriate

The initiator of the move can also be the individual herself. There are two types of “self-initiated expatriates”. Some of them move but remain within the same company – these are the “intra self-initiated expatriates” – while others, the “inter self-initiated expatriates”, move as a result of their switch to a new company.

The “intra self-initiated expatriate” is someone, like Carlos, who takes the initiative to move but continues to work for the same company. Carlos was born in Mexico to a German father and American mother. He studied marketing in Mexico City. His career started in the marketing industry in Mexico. After a few years, his employer offered him a position in the Dominican Republic, which lead to an “assigned expatriation”. Carlos spent a few years there until he began to feel stuck in his position. He did not see himself being able to move further in his career so long as he stayed in the Dominican Republic. He needed a change. He took the initiative, organizing the next relocation because there were no opportunities for him to grow in the Dominican Republic. He told me about his feeling of having been forgotten by the company for whom he worked as a director of the national subsidiary:

You just know from a professional point of view that the corporation has said ‘We cannot move you further. This is where you will end up’ (Carlos, 44yrs, partnered).

When Carlos told me of his experience in the Dominican Republic, that feeling of being left alone was striking. These difficulties almost made him quit and return to Mexico without having found another job. Things changed, though, when he met one of the directors of the company’s European subsidiary in a ←140 | 141→“global meeting” at the headquarters. In conversation, this director told him that they might have a position for him at the European headquarters. Soon after that meeting, Carlos quit his position in the Dominican Republic. This is how he tells of the episode:

If I had not been there, that May in ***, and had not met ***, then probably the network would have left me in the Dominican Republic until I died, so yeah, I mean I am really grateful, that *** was there and that the stars aligned in my favour (Carlos, 44yrs, partnered).

The difference between the “intra self-initiated expatriate” and the “assigned expatriate” is a matter of who initiates the move. Nobody in his company had wanted to move Carlos (“[they] would have let me there until I die”). Carlos was lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, though. He found an opportunity abroad within the same company, although he could easily have stayed in the Dominican Republic. He relocated as an “intra self-initiated expatriate”, unlike Dennis (above) who very much wanted to stay in Hong Kong and only left due to the lack of opportunities there. Dennis’ only remaining option, after his unsuccessful search for other positions in Hong Kong, was to accept what the company had offered him in Switzerland. By contrast, Carlos very much wanted to leave the Dominican Republic and so found for himself another position in Germany. Still, both moves take place within the same company.

6.1.4 Inter Self-Initiated Expatriate

The case of Emma, finally, describes expatriates who decide to move over to a new company after having made their own application to a new position. Emma is an engineer who worked in France for some years after her graduation. After temporarily ending a relationship with the man who would later become her husband (they met, got together, separated, got back together and got married), she replied to a call for applications in Switzerland and was hired there:

In fact, we met at work and then we broke up, which is also the moment when I first came across the announcement in *** to which I responded. Only once I applied for and accepted the position did we get back together (Emma, 37yrs, married)54.

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In Andresen et al.’s typology (2014), Emma is an “inter self-initiated expatriate”, given that she took the initiative to simultaneously move abroad and switch companies. She came to Switzerland with an employment contract that had been signed prior to the relocation. Being single was one of the factors that motivated her to seek a position abroad. For her, it remains clear that she would not have moved if she and Blaise – now her husband – had not been separated at the time:

Yes, yes, of course, otherwise I would not have left. I had been in Grenoble for 10 years. It wasn’t so bad. The fact that we broke up and the feeling that I did not have much to lose any more in Grenoble [convinced me]. So, I left (Emma, 37yrs, married)55.

So, she decided to move to Switzerland. Being single was not seen as a hinderance in this decision-making process. After they had made up a short while later, as Emma was already working in Switzerland, Blaise joined her there. Once in Switzerland, he sought employment in the labour force and found a position at a research institute. They got married and have a child now.

What, then, is Blaise’s role in the initiation of the move? In the typology presented by Andresen et al. (2014), Blaise is an outlier. He could be conceptualised as a “inter self-initiated expatriate”, but he did not have a work contract prior to arriving in Switzerland, which blurs the boundary between expatriation and migration. Furthermore, the centrality of his feelings for Eva in his decision to move would be lost if we focussed only on the professional aspect of Blaise’s move. While he is the initiator of his move, he was motivated by personal rather than for professional reasons. Nevertheless, he found a position in the labour force corresponding to his skills. He makes the decision to move for sentimental reasons. Such a family sensitive approach, I argue, completes the typology provided by Andresen et al. (2014), and allows me to develop a better understanding of Blaise and Eva’s situation, in which a migration for professional reasons is followed by a migration for sentimental reasons.

6.2 Migration Triggering: A Collective Approach

A “collective approach” is one which allows us to assess the perspectives of both partners who work at maintaining their relationship while at least one of them moves for professional reasons. Thus, I propose to interpret the initiation ←142 | 143→of a move from the perspective of the coordination of two professional careers. From this perspective, the decision to move proceeds from one of the two partners; which we can grasp by using the analytical distinction between a “primary-mover” and a “secondary-mover”. One provides the initiative; the other one reacts to it. This configuration introduces a model with two types of movers. I draw on the work of Schaer, Dahinden and Toader (2017, 1298). They use a distinction between a “primary-mover” and a “tied-mover”, wherein the “primary-mover” provides the imperative to move by accepting the position abroad and the “tied-mover” reacts to it. My conceptualisation considers the “tied mover” as one specific type of what I call “secondary-movers”. Empirically speaking, the reaction of the “secondary-mover” to the impulse of the “primary-mover” is not always to follow. The partners might decide to live apart temporarily, for example. I understand the “tied-mover” as only one possibility amongst others, underlining the fact that the “secondary-mover” is not, and should not be conceptualised as, simply passive. The “secondary-mover” is an active member co-producing “family-strategies”. Such an understanding provides grounds for deconstructing the “gender binaries” that over-determine Expatriate studies, allowing us a better understanding of the negotiation and coordination of the partners considering both their personal relationship and professional career.

6.2.1 Primary-Mover and Secondary-Mover

The odds are low that both partners receive a job offer at the same place at the same time. Even in this unlikely case, we are still able to identify a “primary-mover” and a “secondary-mover”. Lynn and Alex, for instance, moved together from the United-States to Germany fourteen years ago. At that point in time, they had just got engaged and wanted to start a family. They were about “to be married the following year, in May, and so [they] moved in January” (Alex, 52yrs, married). Lynn, who was working for a multinational marketing agency received an offer in Frankfurt first. She remembers the conversation she had with the director of the department:

I said ‘Well, I am interested in going but I am kind of a fiancé now. So, I have to think about that’ And I added: ‘Actually, he works here.’

He said ‘He does? Who is he?’

I said ‘Alex, Alex *** [last name]’

He said ‘Is that the same Alex *** that I worked with on *** [name of a company]?’

I said ‘Yes’

He said ‘He has a job, too!’

I mean that was so lucky, so lucky (Lynn, 51yrs, married).

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Obviously, her director had already worked on a project with Alex, a creative designer. Alex had been working as an external contractor for the same marketing agency and, as a result, the director was able to offer him a position in Frankfurt also.

I was not with *** [name of the company] but I met my wife at the agency and one night we went out to dinner and she said ‘They offered me this one position and you this other one. Do you want to move to Germany?’, to which I just said ‘Ok’ (Alex, 52yrs, married).

Even when both partners get simultaneous job offers from the same company, it is usually one of the two who provides the initiative for the migration. In the case of Lynn and Alex, the company offered Alex a position because they wanted very much to transfer Lynn. In most cases, however, the distinction between the “primary-mover” and the “secondary-mover” is clearer. In the four cases used above to exemplify the “individual professional approach”, the “primary-mover” and the “secondary-mover” are easily recognisable. One of the two partners receives a job offer and seriously considers accepting it, and speaks with her or his partner about it. Thus, in addition to the “individual professional approach”, I also introduce the distinction between two types of movers within a couple: the “primary” and “secondary” mover, that I call a “collective approach”.

According to Andresen et al.’s framework (2014), Lynn is strictly an “assigned expatriate”. She works for a company that has offered her a position in Germany. From the perspective of the “collective approach”, however, she would be the “primary-mover” who provides the initiative for her and Alex’s move. We might even say that it is not she, but her company rather that provides such initiative. Thus, I argue, the notion of the “initiator of a relocation” is multi-faceted and very much dependant upon the perspective adopted by the researcher. The two approaches, moreover, are not mutually exclusive. In Lynn’s case, she can just as well be described as an “assigned expatriate”, because she accepts a position abroad within the same company. At the same time, she is the “primary-mover” of her partnership, because her husband (then fiancé) moves with her to Germany.

What though is Alex’s place in this schema? From a “collective perspective”, he is admittedly a limit case of a “secondary-mover” for he does not initiate the move. From an “individual perspective”, his case corresponds to a “drawn expatriate” as he had been working for the agency on a contractual basis but was then offered a full-time job elsewhere. According to the “individual professional approach”, the initiative to move comes either from the company or the employee him- or herself. Thus, Alex and Blaise’s cases were strictly speaking difficult to categorize because the initiative to move ultimately came from their respective ←144 | 145→partners, Lynn and Emma, rather than from the companies involved. Taking a “collective perspective” into account, though, Alex and Blaise differ from the strict definitions of the “drawn” and “inter self-initiated” expatriates given that their moves were partner-initiated.

I argue that such a “collective perspective” complements and strengthens the “individual perspective” articulated by Andresen et al., where the former stresses the coordinating of two professional careers in a way that the latter cannot account for. In this context, I introduce the concept of “partner-initiated mover”, which differs from the other types schematized by Andresen et al. (2014), for how it underlines the importance of the relation between the partners in the process of their relocation. The notion of “partner-initiated” does not reflect the process we have seen, for instance, in the case of Emma seeking employment in a foreign labour force. She applied abroad because one of her friends showed her a call for applications: this is the classic “self-initiated expatriate”, relocating to where the work is. Yet, Blaise – her eventual husband – sought a position in the labour force in Switzerland because Emma already worked there. In brief, the concept of the “partner-initiated mover”, underlines that the initiative of the move resides in the professional career of the other partner. What is specific to the situation of the “partner-initiated mover” is, I argue, the scope of the choice. A “partner-initiated mover” will neither choose the country, nor the length of the stay. This is a very common situation among my sampling of cases. The distinction between “self-initiated, assigned, or drawn expatriate”, on the one hand, and “partner-initiated mover”, on the other, underlines the different challenges involved in a move; and together this set of different individual situations call for the development of a broader “family-strategy” framework. Let us look then at what I call a “family-strategy”, for it is a central concept of this study.

6.3 Conceptualising the Professional Careers Coordination

I just presented a distinction between “primary” and “secondary” movers. This distinction has deep consequences on the way we assess the decision-making process involved in a move, for there is not only the relationship between an employer and an employee to consider but the fact also that changes in the employment of one of the partners can trigger the movement of the other. How is it possible then to further conceptualise this seminal distinction?

