Immigration: the Dream vs the Facts
Waves of immigration have been seen again recently from politically and economically less stable and prosperous regions to those so-called Western democratised and industrialised countries. Rapid changes in the geopolitical terrain, along with a drastic transformation in the appeal of the defining elements of democracy and prosperity in the past decade, has made immigration to Western countries less attractive nowadays, but some still hold a perception of Western liberalism as the ultimate goal of immigration.
Regardless of what reasons a person has for deciding to immigrate, some basic challenges presented by the process of immigration and integration into Western host societies include barriers of language, culture, ethnicity, education, recognition of credentials and professional experience, and employment. This does not mean the development and upward mobility of immigrants and their offspring are hamstrung for good, but empirical research has generally shown that different life trajectories for immigrants and their offspring in Western host societies emerge in the process of assimilation. Some immigrants successfully move to a better-off class—termed the white Protestant middle-class in America by scholars—while many remain in the labouring classes or even urban underclasses, leading a life of poverty and marginalisation.
The picture will be more complicated for the offspring of immigrants. This is because immigrant parents need to overcome the invisible obstacles of intricate educational and social systems to help their children succeed academically and obtain a prestigious college degree as a credential for upward mobility, consonant with what Portes, Fernandez-Kelly, and Haller (2009) mentioned: “(w)ithout the costly and time-consuming achievement of a university degree, such dreams are likely to remain beyond reach” (p. 1081). Specifically, recent research on immigration authored by Dr Jerf YEUNG Wai-keung, Associate Professor of CityU’s Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences, using a large set of data from the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS) in America supports the empirical arguments mentioned above and aligns with the findings of Western immigration researchers (Feliciano 2020, Greenman 2011, Haller, Portes, and Lynch 2011, Yeung 2022, Portes, Fernandez-Kelly, and Haller 2009).
The main purpose of his research is to investigate the educational success of immigrant youths in young adulthood, e.g. achieving college graduation, using the structural predictors of immigrant generations, length of residence, English use, and interaction with native friends suggested by the conventional assimilation perspective, and family composition, parental socioeconomic status (SES), and incorporation mode suggested by segmented assimilation theory. The academic aspirations of immigrant children in adolescence at individual and school levels are also examined (Yeung 2022). This is important as obtaining a four-year undergraduate degree in the US signifies a milestone in upward mobility (Rumbaut 2005).
The data are based on a representative sample of 3,344 immigrant youths from the CILS. Results of the study found that both the academic aspiration of immigrant youths and the structural variables of family composition, family SES and incorporation mode significantly predicted the likelihood of the youth’s successful college graduation, and furthermore that their academic aspiration was a function of the structural variables of family composition, family SES, and incorporation mode. These findings show that although an individual’s motivation for upward mobility is important for change of life trajectories in Western capitalist societies, family background, and parental capital and resources still play a fundamental role in determining one’s future life, corresponding to a recent study by Feliciano and Lanuza (2017).
Publication and achievements
Yeung, JWK (2022), The academic aspiration of immigrant youths and their college graduation in young adulthood: A multilevel analysis of individual and contextual carry-over effects, International Journal of Educational Research, vol. 111, 101888. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2021.101888