Research by Halpern and Murphy (2005), which addresses the partners’ “family-work integration” (2005, 29), a concept discussing the integration between the care work required in the sphere of the family and the work in the labour-force, offers an effective way to further develop the relationship between ←145 | 146→the “primary” and the “secondary” movers56. Indeed, their call to replace the notion of “family-work balance” with the concept of “family-work integration” is helpful. The notion of “family-work integration” refers to the ways in which the two partners coordinate their place in the labour force and, simultaneously, struggle to efficiently divide up the time spent doing the necessary care work at home. This definition implies many potential points of tension between the partners on the one hand, and between the partners and their respective employers on the other. Sharing the care work equitably requires making arrangements that allow the partners to find an equilibrium between the time and the energy they invest both in the labour force and in the care work. Finding this equilibrium may lead to conflicts between the partners that can be better accounted for by the concept of “work-family integration” than by the supposed “balance” between the two times of day spent on work and home. The notion of “work-family balance”, in this sense, implies a zero-sum game that seems unhelpfully unrealistic. By contrast, “integration” implies that the partners can find a more or less efficient combination of working in the labour force and care working, for example through the use of a home office or day care centre at the workplace. The concept of “integration” moves us beyond the strictures of the zero-sum game of “balance”. I prefer the term “integration” to “interaction”, moreover, because the latter implies dealings between two spheres of life, as opposed only to a strategy meant to cope with two separate spheres simultaneously. Integrating does not refer to a zero-sum game nor a mere interaction but rather to a larger “family-strategy” that the partners develop together for their specifically situated case. This “family-work integration” model underlines that dealing with work in the labour force and care work is a collective and reflexive process. Wilding and Baldassar (2009), for instance, make the same argument where they note that “rather than trying to devote balanced time of each day, week or even year to the pursuit of employment or the care of family members, the participants in our study instead aimed to find an appropriate integration of work and family activities” (2009, 185). Thus, the “work-family integration” aims at overcoming the “gender binaries” by looking at the reciprocal impacts of work in the labour force and care work. In my study, migration for professional reasons complexifies the “family-work integration” even more.

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In Thus, the “work-family integration” aims at overcoming the “gender binaries” by looking at the reciprocal impacts of work in the labour force and care work. In my study, migration for professional reasons complexifies the “family-work integration” even more.

Figure 13, I propose a model that conceptualises these multiple interactions; an analytical tool allowing us to study the “family-strategy”. I construct the model by bringing both an individual and a collective level of analysis to the spheres of work in the labour force and the care work (where the work encompasses both emotional labour and housework). The levels of analysis are both individual and collective; the spheres of analysis are work in the labour force and care work. The individual “family-work integration of Partner 1 or Partner 2” (1 and 2) refers to the way each partner copes, individually, with the different demands of the labour force and care work. It represents an abstraction focussed on their individual situation. The “care work integration” (3) refers to the ways the partners share the care work (if they do share it at all), that is to say the care work concerning the housework, the emotional work and care work for the children as well as, in some cases, care for their parents. The “labour force work integration” (4) focuses on the arrangements made by the partners to coordinate their two paid positions in the labour force, independent of the care work. A “family-strategy” or “collective family-work integration” is defined, finally, as the negotiations engaged in and decisions made by the partners after one of them accepts a relocation abroad. It refers to the ways the partners cope simultaneously with all the elements of the model. The model highlights the simultaneous search of a new integration ←147 | 148→of both their professional work and care work. It provides a way of studying the tensions and the conflicts felt by the partners as well as the solutions developed.

In this study, the professional move of at least one of the partners augments the complexity of the “family-strategy”. In other words, at the core of their “family-strategy” lies a tension between mobility and mooring. I understand mobility as an asset in the labour force, as it facilitates an upward professional career, but as a socially disruptive force at home, where it compels the partners to reconfigure the “family-strategy”. For example, if one of the partners accepts a position in which he or she will lead the national subsidiary of a multinational company abroad, the other partner also has to make a decision. The options are basically either following, staying, or finding some middle way. The mobility for professional reasons of one of the partners raises questions about the professional activity of the other, especially where the chances that both may find a professional position in their respective fields within the same local space is limited. Thus, mobility is a double-edge sword, both rewarding and disruptive at the same time. It is ambivalent.

Through the family-strategy model, however, we can better parse the constituent elements of that ambivalence and analyse its different facets separately. In the next part of this chapter, therefore, I will focus on the right-hand side of the model, that is, P1 and P2’s work in the labour force, as well as their “labour force integration” (4), by which I mean the experiences and strategies of the partners who both work in the labour force when at least one of them moves for professional reasons. Of course, there are cases in which one of the partners stops working in the labour force: I will deal with these cases in the next chapters. For now, I will analyse the consequences of a decision to move through the various reactions and challenges faced by the partners. Indeed, how do the partners integrate two positions in the labour force when one has to move abroad for professional reasons? What are the individual consequences on their respective professional careers?

6.4 Primary-Mover

Let us start with the “primary mover’s” place in the labour force, found in the top right corner of Thus, the “work-family integration” aims at overcoming the “gender binaries” by looking at the reciprocal impacts of work in the labour force and care work. In my study, migration for professional reasons complexifies the “family-work integration” even more.

Figure 13. The “primary-mover” holds a position abroad in the labour force for a certain time under certain conditions. In my conceptualisation, the ←148 | 149→“primary-mover” is the one who initiates the move; meaning that he or she already has an employment contract before arriving in the new country. I argue that the employment contract is one element among many to give meaning to a relocation, as not all relocations are perceived equally. Below, I distinguish between two types of moves, which typically require two kinds of employment contracts: the expatriate contract and the local contract. The partners’ interpretation of the “primary-mover’s” position in the labour market plays a significant role in the “family-strategy” as a whole. In other words, the way he or she perceives a relocation affects the “family-strategy”.

6.4.1 Expat-Move

The “expat-move” can be characterized by the following three key components. (1) The company supports the partners. (2) The support maintains the “motility” (Flamm and Kaufmann 2006) of the “primary-mover”. (3) The members of an “elementary family” or a “couple” are in a “liminal state” (Van Gennep 1960; Turner 1967), trapped between “here today” and maybe “there tomorrow”.

a. Knowing What the Support is About

The “expat-move” is the kind of relocation in which the employing company provides financial and organisational support to the incoming employee as well as to potential partners and children. The expatriate contract formalises this extended support with the aim of facilitating the relocation. The case of Kim and Laura illustrates this. They have been married for 22 years. He is Dutch, and she is British. They have four children together. As a child Kim, moved back and forth between Switzerland and South Africa, before he began studying in Belgium. He has worked for a multinational consumer goods company for the last 25 years. Laura does not work in the labour force anymore, as she does the care work for the children. Altogether they have relocated eight times, all for the same company and each time with an expatriate contract. Frequent relocations are part of Kim’s career path for he uses mobility to climb up the company’s hierarchy. He is now the director of a worldwide promotion program. At the beginning of his career, he was an “assigned expatriate”, relocated as he was to work where the company needed him. In the course of his career, as he climbed up the ladder of the company, he asked to come to Switzerland as an “intra self-initiated expatriate” and in doing so gained the power to negotiate within the organisation. In this context, his employment contract has been combined with an expatriate contract and includes specific clauses to support mobility. It formally articulates the type of support Kim, Laura and their children are to receive:

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I mean when you move, you know exactly (…) what are your housing allowances, whether you get the trip paid back home, whether you get entitlement for a car, schooling. It’s all black and white there. So, I think that makes it very easy. I mean 90% of your next position is a situation, you know (Kim, 49yrs, married).

In other words, the company sends them all around the world and provides support for this. The challenges of the relocations remain in the background, because the company backs Kim, Laura, and their children. Respondents doing this sort of “expat-move” conceive of migration as a straightforward process. They perceive a move as a matter requiring a particular kind of service: for a broken sink, we need a plumber; for a relocation abroad, a relocation office. The organisational support extends beyond the professional activity of the “primary-mover” and provides assistance to the whole family. When needed, the company will pay for language lessons or for the services of an outplacement agency for the “secondary-mover” as well as for an international school for the child to attend. Centrally, I understand an “expat-move” as a relocation in which the company provides financial and organisational support, and promises a “frictionless mobility”. As we have already seen, the constraints may very well be found elsewhere. In the third empirical chapter, I will show concretely what kind of support the companies actually offer (8.2.3 Company’s Support, 220).

b. Not Knowing When and Where the Next Move Will Be

Another characteristic of an “expat-move” is the high possibility of a further relocation. Stefan and Caroline are married. He is Austrian; she is German. They have three children. While Caroline does not work in the labour force anymore, Stefan directs the financial operations of a multinational consumer goods company. Though he worked only in Europe, he was on an expatriate contract as he relocated frequently between and within Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. When I asked him about his plans to remain in Switzerland, he told me that he does not know. “Being ready” for a relocation is simply part of the job:

We don’t know actually very exactly, it can be either here or somewhere abroad. Most likely abroad, but we don’t know well. I mean mainly in the region of Europe, because I am not going anywhere else (Stefan, 48yrs, married).

Stefan perceives his stay in Switzerland as being for a limited time; yet, he does not know for how long. He has some conditions, like refusing to relocate outside of Europe, but he also does not know where he will be posted next. The company has offices in more than 15 different cities, from Lisbon to Moscow. Stefan’s willingness to relocate – at a time and a place he does not know – has a price. Thus, ←150 | 151→the employing company pays for the international school attended by the children, for the apartment they rent, as well as for any trips back home. In fact, the company pays for the family’s settlement in a fashion that supports Stefan’s “motility”. “Motility” can be understood as an “how individual or group takes possession of the realm of possibilities for mobility and builds upon it to develop personal projects” (Flamm and Kaufmann 2006, 168). Thus, “motility” not only refers to the mover’s capacity and the potential to be mobile, but also includes his or her acceptance and will to move again.

“Motility” implies financial and organisational means. The company pays to support Stefan’s career, so he can remain open to mobility. Caroline too pays a price: an inability to maintain her own position in the labour force while she follows Stefan and takes on the family’s care work. Thus, Stefan’s “organisational means” not only refer to his relationship with the employing company but also and more centrally to a division of the tasks in which Caroline provides the care work. In other words, company support and Caroline’s care work maintain Stefan’s “motility”, by facilitating the settling of the “elementary family” as a whole. If Caroline and their children are “motile”, it is because Stefan’s “motility” requires it. Stefan and Caroline develop a “motile mobility”, as the purpose of an “expat-move” is maintaining an employee’s “motility”. In that sense, their “motility” is oriented towards his professional career; later on, I will take up this matter of his being the depository of the family’s “motility” (7.3.1 Ignoring Motility, 208).

Furthermore, Stefan’s “motility” profoundly affects Caroline’s capacity to maintain a position in the labour-force, because she does not choose when and where to move. In fact, neither Caroline nor Stefan know where or when they will relocate. Yet, their respective positions differ. Though Stefan does not know where and when he will move again, he knows that he will move for the sake of his professional career and will have a position in the labour force after the next relocation. In other words, their “motility” favours his professional career while hindering hers. “We thought we would need to move so she did not start [to look for paid work in the labour force]” (Stefan, 48yrs, married). This quote gives a clue as to how the will toward and the acceptance of further mobility is constructed as well as its possible gendered consequences. Stefan does not seem to question the division of labour: because they thought they might move again for the sake of his professional career, she did not start to look for employment. His argument implies a strong hierarchisation between the partners. I will analyse this process in depth in the next empirical chapter (7 Representing Migration: Between Motilities and Anchors, 183). In sum, the concept of “motility” accounts for this extraordinary situation in that it has a deeply gendered impact on the “family ←151 | 152→strategies”, explaining, in part, why Caroline does not work in the labour force but does the care work.

c. From an Expatriate Contract to a Local Contract

The “expat-move” requires the support of both the employing company and the “secondary-mover” to maintain the rather expansive state of “motile motility”. It calls attentions to the “state of liminality” (Van Gennep 1960; Turner 1967) implying a tension between “here” and “somewhere else”. A “state of liminality” is a transitional period. Being in a liminal state between “here” and “somewhere else” has gendered consequences, as we have just seen with Stefan and Caroline. Furthermore, expatriate contracts provide benefits for a limited number of years, generally between three and five years depending on the company – in case there is no further relocation. Companies create expatriate positions under expatriate contracts, despite their costs, in order to have a “motile” workforce. Multinational companies need a pool of highly-skilled migrants who can move easily and quickly. Thus, the expatriate contract formalises the support for a succession of relocations. It is the case for Kim, who has worked for the same company for 25 years and relocates every three to four years. Conversely, the company downgrades the expatriate contract to a local contract once the employees have stayed in the same place for three to five years. This happened to Nick, who is now the executive creative director of an international marketing agency in Germany. He relocated three times during his professional career as he moved from The Netherlands to Belgium, then to France, and finally to Germany. His last relocation was under a local contract, which implies less support:

F.T.: What kind of support does the company offer?

Nick: It is only the school, no housing, no nothing, I am actually on a local contract here.

F.T.: Were you once on an expat contract?

Nick: Because my expat contract expired when I was in Belgium, because an expat contract is three or five years after the move, but I stayed longer when I was in Belgium, about six and a half years. So, one and a half years too long. So, my contract was already transmitted to a local contract in Belgium (Nick, 54yrs, married).

An “expat-move” is not only about relocating in the sense of being mobile, but rather about giving the mover the capacity to relocate frequently in the sense of being “motile”. To that end, the partners are supported by the employing company. When a relocation lasts longer, the employees are downgraded to a local contract. In conclusion, I propose three constituting elements of an “expat-move” as (1) the financial and organisational support of a company to a family, (2) the maintenance of the “motility” of a family for the sake of the ←152 | 153→“primary-mover”, which introduces (3) a liminal settlement between “here” and “somewhere else”.

6.4.2 Local-Move

A “local-move” creates more bonds between a highly-skilled migrant and the country of relocation than an “expat-move”, because the former includes less assistance or none at all. International schools, outplacement agencies, and relocation offices are not part of the service granted by a “local contract”. Neither does such a contract include financial incentives, like paid home-trips or organisational support provided by the local administration. To put it bluntly, a “local-move” implies a local contract with no additional support concerning settlement and mobility. The interviewees, who are employed on a “local contract”, need to sort out the challenges of a relocation by themselves. They are alone in finding, for instance, an apartment or a kindergarten. The lack of support implies that the move is more anchoring; it impacts the current move as well as further possible moves. It is an “anchoring move”.

a. Settlement Struggles

Emma, whom I introduced earlier as an “inter self-initiated expatriate” (6.1.4 Inter Self-Initiated Expatriate, 141)57 relocated to Switzerland on a “local contract”. She moved alone to Switzerland and struggled to find accommodations right away as she did not receive any support from the company that employs her, even though this company is a widely known multinational pharmaceutical company. Not having found an apartment right away, she thus lived at her uncle’s place for two months, which was more than two hours away from her workplace. She struggled between working, commuting and searching for accommodation. Once she settled, she therefore wanted to remain in the same place for a while. Emma has since found another position in another region of Switzerland and intends to remain there. Interviewees moving locally regard a relocation as a challenging process, as opposed to those performing “expat-moves”. The former express a desire to stay longer given the challenges they have overcome while settling in a particular location. Others, however, switch to a local contract when their stay exceeds a few years, as is the case with Nick who was transferred into ←153 | 154→a local contract. These are two particular situations leading to the same outcome: Nick and Anouk and Emma and Blaise relocated under the conditions of a local contract, which implies less support.

b. Localising the Home-Base

The localisation of the employee’s “home country” is another element which creates bonds with a local space by that expressing the wish of an “anchoring mobility”. Some of my interviewees have asked to change the “home country” on their contract in the case they have to relocate abroad, so that they might eventually return to the country they have chosen to settle in permanently. Julia is a good example of this: not only did she ask to be transferred on a local contract, but she also asked her company to change her contract’s “home country”. She is a British citizen and a senior manager in an American pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. It was important for her to be on a local contract so that she might continue to see her daughter after her divorce:

I might have to leave for a few years, but I’ve asked the company to consider that Switzerland as my home country to expatriate me out to come back. Not to consider the UK as my home country and take me back there (Julia, 42, divorced).

Julia strategically uses the “home country” to maintain strong ties with Switzerland, her adopted “home country”. Yet, the decisions that Julia has made concerning her work in the labour force – see the upper right corner of Thus, the “work-family integration” aims at overcoming the “gender binaries” by looking at the reciprocal impacts of work in the labour force and care work. In my study, migration for professional reasons complexifies the “family-work integration” even more.

Figure 13 – remain unclear, until we learn of her need to integrate work in the labour force and family. The work in the labour force influences and is influenced by the “work-family integration”. Julia’s daughter is in a Swiss private school rather than an international school. Julia, together with her former husband, decided to raise their daughter in Switzerland, which means that Julia wishes to stay in Switzerland in the long run. Julia’s situation illustrates that a “local-move” anchors her more to the country and she makes strategic use of it. This kind of move thus does not necessitate as much “motility” as an “expat-move” would.

In sum, the “local-move” is a different way to experience a migration for professional reasons. Here, migrating employees do not usually receive support from the company and may therefore struggle as they settle in their new location. Furthermore, a “local-move” requires less “motility” usually in keeping with the partner’s wish or need to stay longer in the same local space.

←154 | 155→

6.4.3 Continuum of the Primary-Mover

I understand the “expat-move” and the “local-move” as two types of moves that a “primary-mover” performs, which influences the settlement of the family as a whole. The “expat-move” and the “local-move” correspond to the two ends of a continuum58, symbolising two plain forms of mobility. While the “expat-move” introduces “motile mobilities”, the “local-move” emphasises “anchoring mobilities”. The expected frequency of further relocations is higher for “expat-moves” than it is for “local-moves”. The two types represent two internally coherent forms of mobility. In that sense, the “types” are sociological tools, useful in structuring our understanding of the social world. I argue that some moves create more “anchors” to a local space, while others enable families to be “motile”, yet they introduce different “family strategies”.

a. Relocation of Headquarters

Sometimes, companies use “expatriate contracts” when they relocate their headquarters. In this case, they are not necessarily using such contracts to enhance the “motility” of their employees. Manon, who was married to Charles, works in the pharmaceutical industry as a national product manager, while Charles is a senior manager in the aggro-food industry. Both are French; they have three children together. When the company headquarters employing Charles were moved from France to Switzerland, the company proposed “expatriate contracts” to all headquarter employees in order to support their relocation. The company was not seeking here to maintain a high “motility” for these employees. On the contrary, the goal was to make sure the employees settled in the best conditions possible in Switzerland, so that they would stay there:

I think that initially the idea was to have an expatriate contract for three years and then switch to a local contract. It meant changing my husband’s contract from expatriate to ←155 | 156→local. This relocation concerned many employees, because the *** headquarters were moved from *** to ***. So, it was not just for my husband. It was for many of them and they absolutely needed these top managers. They moved them and they knew that / my husband might have moved for a few years, had I not found [a position] … Well. Then, maybe my husband and I would have returned [to France] (Manon, 55yrs, divorced)59.

A broader program to relocate the headquarters of the company triggered the relocation of its employees. It was part of the “grand strategy” of the company induced as they were by what Switzerland, which seeks to attract headquarters of multinational companies, had to offer. Management deciding to move a company as such may decide to relocate the whole staff as well. This case illustrates the complexity and the variety of factors involved in migrating for professional reasons: that is why I opt for a continuum which is a flexible tool to conceptualise these different experiences of migration.

For all these reasons, an expatriate contract does not always overlap with an “expat-move”, neither does a local contract overlap with a “local-move”. I have presented two typical moves precisely to avoid a rigid structure while still underlining different orientations in the way highly-skilled migrants relocate. The types of moves and the continuum, structuring their relationship, highlight the centrality of “motility” in making sense of professional relocations. Even if Charles had been on an expatriate contract, he underwent a more locally-oriented move. Thus, the distinction between an “expat-move” and a “local-move” shows different conditions for moves, in which “motility” is more or less supported. I refer here not only to the type of working contract, but rather to the importance given to further mobilities, and thus, “motility”, during a relocation. In ←156 | 157→sum, the two types of moves – the “expat-move” and the “local-move” – express a central qualitative difference between the relocations of the “primary-movers” (Figure 14). Some are more “motile”, others more anchored, but – as I understand it – all are mobile.

Some “primary-movers” are “ready to move” (i.e., they face uncertainty about what is going to be the next step), while some others become more anchored to a local space. For the “primary-mover”, these situations do not imply much uncertainty, because – from a professional perspective – the move makes sense. The “types of move” undertaken by the “primary-mover” has consequences for the “family-strategy” and on the organisation of a family. The “family-strategy” depends – in part – on the way the partners perceive the move of the “primary-mover”. However, it is not a one-way street because the strategies regarding the labour force work are – in turn – influenced by the need to “integrate” them with care work, as in the case of Julia who intends to stay on in Switzerland due to the shared custody of her daughter with her former husband.

6.5 Secondary-Mover and Secondary-Stayer

Attentive readers may have noticed that many female partners of the “primary-mover” do not work in the labour force anymore. Through a “collective approach”, I can trace how the constraints of a so-called “frictionless mobility” appear. In this part, I analyse the various reactions of the “secondary-mover” to the relocation of the “primary-mover”, highlighting the relationship between them. One day a (soon to be) “secondary-mover” learns about an opportunity abroad for his or her partner i.e., the “primary-mover”. A decision needs to be made quickly; the partners decide to accept the offer. Once they accept, discussions about what to do next begin. At that point, the partners need to coordinate anew to find another “family-strategy” that corresponds with their new living situation. Here, I focus on the “secondary-mover” in the labour force – the bottom right corner of Thus, the “work-family integration” aims at overcoming the “gender binaries” by looking at the reciprocal impacts of work in the labour force and care work. In my study, migration for professional reasons complexifies the “family-work integration” even more.

Figure 13 (6.3 Conceptualising the Professional Careers Coordination, 145) – and the integration of paid work with the paid work of the “primary-mover”: what I call the “labour force work integration”. This is part of creating an analysis adopting a decentred standpoint. Does the “secondary-mover” face specific challenges that the “primary-mover” does not experience when it comes to their place in the labour force? If yes, what do they look like? Does the ←157 | 158→“secondary-mover” try to maintain a professional activity? If yes, what is specific about this situation?

I analytically differentiate between two types of moves for the “secondary-mover”: the “total-move” and the “half-move”. The “total-move” implies a uni-local following-strategy to the new local space while the “half-move” refers to bi-local or multi-local coordinating-strategies. In the latter, the “secondary-mover” maintains sustained ties with several local spaces other than the new location. On top of that, I will present a third possibility in which the “secondary-mover” is in fact a “stayer” who does not move. Yet, not every “secondary-mover” works in the labour force; I will address the “family-strategy” of couples adopting this configuration in the chapter 8.

6.5.1 Total-Move of a Partner-Initiated Mover

I speak of a “total-move” when the “secondary-mover” leaves country A – and resigns as the case may be – to follow the “primary-mover” to country B. The place of residence, the place of work, and (if so) the place of the children’s schooling change. A “total-move” implies that the “secondary-mover” relocates from one place to another without maintaining bonds with the former country of residence60. The partners move together to a new local space; avoiding split-families, long-distance relationships and frequent international commutes. When the “secondary-mover” agrees to a “total-move”, I speak of the “partner-initiated mover”, a notion that stresses the “primary-mover’s” role in initiating the move. How does a “partner-initiated mover” react professionally when accompanying the “primary-mover” abroad?

a. Coordinating before Relocating

In rare cases, both partners manage to find employment in the same new place prior to the move; as Lynn and Alex’s case (6.2.1 Primary-Mover and Secondary-Mover, 143) illustrates. They both moved from the United States to work in Frankfurt, Germany. During the interview, Lynn mentioned that they were “so lucky” since they both obtained positions at the same place, in the same company. Strikingly, they did not relocate for 14 years, even though they received some ←158 | 159→concrete offers abroad. They only relocated once. Some offers were more interesting individually, but they were neither at the same place nor at the same point of time. Such a situation clearly shows the difficulty in developing a “family-strategy” in which both partners move, work and live together. Interviews with Alex revealed that they do not see how they could increase their financial and professional situation as a family by relocating again. “One of us”, he told me, “would certainly not find a position as good as we currently have” (Alex, 52, Married). The “labour force work integration” stresses how the partners concretely cope with two professional careers. Alex is the “secondary-mover” performing a “total-move”. He is a “partner-initiated mover”, emphasized by his role in relocating in response to Lynn’s initiative without keeping any professional bonds with the United States. Both moved together and then have since refused to move again in order to secure both their professional positions.

Lynn and Alex’s case corresponds to a “total-move”: the “secondary-mover” follows the primary-mover to the new local space. Their case also shows that making multiple relocations for the sake of one professional career is a risk that some do not want to take. Lynn and Alex feel both lucky to have good positions. The “family-strategy” they develop, in which both partners find a professional activity before relocating, is indeed a rare one.

6.5.2 Unique Challenges of a Partner-Initiated Mover

For most of the “partner-initiated movers”, relocating with their partner implies quitting their position in the labour force and starting to look for a new one once they arrive abroad. This approach differs from the “family-strategy” that Lynn and Alex have developed. When a “partner-initiated mover” seeks employment abroad, he or she faces challenges and difficulties, which often requires a rearrangement in terms of his or her professional career. Three elements of this type of migration can be identified: (1) a gender imbalance, (2) a “new start”, and (3) concretely seeking work in the labour force abroad.

a. Gender Imbalance

Many “partner-initiated movers” are women whose specific situation promotes a dynamic in which they are often sent back to the “domestic sphere”. In other words, the “partner-initiated movers”, who want to continue to work in the labour force need to fight against the pressures of “house-wifing”, i.e., when care work is considered the most “reasonable” choice. Indeed, when one’s partner already has a position in the labour force, a mobile and successful professional career in a multinational company, why would one - read she - have to look for paid work? ←159 | 160→She can very well take care of the family. François and Lara both work in multinational corporations in Switzerland: they are married and have two children. Lara is a “partner-initiated mover” who followed François to the different countries where he worked. For each relocation she looked for an employment in the labour force and actually found a job in Switzerland, though she has to commute more than one hour a day to get to her workplace. On one occasion, while she was seeking a position in the labour force in Switzerland, a recruiter implied that she should not work:

It was suggested to me that it was a little bit strange that I work instead of taking care of my children (Lara, 61yrs, married)61.

She speaks about the social pressures and the necessity of resisting them if one wants to find a job as a “partner-initiated mover” with children. The “partner-initiated movers” quite often stop working in the labour force and this process of “house-wifing” explains in part why62. I understand the process of “house-wifing” as a process by which women, all women, have to face remarks, suggesting that they would be better off at home doing the care work for the children rather than looking for a position in the labour force. It is a problematic situation if this person happens to be a possible future employer. Finding a position in the labour force is rendered more difficult by those employers who are reluctant to hire women who are also mothers.

Yet, I believe that “house-wifing” is not specific to the situation of “partner-initiated movers”; still it is an important element for those I interviewed. The specificity of their position results from the fact that “primary-movers” begin their new professional activity without delay while the “partner-initiated mover” needs to find one first. Furthermore, not only do they have to find a professional activity first, very often they have to make arrangements regarding the care work before starting to seek employment in the labour force. Thus, the situation becomes even more challenging for the “partner-initiated movers” who have children because of the need to find new day care arrangements or a school. Even though the “primary-mover” and the employing company offer support. It is often the “partner-initiated mover” who maintains or even rebuilds the arrangements regarding the care work in a new local space. Only then, can the “partner-initiated mover” begin to seek work in the labour force. Often this ←160 | 161→situation is not questioned by the respondents as it seems logical to them that the one who works in the labour force should focus rather on office-related duties. Thus, the one who seeks a position in the labour force after the migration does the care work and looks for care arrangement as – so it is often said – the “primary-mover” does not have time to do it, neither does he – it is often the male – feel responsible. The “primary-mover”, working full-time, does not perceive rebuilding care work arrangements of the family as his task. These responsibilities and, accordingly, delays, partly explain why so many “partner-initiated movers” do not work in the labour force anymore, as (re-)constructing the care work arrangement of the family can be extremely time consuming. Certainly, the phenomenon of “house-wifing” combined with a situation in which the “partner-initiated movers” do the care work just after a relocation are two powerful elements which hinder the search for a position in the labour force in a country they do not know.

The distribution of the responsibilities related to “family-strategies” between the “primary-mover” and the “partner-initiated movers” is thus imbalanced as the latter face more challenges and take on more responsibilities regarding care work than their partners. The situation is stressful for them and leads to many anticipated returns. A way to analyse this situation is to conceptualise three “pillars” which maintain the sustainability of a “family-strategy”: if the “partner-initiated mover” does not find work in the labour force (1st pillar), does not speak the local-language (2nd pillar) and does not find satisfactory care work arrangements (3rd pillar), then the “family-strategy” does not work63. Once the three “pillars” break, the partners are not able to integrate work and family in a satisfying way. In such a configuration, the odds for the “partner-initiated mover” to be cast back in the “domestic sphere” are even higher. When she (or, in rarer cases, he) refuses this arrangement, disagreements and dissatisfaction, anticipated returns and even divorces may arise.

b. Starting from Minus Zero

Right after a relocation, the “partner-initiated movers” typically do not work in the labour force but have to seek employment: a process which can be long and painful. It is especially complicated for those whose absence from the labour force work is combined with a huge load of care work – mostly because of parenting, ←161 | 162→as we have just seen. In that sense, these mothers (and fathers) “start from minus zero” as “starting from zero” would imply arriving and starting to look for employment in the labour force directly. The “primary-movers” already hold a working position and are basically facing a familiar work environment though in a different location. Metaphorically speaking, they still use the same log-in to start their computer in the morning. When it comes to the “partner-initiated movers”, the situation is completely different. The case of Sara exemplifies this challenge, in opposition to John, her husband and the “primary-mover”. Both are in their early 30s. They do not have children, which gives them more time to focus on labour force work. Still, their individual professional situations and their experience relocating to Switzerland vary extensively. Sara comes from the United States. After her bachelor’s degree, she decided to move to Israel to obtain her master’s degree in the social sciences. There, she met John, whom she married. During her studies in Israel, she started to work for different NGOs while John, in the meantime, found employment in Switzerland as an engineer. She perceives the relocation to Switzerland as a disruption of her former life:

I was very happy with my life and I had a lot of friends and I knew exactly where I wanted to go with my career after completing my masters. The network that I had and contacts and the organisation I wanted to work for meant that coming here was like starting from zero in every way. … It was a big step forward for his career which came with a big increase in salary. Plus, [John] had been living in the same place for a long time and he wanted a change (Sara, 32yrs, married).

Sara moved for John, who is the “primary-mover” and a “drawn-expatriate”, as she quit her position in Israel to follow him because: “in marriage, in the end, you have to make a couple” (Sara, 32yrs, married). She relocated for him and now she faces the challenge of developing her own professional project – starting, as she says, “from zero in every way” (ibid). The relocation to Switzerland makes sense for her husband and his career; but not necessarily for her. The only reason for Sara to be in Switzerland is their marriage. The relocation disrupts her life in every way: she has to find ways to meet new people in order to create a professional network while she seeks employment. John’s company does not provide support to partners. Besides, she is alone, as she told me, the whole day, as John works full time. On top of that, she does not speak French and lives in a remote area in the countryside, so they can be close to her husband’s workplace. This case emphasises the accumulation of specific challenges faced by the “partner-initiated movers”.

The “primary-movers” do not face a situation in which the new local space feels alien to them as is often the case for the “partner-initiated mover”. In Sara ←162 | 163→and John’s case, the specific place refers to a remote village in the Swiss countryside. Actually, Sara and John had at least two choices for their move: Switzerland and Spain. They decided to relocate to Switzerland because they thought it might provide more in the way of professional opportunities for Sara than Spain64. Sara’s relocation to Switzerland emphasises that the “partner-initiated movers” move where their partner finds work. In other words, Sara would never have had the idea to come there. For them, a “total-move” is also a “bonded-move”: eine unbewegliche Bewegung. Moreover, the place of relocation is often irrelevant as far as their own professional projects are concerned and they cannot move elsewhere as long as their partners remain employed – unless they do, which raises the question of power within couples. I will deal with this central topic in chapters 7 and 8. Meanwhile, the “partner-initiated movers” face increasing challenges finding employment. It is not only about starting from zero; but starting from zero in specific conditions, at a specific place, at a specific time which may be suboptimal for their own professional careers. One might even suggest that they start from minus zero, particularly for those who have to find new support regarding care work before they can seek work in the labour force.

c. Seeking Employment Abroad

Seeking a position in the labour force abroad is already a challenge as such; as a whole array of migration studies shows (Bommes and Kolb 2006). In my cases, it is a symptomatic challenge for the “partner-initiated movers”. They move for their partner who already holds a paid position, leaving it up to them to find a position in the labour force. While the idea is to maintain a sense of “family-hood”, this task is often left to the “partner-initiated mover”. Maintaining a career thus requires a lot of perseverance as well as a strong capacity to resist such social pressures as “house-wifing”, I argue.

Some of those who found a position in the labour force after a relocation perceive it as an exhausting adventure, requiting a significant personal investment. Yet, this adventure is not entirely unpleasant. Interviewees have said that it broadens their perspectives, offering them an opportunity to work in a different sector or for a different company. Maria and Franz both studied management in Germany and both are German. Franz has worked for the same consumer goods company for almost fifteen years and Maria also worked for this company for ←163 | 164→six years. In fact, this is where they met. Then, Franz received an offer to go to England and they decided that Maria would resign and follow him. Since then, they have relocated four times: from Germany to England, to Italy, to Japan, and to Switzerland. Maria found employment after each relocation; yet, Maria and Franz do not have any children which is, I argue, what makes the difference. I develop this point further in the chapter 8. For the moment, it suffices to say that in nearly all my empirical cases the female “partner-initiated movers” either have a position in the labour force or they have children: maintaining both simultaneously seem to be extremely rare in the context of frequent migrations for professional reasons.

For some relocations, Maria performed “half-moves”65 and for others “total-moves”. Here is how she recalled her first relocation as a “partner-initiated mover” performing a “total-move”:

The first move was maybe one of the most difficult ones, because at that time I did not have any intention to leave the company. I knew it was going to be difficult to enter *** in the UK because it was a very small office at the time there and I also loved my job and had no / yeah / there was no reason for me why I should leave, but we also knew that we both wanted to move on and it was a good opportunity for my husband and London offers a great range of opportunity for workers, for employees. So, in the end I took it as a chance to learn something new and to get to know a different company (Maria, 51yrs, married).

Another specificity of the “partner-initiated mover” is, as the quote indicates, to quit a possibly rewarding position due to the relocation of the “primary-mover”. Maria is very clear about her motivation: she does it for her husband and more especially for his professional success. The situation is similar to Sara’s, who moved with her husband to “make a couple” (Sara, 32yrs, married).

Thus, the “partner-initiated mover” needs to re-enter the labour force in a foreign country. Truth to be told, they do not always perceive it as a sacrifice, as Maria, for instance, described, but as an opportunity rather. She worked in different sectors, on different continents, supported start-ups, worked as a creative writer, as an account manager or a project manager. Today she is the leader of a strategic project within a multinational consumer goods company. While some “partner-initiated movers” perceive the relocation as a professional opportunity, it implies an important professional risk for them. The choices of the “partner-initiated movers” regarding where they will live and when they will move are restricted. This hinders their professional career. Nevertheless, in some cases, ←164 | 165→their professional path can be made all the more rewarding and interesting; a point that Maria expresses many times during the interview. She also expresses how utterly exhausting it is to do so. The “partner-initiated movers” consent to move for the sake of their partner and spend a lot of time and energy doing so; which is something the “primary-mover” does not experience as such.

In sum, the “partner-initiated movers” face unique challenges in the course of a “total” move. They are very often women who seek employment in the labour force in a place they did not choose after having found day care or schooling arrangements for the children. From a professional perspective, the place of relocation may be irrelevant for them. Thus, a “total-move” often means a risky professional move for the “secondary-mover”. Here, I focus on their labour force work, but in many cases the “partner-initiated movers” do not even work anymore, due to the challenges I have pointed out. The “secondary-movers”, who continue to work after a relocation, use such other ways integrating their own and their partner’s place in the labour force as, what we call, “half-moves”.

6.5.3 Half-Move of a Partner-Coordinated Mover

Most of the “secondary-movers” – who stay employed in the labour force – perform “half-moves”, which enable them to circumvent the unique challenges faced by “partner-initiated movers”. Rather than follow the partner initiating the move and resigning from their own professional activity, these “secondary-movers” find ways to coordinate their own professional activity with their partner’s migration. They perform a “half-move”, meaning that they follow the “primary-mover” only partially, maintaining professional ties with the former country of residence. Thus, the “partner-coordinated mover” refers to a “secondary-mover” performing a “half-move” (Figure 15). According to this configuration, the “family-strategy” is bi-local (if not even multi-local), meaning that the partners continue moving back and forth between the former and the ←165 | 166→new countries of residence. A “half-move” can take a variety of such concrete forms as teleworking or commuting. Centrally, a “half-move” is an attempt to compensate for the drawbacks of the migration of the “primary-mover”, whereby the “secondary-mover” uses mobility as a strategic means of maintaining their place in the labour force. In other words, the “secondary-mover” maintains their bond with the former country, coordinating, rather than subordinating, their own career with that of the “primary-mover”. From the collective perspective, I refer to this phenomenon as a “half-move”, because only one of the partners has completely relocated, at least initially. In other words, the “primary-mover” relocates, let us say, to country B while the “secondary-mover” maintains links with the place they had lived in before; i.e. country A.

a. Commuting between the Workplace and Home

Some “partner-coordinated movers” decide to maintain professional activities in country A while relocating to country B with the “primary-movers”. In this case, the “partner-coordinated movers” commute internationally, creating a specific “family-strategy”, in which the “labour force work integration”, post-relocation, is maintained by frequent mobilities. The couple relocates to country B, but the “partner-coordinated mover” continues to work in country A. Such a strategy implies a strong coordination between the partners, as between Julia and her former husband, Jack, when they moved to Geneva (Localising the Home-Base, 134). She commuted between London and Geneva in order to work in England and spent the rest of her time in Switzerland with Jack:

I was working for a company called ***, which is an American company in the UK, in the European headquarters, which are based in London while my ex-husband was working for a Swiss pharmaceutical company called ***, based in Geneva. He was relocated to the global or the international office in Geneva and so I came with him as his spouse, which meant that I was then living in Switzerland and commuting back to London for my European job, which was fine, because my job involved a lot of travel anyway (Julia, 42yrs, divorced).

Julia and Jack integrated their careers with their family in a way which required extensive commuting between Julia’s workplace in London and their new home-base in Switzerland. When their son, Ben was born, they needed to simultaneously coordinate their two professional careers and the care work, which required a lot of organisation. In fact, both Julia and Jack were constantly juggling the need to have at least one of the parents doing the care work for Ben while the other one was working in the labour force. This required – according to Julia – a lot of organisation:

←166 | 167→

I was travelling with my job and my husband was travelling with his job so what we would do is to sit down with the diary every month and say: ‘ok, I am travelling ta ta ta and you are travelling these dates and so one of us be here all the time’ (Julia, 42yrs, divorced).

Couples usually live together and commute frequently for their professional activity when there is a child involving care work, while they more often do not mind living apart when having none. In Julia’s and Jack’s case, frequent mobilities were needed because someone had to do the care work. One way of “integrating the professional work” of both partners is to intensively use international mobility, that is international commuting in their case. It implies a stronger coordination between the partners when it comes to being present for the care work that a child requires. In chapter 8, we will see that such a “family-strategy” does not, usually, last in the long run.

b. Teleworking

Similarly, other “partner-coordinated movers” decide to follow the “primary-mover” to country B and to continue to work for their company in country A, without for that matter commuting between A and B. In other words, they find arrangements with their employers that allow them to work from abroad, which is known as teleworking. This was the case for Maria (Seeking Employment Abroad, 163), who continued to work for her employer in Italy while living in Japan:

In Italy, I worked for an online company. It was an online business and they allowed me to work from Japan. So, I worked remotely for the Italian company in Japan. It was not easy, which is one of the reasons why I quit after two years. (…) So, I ended up working from 4 pm in the afternoon until midnight which didn’t really fit my schedule. I was just too remote, because it was just me in this time zone (Maria, 42yrs, married).

Though Maria is physically not mobile on a daily basis to do her work in the labour force, the mobility of information flows remained a prerequisite to her professional activities. New information and communication technologies allowed her to work in Italy while living in Japan as information is constantly shared and transferred between both countries. However, she developed a “labour force work integration” that was quite difficult to maintain in the long run, given that the working conditions were rather exhausting, she explained. After two years, Maria resigned from the Italian company and found a new position in Japan in a start-up, however on a volunteer basis only. After each of her husband’s relocations, she managed to find a way to continue working in the labour force. Still, she paid a high price for his frequent relocations, given that she was not ←167 | 168→able to rise through the hierarchy of any company, as he did. Approaching the relocation of her husband with a “half-move”, Maria circumvented the challenges of a “total-move” by continuing her former professional activity in the former country for a while. Indeed, she started seeking employment in Japan, two years later, but only once the couple had settled. Maria started out as a “partner-coordinated mover”, working for an Italian company while living in Japan. After she resigned and accepted a voluntary position for a start-up in Japan, becoming a full-fledged “partner-initiated mover” but losing her income in the process and having to face the range of challenges inherent to this situation.

Maria’s case emphasises how a “partner-coordinated mover” can continue to work in the labour force while the “primary-mover” relocates. It highlights a variety of ways that mobility is used to integrate two professional careers and it underlines the dynamics relating “partner-coordinated movers” and “partner-initiated movers”. Truth to be told, Maria and Franz do not have children, which greatly facilitated their version of “work-family integration”. Moreover, Maria started working in an unpaid position, which is usually easier to find than a paid one. The fact that Maria could even consider an unpaid position shows the couple’s high social and economic status: not everyone can afford to accept an unpaid job.

c. Maternity Leaves

Others decide to temporarily stop their professional activities in country A, using maternity leaves or sabbatical as a means of following their partner to country B. Manon (Relocation of Headquarter, 155), working as a pharmacologist in the pet-food industry, has made this choice:

My husband had been transferred by *** to Italy to lead the Italian subsidiary, and, at that time, I was pregnant with my third child and so I said ‘I will take a parental leave for two years’. So, for two years I stopped working. In fact, I followed my husband to Italy (Manon, 55yrs, divorced)66.

The insurance and/or paid leave programs provide a support mechanism, which enables temporary “family-strategies” as the “partner-coordinated movers” reduce the “career cost” of the migration of their partner. The embeddedness in the French “welfare regime” was a crucial element of Manon’s strategy as it is ←168 | 169→only because her position and her income were secured by the maternity leave that Manon accepted to move with Charles. Thus, the individual strategies are oriented by the opportunities and constraints that the structure of different “welfare regimes” produce. Manon did not resign from her position in the labour force. However, it is only a matter of time until the need for a new “family-strategy” arose. As Manon’s maternity leave was ending, she refused to remain in the “domestic sphere” any longer than necessary. As she put it several times during the interview: “I refused to stop working” (ibid)67. When she did not find employment in the labour force in Italy and felt that her options there were limited, she told her husband that she was going back to France as she would still have a position there after her maternity leave had ended. Throughout her stay in Italy, Manon maintained strong ties with France, as she kept her income and her employment there; exemplifying what I describe as a “half-move” and a “partner-coordinated mover”. This contrasts with Maria’s case, who resigned from the company in Italy to accept a volunteer position in a Japanese start-up. Losing her own income, Maria had subordinated her career to that of Franz. Manon, on the other hand, refused to subordinate her career to Charles even when it became clear that opportunities for her were running low in Italy. Instead of staying, she initiated her own relocation to come back to France, becoming the couple’s “primary-mover” in her own right:

So, I came back and [Charles] followed me six months later, he was back to France, too (Manon, 55yrs, divorced)68.

While Charles was the “primary-mover” of the couple’s relocation to Italy, he had to react to Manon’s decision to move back to France. Confronted in turn with the challenge of being the “secondary-mover”, he decided to perform a “half-move” in order to maintain his own professional activities. Thus, he did not resign from his position in the labour force to follow Manon but, instead, negotiated his transfer back to France within his employing company: becoming thereby an “intra self-initiated expatriate”. Generally, males as “secondary-movers” tend to refuse “total-moves” much more often than females do. This case illustrates the challenge of a “labour force work integration” under the conditions of mobility, which lead a partner – Manon – to initiate a re-relocation in order to safeguard their own position in the labour force. Manon refused to subordinate her own professional career to Charles’ and thus took the initiative to return to France, ←169 | 170→becoming the “primary-mover”. This case shows that the analytical categories of the “primary-mover” and the “secondary-mover” are relational and processual given, for example, that these types may change. I shall analyse the power dynamics involved here in Chapter 8.

To summarise briefly the concept of a “half-move”, the modalities of settling are clearly bi-local (or multi-local) when the “partner-coordinated movers” maintain ties with the former country A, as is well exemplified by Manon, who took advantage of the maternity leave program in France to follow her husband to Italy, however temporarily; by Maria, who tele-worked for two years; and by Julia, who commuted between London where she worked in the labour force and Geneva where her husband and daughter lived. Still, such strategies are for the most part temporary and less than perfectly sustainable in the long run.

6.5.4 Immobility of a Secondary-Stayer

The data I have analysed reveals a third type of move, or of non-movement rather, which occurs when the “secondary-mover” decides not to move at all, introducing a “split-family” dynamic and a “secondary-stayer”. It is difficult to speak of a “partner-initiated mover” or a “partner-coordinated mover” in these cases because the “secondary-stayer” does not relocate at all. He or she decides to stay in country A, which is quite often the “country of origin”. In this case, the “primary-mover” travels back and forth between country A and country B. In this constellation, it is the “primary-mover” who comes back to visit the other partner. Metaphorically, we can think of a sailor who comes back home after six months at sea. In the context of this study, I did not encounter many such cases, yet they are arguably frequent in sectors like the army, the shipping industry or the fishing industry. The coordination is diffuse because both partners continue their professional careers independently of one another. This is the case of Carlos and Raul (6.1.3 Intra Self-Initiated Expatriate, 120), as Raul never followed Carlos in his relocation first to the Dominican Republic and then to Germany:

[Raul] owns his own business. He is really successful in Mexico City financially. He is independent. I am completely independent. We don’t share a common bank account, so our finances are separate (Carlos, 44, partnered).

While his partner continues to manage his family company back in Mexico, Carlos moves extensively in his work for a marketing company. Thus, they live their everyday and professional lives in different countries, which does not mean that they do not feel close as they make extensive use of new information and communication technologies: “We call each other every day, we ←170 | 171→see each other every day”, Carlos told me (Carlos, 44, partnered). Besides, for twenty-two years Carlos has travelled back to Mexico to visit his boyfriend and family at least twice a year. The immobility of the “secondary-stayer”, as much as the mobility of the “primary-mover”, create a split “family-strategy” in which both partners prioritise their own professional careers, thereby reducing the constraints implied by “total” or “half-moves”. As it is often the case in “family-strategies” where both partners work and at least one is recurrently mobile, Carlos and his partner do not have any children. According the collective approach, a “primary-stayer” is a contradiction in the terms, as the defining criterion of a “primary-mover” is giving the initiative of a move. In other words, if both partners do not decide to move – there is no migration and when one does decide, s/he becomes the “primary-mover”.

6.5.5 Access to the Labour Force

So far, we have looked at the unique challenges confronted by a “partner-initiated mover”, as well as the different strategies used to circumvent these described by the position of a “partner-coordinated mover” or a partner’s choosing immobility. The “total-move” suggests difficulties for the “partner-initiated movers” to coordinate their own professional career with that of their partner because they settle in a new local that they did not choose. Similarly, the “half-move” shows how the “partner-coordinated movers” may decide to maintain their position in the labour force in the former country, at least temporarily. Adopting the stance of a “partner-coordinated mover” is often only a temporary solution, as, in most cases and in the long-run, only two solutions are available; either becoming a “partner-initiated mover”, as in Maria’s case, or becoming a “primary-mover” in one’s own right, as in Manon’s case. In the following section, we will identify the elements that either facilitate or hinder a “partner-initiated mover’s” access to the labour force after a migration, that is, the access of a “secondary-mover” who has opted for a “total-move” and decides to live in the same place as his or her partner has relocated to. I have already shown that a “partner-initiated mover” faces unique challenges relating to their integration of two professional careers in which that of the “primary-mover” is ultimately prioritised. The “unique challenges of the partner-initiated mover” (6.5.2) refer to the high probability of their being pushed out of the labour force and into the “domestic sphere”. Thus, the aim of this section is to point out the elements which facilitate or, on the contrary, hinder, a “partner-initiated mover’s” access to the labour force that also acknowledges the specificity of their position.

←171 | 172→

a. Types of Skills

In line with the literature in Migration studies, “partner-initiated movers” with technical, scientific skills and/or managerial skills tend to find professional situations after relocating more easily than do those with such “softer”, more “contextual skills” as language proficiency and teaching experience. Technical, scientific and managerial skills are seen to be more easily transferable, internationally (Cornelius, Espenshade, and Salehyan 2001; Larsen et al. 2005; Liversage 2009; Schmid 2016). However, the same literature warns us that men tend to own these skills much more often than women do, who are more frequently skilled in teaching and languages (Liversage 2009, 121). As “partner-initiated movers” tend more often to be women, the odds of successful placement in a new location are likewise not in their favour. In the following, I will contrast two empirical cases.

Annisa and Sara (Starting from Minus Zero, 161) are both “partner-initiated movers” when they arrived in Switzerland. Both have university degrees, but where Sara studied Social sciences, Annisa studied Biology. They both sought a situation in the labour force in Switzerland without the benefit of support from the husbands’ companies, without any prior knowledge of French, and without having any professional network whatsoever in the host country. They both, in this sense, were fully confronted by the “unique challenges of the partner-initiated mover” (6.5.2 Unique Challenges of a Partner-Initiated Mover, 159). Moreover, the similarities in the decision to move between Annisa and Sara’s case are striking – they both move because of their partner and leave a position in the labour force, if not a career, behind. While Annisa did obtain a position in the labour force, Sara ultimately left for New York to find work, presumably, having given up on the possibility of ever finding anything in Switzerland. Annisa is from Indonesia. She studied in Jakarta before achieving a Ph.D. in microbiology in Germany. She moved to Switzerland, following her Adrian: “we got married and I moved here” (Annisa, 39yrs, married). Adrian is also from Indonesia and also does research in the field of biology. After her move to Switzerland for the sake of Adrian’s career, Annisa found a research position at a university hospital through an employment website designed for “Life and Earth scientists”:

I moved here to reunite with my family. … So, I know it wasn’t too difficult for my new employer to produce my employment documents, because I was already here. It is not like he had recruited me from abroad (Annisa, 39yrs, married).

←172 | 173→

Unlike Sara, Annisa69 managed to find employment in Switzerland where her scientific skills were recognised and in demand. Thus, she seemed an asset to the labour force. Most “partner-initiated movers” interviewed for this study have some form of “tertiary” level education. However, the heterogeneity of profiles shows that they have not all benefitted from the same chance of finding a position after a relocation given the important role played by the types of skills play a role. What seems to be at issue, then, is not so much one’s “level of education” as the types of skills that respondents have. The demand of certain types of profiles as well as the experience and skills of the candidates are major factors to take into account while discussing the elements which support or hinder a partner’s post-relocation access to the labour force. In these conditions, “partner-initiated movers” with skills that are more readily transferable have an advantage over those whose skills and diplomas are either not easily recognisable or too directly linked to a specific nation-state. Nevertheless, I identify other elements that are complementary to the employment outcomes of highly-skilled migrants (Dumont and Aujean 2014; Platonova and Urso 2012; Stirling 2015) and therefore play a central role in better understanding what facilitates or complicates the success of a “partner-initiated move” into a foreign labour force.

b. Language

The role of the language is central to someone ability to find position in the labour force abroad. In the two regions where I conducted my interviews, one might have thought that high level abilities in French or German would be an asset in the process of finding a position in the labour force. Certainly, speaking the local language does facilitate the search for such a position. However, and interestingly, many “partner-initiated movers” did not really emphasise the importance of local language skills. What they did underline, instead, is the ←173 | 174→presence or absence of a strong “international labour market”, which they distinguish from a “local labour market”. The “local labour market” refers to the more “traditional” positions that demand fluency in the local language as well as recognizable experience, skills, and diplomas. The “international labour market”, on the other hand, corresponds to positions available in multinational companies, NGOs, and research institutes, where the language spoken is mostly English and the experience, skills, and diplomas required tend to fit rather “international” standards. Interpreting Annisa’s case in the light of this distinction reveals that she found her position in the “international labour market” in part because she had done her research in English. For many “partner-initiated movers”, the language spoken by employers in “local labour market” is seen as a crucial barrier that places positions there beyond consideration. The “international labour market”, on the other hand, in which the language spoken is English offers many more opportunities, respondents have argued. According to the Swiss “structural survey” (2013), English is the first foreign language spoken at the workplace in the Cantons of Geneva and Vaud, as 29% of the respondents of the survey in the Canton of Geneva, and respectively 21% in the Canton of Vaud say that their primary working language is English. This variable is useful to give an idea of the size of the “international labour market”. Unfortunately, I do not have related numbers for Germany.

c. Recognition of the Diplomas and the Recognition of the Previous Professional Experience

Even for fluent speakers of the local language, other problems arise as they try to access the “local labour market”, as is illustrated by the case of Laura, who resigned from a multinational company in France to follow her husband Thomas, to the French speaking part of Switzerland. A native-French speaker, Laura studied management and had expertise as well as professional experience in human resources. At the time of the interview, she had found a position in Switzerland and was working for a multinational consumer goods company, where she spoke English. Thomas, a pharmacist by trade, found employment in the pharmaceutical industry. He came to Switzerland through an “expat-move”, whereby the company paid for their accommodation and supported Laura while she sought employment. This is how Thomas presented Laura’s difficulties finding employment:

My wife has worked in two international companies, which is to say that both were non-Swiss companies. Because regardless of the number of resumes she had sent out, or of interviews done, she was never taken. … In fact, she was systematically asked for a Swiss ←174 | 175→diploma … a specific human resources certificate. … As for me, I have never been asked to show my diploma. My diploma as a pharmacist is French and I have never been asked for the equivalent in Switzerland (Thomas, 44yrs, married)70.

Lacking a certificate to find employment, Laura would have had to obtain it in order to compete for positions in the “local-labour market”. Without it, her profile remained incomplete. She therefore found work in a multinational consumer goods company (i.e. in the “international labour market”), which tended to “look more at the experience and less at the diploma” (Thomas, 44yrs, married). According to my interviewees, the recognisability of professional skills differs according to whether the position sought is in the “local” or “international labour market”. Thus, “partner-initiated movers” tend to feel they have more chances of finding employment in the “international labour market”, where the recognition of skills required is rather focused on professional experience than a specific diploma. Thomas contrasts the difference reception accorded to himself and to Laura. While he did not have to present any equivalence for his diplomas, Laura was confronted with an obstacle that is specific to the “partner-initiated movers” trying to access to the “local labour market”. In fact, so much is the “local labour market” perceived to be either inaccessible or disqualifying, “partner-initiated movers” feel they have much a better chance of finding a position in the “international labour market”.

d. Power of Place

In fact, many interviewees speak of two parallel “labour-markets”, describing the difficulty of moving from one to the other. Specifically, they underline the fact that there are nearly no Swiss people in their teams. Gabriel (6.1.2 Drawn Expatriate, 139), for example, is a French pharmacist working the senior manager for regulatory affairs at a multinational pharmaceutical company in Switzerland, where he has lived for more than ten years. He speaks of the opening of very different labour markets in regions where multinational corporations have settled. When he thinks about his colleagues, he emphasises that he does not have any direct Swiss colleagues:

←175 | 176→

In my group, I don’t have any Swiss employees. No, often, in the cross-company functions like IT there will be more Swiss employees. Obviously, also the human resources because one must know the local regulations. In our company, the admins are Swiss, but most people in the relatively skilled labour force, well, I do not mean that / [I mean] the specialized labour force is full of people who come from elsewhere (Gabriel, 54yrs, divorced)71.

For Gabriel, it is clear that he works in an international milieu which is not much related to the local labour force except when it comes to the maintenance and security positions in the company buildings, and/or such positions as require a knowledge of specific local spaces. When interviewing Abigail, the head of the marketing of a multinational consumer goods corporation, she asked me, laughing, “where are the Swiss people?” (Abigail, 43yrs, Single). Only really half joking, this quote underlines the co-presence of two segments of the labour market in a local space which do not really interact with one another. When the “partner-initiated movers” arrive after a relocation, they very often lack the contacts and professional networks required to access the “local labour market”. Thus, the “power of place” is central where the presence of a strong multinational fabric in the region is essential to the “partner-initiated movers’ ” ability to find employment in the “international labour market”. Different local spaces offer different professional opportunities. In this respect, the Lake Geneva Area in Switzerland and the Rhein-Main Area in Frankfurt are two regions where the multinational fabric is so strong as to offer newcomers opportunities for employment in both the local and international labour markets.

e. Company’s Support for the “Secondary-Mover’s” Inclusion in the Labour Force

The type of contract accorded to the “primary-mover” has an impact on the means available to the “partner-initiated mover” in finding employment. In fact, when the “primary-mover” performs an “expat-move”, the “partner-initiated mover” usually receives ample such support. Manon (Relocation of Headquarter, 155; Maternity Leaves, 168) is a veterinarian specialised in pet food. She worked for several major actors in the sector, developing new products. As a reminder, ←176 | 177→her partner Charles is a senior manager in a multinational consumer goods company. As part of his company’s strategy, the managers had decided to relocate their headquarters from France to Switzerland, transferring their whole team, which implied relocating the families, too. Thus, they proposed “expatriate contracts” to soften the impact of this process. Part of that expatriate package was an outplacement agency for the partners. Manon, therefore, received extended support in her search for employment in Switzerland; because: “the company really wanted us to stay” (Manon, 55yrs, divorced). During our interview, she described the importance of the support offered by the outplacement agency, as well as the personal investment it implied. In France, she was a national product director and finding the exact corresponding Swiss position would have required fluency in French and German. She did not speak German and it was, for her, “out of question to learn it” (Manon, 55yrs, divorced)72. Accordingly, she could only find something at a global or European level. Furthermore, she had already been in contact with the outplacement agency before the relocation. In order to continue working after the relocation, she sought a new position abroad while still working 100 percent of the time in her former position:

Manon: They did everything they could to help me find a job in Switzerland, which does not mean that I relied on them entirely. I spotted all the recruitment agencies and I contacted all that could be contacted, to try/

F.T.: /So there was also an involvement on your part/

Manon: /Enormous (…) I was working in France, in Paris. I came to Geneva every two months to meet people, to meet the recruitment companies, to meet my outplacement agency, to do job interviews (Manon, 55yrs, divorced)73.

This combination of challenges is recurrent when it comes to seeking employment as a “partner-initiated mover”. The “power of place”, and, more specifically, the structure of the “local” and the “international labour market” affects the job opportunities; as many “partner-initiated movers” find employment within the “international labour market”. Moreover, the support of the husband’s company is central, not solely to finding actual employment but, rather, to reorient and ←177 | 178→advise the “partner-initiated mover”. At the end of the day, the outplacement agency did not find employment for Manon, but it did help her to prepare a resume and present herself effectively in job interviews. For her, the move still required an enormous investment of time and energy on her part. The support was nevertheless crucial for Manon, because it empowered her in the process of coping with such a situation:

They asked me: ‘What can you do?’ To which I answered: ‘What can I do? After 15 years [in the same company] I don’t have a clue.’ I was so into my work. So, they helped me do a skills assessment and prepare a resume. (…). So, they rebooted me/ actually it is not reboot, but rather they put me back on track” (Manon, 55yrs, divorced)74.

In this case, the support came from an outplacement agency paid for by Charles’ company. This gave Manon the tools she needed to successfully find employment abroad. In sum, she found a position in the labour force, thanks to her “hard-skills”, her “uncompromising will to continue to work” as she phrases it, and the support of an outplacement agency. She did not want to stop working and, if she had not found anything in Switzerland, she would rather have returned to France.

f. Dual career Network

Professional networks are another type of support which can help “partner-initiated movers” find employment; though these are mostly oriented towards the “international labour market”. Maria (Teleworking, 148) found an auditor position in a multinational consumer goods company through one of these networks. The network supports “dual-couple careers” and is born out of an alliance of a dozen of multinational companies. The goal is to facilitate the work arrangement of “secondary-movers”. Interviewing the coordinator of the network shows that, on the one hand, companies support “dual careers couples”, being as they say “dual careers friendly”. On the other hand, the “partner-initiated movers” are often highly-skilled professionals seeking employment in the labour force which is, conversely, an opportunity for these companies in their own search for “talent”. According to the statistics provided by the network, more than 80% of the “partner-initiated movers” have a university degree or the equivalent75. Thus, ←178 | 179→they represent a valuable recruitment pool for the company, too. Maria started to work for this network on a voluntary basis. She helped organise events for its member companies. Such events usually focus on specific topics like the recruitment process. Managers of member companies, specialists in human resources, and “partner-initiated movers” meet during these events. For Maria, “that really changed the whole game, because you get in touch with some people on a personal level” (Maria, 42yrs, married). Due to her active participation in this network, she became aware of a job opportunity in a multinational consumer goods company:

We had a meeting because we were organising an event here at *** [name of the company], me from the *** [name of the network] side and the *** [name of the company] employee who told me about an opportunity they had in their own department, that they were growing and that they needed someone and [she asked] if I wanted to apply for the job (Maria, 42yrs, married).

Maria found a new professional occupation in Switzerland through interpersonal contacts, which were ultimately possible because she was part of this network, which is dedicated to the partners of employees of member companies (i.e. not everyone has access to it). Moreover, her husband’s company financed a career coach and some language courses. In each case, however, the “partner-initiated mover” speaks of a very important personal investment in the process of finding employment.

In sum, “partner-initiated movers” access to the labour market is contingent upon the types of skills brought with them, the languages they speak, whether their diplomas and/or work experience is recognized, and upon the presence of an “international labour market”. Furthermore, given that their professional and social networks are oriented towards the “international labour market”, “local labour markets” are mostly out of reach for them. This combination of elements creates the conditions in which the “partner-initiated movers” have more chance finding employment in the “international labour markets”. For these reasons, geography – which is to say the specific local spaces where a couple might settle – has a strong impact on the chance that a “partner-initiated mover” will have access to the labour force post-relocation.

6.5.6 Types of Moves of the Secondary-Mover

When it comes to the “secondary-movers”, I have identified three different types of moves on the basis of whether the partners end up living together or apart. A “total-move” refers to two partners and their children move together and subsequently live together. This means that the “secondary-mover” follows the ←179 | 180→“primary-mover” entirely to the new locale. The “half-move” identifies a situation in which the “secondary-mover” only partially follows the “primary-mover”, maintaining ties to the former country. In the context of dual career couples, such “half-moves” are common but temporary. They compensate for the drawbacks of the “primary-mover”‘ relocation, by the “secondary-mover’s” strategic use of mobility. Third, I present the case in which the “secondary-mover” is, in fact, a stayer, having decided to stay in the home country (Figure 16).

Each type of move implies specific challenges for the “secondary-movers”, I argue. Following this logic, the “partner-initiated mover” finds him/herself in a disadvantage position as s/he starts from “minus zero” in a local space s/he did not chose because of the professional opportunities there but rather for emotional reasons. In many cases, the “partner-initiated mover” need to rearrange the care work arrangement before having the time to seek employment in the labour force. The type of “partner-coordinated mover” stresses the ways in which such challenges are circumvented, however, not without creating new challenges for the partner’s “family-strategies” to respond to. In particular, “coordination” highlights the importance of mobility as a strategic tool in the integration of two professional careers. However, as exemplified by Maria, who teleworked in Japan for an Italian company, and by Manon, who took a maternity leave, being the “coordinated mover” is either exhausting and thus non-sustainable over the long run or a strictly short term solution.

6.6 Theorising the Professional Careers Coordination

Thanks to Expatriation studies, I can develop better the understanding of the different challenges that the different types of “primary” and “secondary” movers are confronted by, through a more detailed focus and precise conceptualisation of the move’s initiator. In this chapter, I have described the different types of moves for the “primary-mover” and the “secondary-mover” and will briefly conclude ←180 | 181→by summarising its main results. As a reminder, Figure 17 illustrates the scope of the analysis thus far as being focused, largely, on the right-hand column.

I started this chapter by showing the relevance of what I call the “professional approach”. It corresponds to an analysis focusing on the relationship between the employer and the employee (6.1 Migration Triggering: An Individual Approach, 138), emphasising a professional and individual approach to the initiator of a relocation. Then, I presented another perspective by focusing on who among the partners initiates a move, what I called a “collective approach” (6.2 Migration Triggering: A Collective Approach, 142). This approach introduces a seminal distinction between a “primary-mover” and “secondary-mover”, designed to account for the social and gendered dynamics involved in a move of this sort. Developing my argument around that distinction, I analysed the “labour force work integration” of highly-skilled migrants. To that end, I insisted on the continuum between “expat-moves” and “local-moves”, which are defined by different perceptions of “motility”. Then, I named the different types of reactions characteristic of “secondary-movers”. I showed that “secondary-movers” might circumvent the challenges of relocating “totally” with their partner; however, only for a time, at which point a decision still needs to be made. Such types of “partner-coordinated mover” are only temporary. Living “one life in two different worlds” at the same time seems very difficult in the long run. Besides, I have pointed to the gender imbalance in the distribution of “primary” and “secondary” movers, where the latter are very often the female partner, which only adds a gender hierarchy to the specific challenges of the “secondary-mover”. These specific ←181 | 182→challenges stress the specificity of the “partner-initiated” movers’ access to the labour force, as represented in the bottom right corner of the Figure 17. I have shown that “partner-initiated movers” have a much greater chance of accessing the “international” than a “local” labour market after a relocation. I have argued, in this way, that the specifics of the locale count. One can never but move somewhere – as floating, placeless spaces do not exist and space is always somewhere located. Thus, local spaces with an important “international labour market” offer more professional opportunities to the “partner-initiated movers”.

Thus, I have shown that not all relocations are equal, and the next chapter will stress that the conditions of a “primary” mover’s relocation affects the whole family. In fact, not only are the conditions of the relocation as such central, but so is the way the partners themselves interpret the “primary” mover’s “motility” in terms of the central role it plays among their collective “family strategies”. Bluntly, the reaction of the “secondary-mover” is not going to be the same if the partners believe that the “primary-mover” is moving either for six months or six years. In the following chapter, I will switch to a discourse analysis of the discourses told by the people I interviewed in order to grasp how this interpretation of a move influences the “family-strategies” overall. While this first empirical chapter represents a “fine grained” analysis of the mechanisms involved in a decision-making process, and of their consequences, the second empirical chapter will deal with the narratives of the interviewees more broadly.


50 Working within the larger framework of Expatriation studies, Andresen et al. use the term “expatriates”. I have already shown why I prefer the term “highly-skilled migrant” for the current study. Still, one of my objectives is to build bridges between Migration studies and Expatriation studies, given that they both deal with similar topics. I will stick to the term “expatriate” in the first part of the analysis, before going on to present concepts that will serve to link these two fields of study.

51 All the names have been changed to protect the privacy of my interviewees.

52 Un chasseur de tête, à l’époque, ils voulaient monter ici en Suisse une fonction similaire à celle que j’avais créé à Bâle. J’étais un des deux responsables de ce groupe. J’avais créé la fonction quoi (Own Translation).

53 I interviewed Gabriel at his workplace. He opened the door to the conference room with a retinal scanner. Clearly, the security of intellectual property is very important in this sector. Even just getting the interview set up was the result of a long process made all the more difficult by the challenge simply of finding Gabriel’s email address.

54 En fait, du coup, moi, je suis, on s’est rencontré dans le boulot pis après on s’est séparé et du coup c’est le moment où je suis tombée sur l’annonce à *** que j’ai postulé, que j’ai accepté le poste et une fois que j’ai accepté le poste ben on s’est remis ensemble (Own Translation).

55 Oui, oui, bien sûr, sinon je ne serai pas partie, ça faisait 10 ans que j’étais à Grenoble, je n’étais pas si mal, le fait qu’on ait rompu et que j’avais l’impression que je n’avais plus grand chose à perdre à Grenoble, donc je suis partie (Own Translation).

56 Truth be told, Halpern and Murphy (2005) speak mostly of “family-work interaction”; yet, they do refer to the concept of integration, also, which I am privileging here. Furthermore, I understand the concept of “family-work integration” as an abbreviation of “care work for the family – work in the labour-force integration”.

57 When I refer to the respondents I have mentioned earlier, I will point to the chapter where the context of their migration can be found so as not to be repetitive. Furthermore, the appendix 5 (p. 338) contains the lists of all the respondents used in the empirical analysis.

58 I speak of a continuum because my empirical cases are usually between two extreme poles. A “local contract” sometimes offers “expatriate benefits”, like paid language lessons or paid “home-leaves” for the whole family – known as a “local plus contract”. Indeed, some companies do not offer “expatriate contracts” and work only with “local contracts”, which does not mean that they do not provide any support in maintaining the “motility” of their employees. Thus, a “local contract” does not systematically mean a “local-move”. Furthermore, it may be more advantageous to be on a “Swiss local contract” and to receive the salary in Swiss Francs than to receive an American salary, in American Dollars, in Switzerland. The companies’ policies regarding the mobility of their staff vary considerably.

59 Je pense qu’au départ dans l’idée c’était d’abord d’avoir un contrat d’expatrié pendant trois ans et puis après d’avoir un contrat local de passer mon mari en contrat local. Cette mutation s’est faite bien pour beaucoup de salariés parce que le siège social de *** bougeait de Paris à Lausanne. Donc, ce n’était pas que pour mon mari! C’était pour un certain nombre d’entre eux et ils avaient absolument besoin de ces cadres dirigeants, de les déménager et ils savaient que voilà/ parce que mon mari aurait peut-être déménagé pour quelques années mais si moi je n’avais pas trouvé bon ben peut-être qu’ils seraient revenus (Own Translation).

60 Transnational studies and mobility studies show that there is no such thing as a “one-way ticket” in contemporary migration processes (Wieczorek 2018). A “total-move” does not imply that the partners totally cut ties with the country they formerly lived in but rather that the ties in the former country are not regularly activated to develop the “family-strategy”.

61 On m’a fait comprendre que c’était un peu étrange que je travaille au lieu de m’occuper de mes enfants (Own Translation).

62 In this case, the “partner-initiated mover” is pejoratively referred to as the “trailing-spouse”. In chapter 8, I will return to this “family-strategy”.

63 It is one of my interviewees – Thomas – who told me about the three pillars metaphor, which I later noticed in the interviews. It corresponds to the three most recurrent challenges of the “partner-initiated mover” when they arrive in a new local-space.

64 When I checked Sara’s LinkedIn profile a few months after the interview, she mentioned having moved to New York, where she found employment, which begs the question as to what has happened to their marriage.

65 I develop the concept of “half-move” in the second part of the present chapter.

66 Mon mari avait été muté en Italie par *** pour diriger la filiale italienne et à ce moment j’étais enceinte de mon troisième enfant et donc je me suis dit: ‘pourquoi pas? Je vais prendre un congé parental pendant deux’. Donc pendant deux ans je me suis arrêtée de travailler, enfin j’ai suivi mon mari en Italie (Own Translation).

67 Je ne vais pas m’arrêter de travailler (Own Translation).

68 Et donc, je suis rentrée et lui m’a suivi six mois après il est revenue en France (Own Translation).

69 Annisa uses a vocabulary which strongly refers to schemes of the “controlled immigration” side of the “migration binaries”. Thus, she speaks of “family reunification” which is how she got her residency permit, as the end of the sentence confirms, “I was already here” before having a position in the labour force. As an Indonesian national, she needs a legal justification to settle in Switzerland. Her contact with a “controlling state”, due to her nationality, shapes not only her experience of professional migration but also how she refers to her own migration experience reusing the language that the administration used while allowing her to settle in Switzerland. My point is to underline the variety of people behind the label of “partner-initiated mover”: while the skills do play a role in finding a new position in the labour force, the way a person is categorised by the state shapes the migration experience as well, regardless the skill level.

70 Ma femme a travaillé dans deux sociétés internationales, les deux donc pas des sociétés suisses et là malgré le nombre de cv envoyés ou d’entretiens passés, elle n’a jamais été prise. (…) En fait, on lui demandait systématique d’avoir un diplôme suisse. C’était (…) un certificat spécifique aux ressources humaines (…) Moi, pour moi, on ne m’a jamais demandé un diplôme, mon diplôme de pharmacien, il est français et on ne m’a jamais demandé l’équivalent (Own Translation).

71 Dans mon groupe j’ai personne de suisse, non souvent c’est les fonctions transversales genre informatique où il y aura plus de suisse, les ressources humaines évidemment parce qu’il faut connaître la législation. Chez nous ce sont les admins qui sont suisses mais la plupart des gens de main d’œuvre qualifiée enfin faut pas dire que/ main d’œuvre spécifique, c’est des gens qui viennent d’ailleurs (Own Translation).

72 C’était hors de question de l’apprendre [l’allemand] (Own Translation).

73 Manon : Ils ont tout fait pour trouver un emploi en Suisse, ce qui ne veut pas que je me repose sur eux. Après avoir examiné toutes les agences de recrutement, j’ai contacté tout ce qui pourrait être contacté, pour essayer/

     F.T.: /C’est donc aussi une implication de votre part /anon: / énorme. (…) J’ai travaillé en France à Paris, je suis venu à Genève tous les deux mois pour rencontrer des gens, pour rencontrer des entreprises de recrutement, pour rencontrer mon cabinet de déménagement, pour faire des entretiens (Own Translation).

74 Ben me dire “qu’est-ce que vous savez faire?” et moi de dire “Mais ce que je sais faire? Mais j’en sais rien au bout de 15 ans”, je suis tellement dans mon travail que voilà. Donc à faire un bilan de compétence et à refaire un CV. (…). Donc ils m’ont rebooté, enfin ce n’est pas rebooté mais remis sur les rail pour me présenter à un entretien (Own Translation).

75 This statistic is part of an internal document that the respondent transmitted to me.