Living here, Working there: Elite Migrants at the Interstices of Global Trade and Culture
Associate Professor, Pennsylvania State
- *Corresponding Author:
- Juliette Storr
Beaver 100 University Drive
Monaca, PA 15061, USA
Received Date: February 09, 2017; Accepted Date: February 16, 2017; Published Date: February 26, 2017
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Twenty elite migrants, highly educated or highly skilled, explain how communication technologies are helping them manage multiple identities and readjustments as they interact with family, friends and co-workers in multiple locations across the world. Elite migrants’ stories are often under reported yet their impact on societies is relevant because of the role they play in shaping societies. Two intercultural issues important to this distinctive group are explored: belonging and identity. Findings suggest elite migrants’ experiences of living between and within cultures are creating more flexible, fluid identities and belongings and issues of citizenship, identity and loyalty have become more complex in the twenty-first century.
Culture; Elite migration; Acculturation; Transnationalism; Globalization;
Elite Migrants at the Interstices of
Global Trade and Culture
More migrants are living in multiple places than ever before.
According to the United Nations’ 2014 report on the movement
of people there were 230 million migrants in the world in 2013.
In 2015 this figure increased significantly with the migration of
peoples from the Middle East and Africa to Europe. The current
movement of people renews concerns for what it means to
belong to multiple societies at a time of heightened global
conflict and security.
Distinct patterns of migration have emerged. One of those
distinctions is the rise in the migration of elites from developing
to developed countries. The movement of highly skilled elites,
for educational and professional opportunities, symbolizes the
phenomenon called ‘brain drain.’ The global movement of elites
from developing countries to developed countries raises concerns
among policymakers and social theorists about local versus global
productivity and development . When originating societies
loose these assets many policymakers fear local productivity
would decline and economic development slowed.
A second distinction in migration studies is the management of
global and local forms of belonging among migrant populations.
This study focuses on the global and local (glocal) experience of
twenty elite migrants, highly skilled or educated migrants. Their
immigration stories are often under reported yet their impact on societies is important and relevant because of the role they
play in shaping societies and economies . Elites have human
capital or currency and are often characterized as builders or
representatives of political and economic power structures. Mills
 classified them as power elites; they are usually professionals
in societal institutions from business corporations to political
and government agencies, including the military and educational
institutions. More than forty years later, Castells [3-5] highlighted
the role of this group in globalization and the impact they have
on global capitalism through financial markets, technologies,
trade and labor.
Robinson  proposed competing groups of elites have emerged
in contemporary forms of globalization, national and transnational
elites. Robinson, in his critical analysis of Saskia Sassen’s work on
the Sociology of Globalization, contends there is a “leading strata
among national capitalist classes in both the North and South’
who are experiencing “ongoing integration across borders into
an emergent transnational capitalist class (TCC) and at whose
apex is a transnational managerial elite”. This study examines
two intercultural issues among transnational elites: multiple
identities and belonging. These issues have implications for how
we interpret issues of citizenship, loyalty, and identity in the
The multiple belongings thesis expands the cultural transient
argument of Onwumechili, Nwosu and Jackson . Onwumechili,
Nwosu and Jackson contend there is very little research that examines the phenomenon of re-migration of Americans or other
Westerners to their home countries. Their study examines the
frequent return to the home countries of Asians, West Africans
and Mexicans and the negotiation of cultural identity as people
move back and forth across cultures. Onwumechili, Nwosu and
Jackson believe identity is complicated as a result of multiple
reacculturations through frequent returns to the home countries.
For the participants of this study, elite migrants, cultural transience
is also evident not only through physical returns to their home
countries but also through mediated returns through the use
of communication technologies which helps them to simulate
a cross cultural experience that immerses them in two or more
cultures simultaneously. As such, several questions emerge, how
frequently does the reacculturation process take place for these
migrants in these simulated cross-cultural experiences? What
impact do these frequent reacculturations have on identity and
Today more elite migrants are living in multiple spaces at the same
time than ever before. Researchers (Joseph 1999; Schiller, 2003;
Sassen 2006, 2007; Sahoo and de Kruijf 2014) have identified
this type of existence as active, simultaneous transnational living
where migrants actively participate in more than one nation-state.
While transnational lifestyles are not new, the recent movement
of people is being transformed in a variety of ways through new
developments in information and communication technologies.
Modern day migrants have always had the ability to communicate
with people in the societies they left behind however much of
that communication occurred by mail or landline telephone. The
former is a slower process; the latter is expensive. Post-1980,
new developments in communication technologies, digital media
and wireless telephony, provide migrants and non-migrants with
the ability to connect with people all over the world, making
communications easier, faster, interactive and less expensive
Vertovec 2004. These developments provide users not only with
the ability to communicate faster and easier but also build and
sustain communities through the production and consumption
of content and exchange of information.
improvements in transportation, information and communication
technologies have contributed to significant advancements in
the globalization of economies [7-11]. These changes have also
induced migrants to live in multiple cultures and raise questions
about citizenship, identity, and loyalties with consequences for
long-term social and political marginalization . Transnational
migration is producing more cross-cultural interactions both
within and between ‘host’ and ‘home’ cultures. Some scholars
have identified several issues that have emerged from these crosscultural
interactions brought on by differences in communication
style, language, worldview, beliefs, values and norms and barriers
such as ethnocentrism, prejudice, stereotypes, and racism. These
issues are collectively referred to as cultural disjunctures  or
As immigration increases at the high and low end with
professional services, technical services and low-wage services in
high demand by global cities [8,9], is globalization, as a process,
as Robinson  purports, “restructuring space and place and redefining relationships between production and territoriality,
economic organization, institutions and social processes?”
Amidst these changes, how are migrants experiencing belonging
and identity? Twenty high-wage (elite) migrant workers were
interviewed to find answers to these questions.
Communication Technology and
Transnationalism in this study centers on the concern for the
effect of diaspora on the subjective perceptions of the self,
reimagined through electronic mediation. Transnationalism
is used here to refer to the “changing forms of cross-border
mobility, membership and citizenship and the compatibility-or
incompatibility- of migrant integration and cultural distinctions”
. Basch, Glick Schiller and Szanton-Blanc  describe
transnationalism as “a process by which migrants, through
their daily life activities … create social fields that cross national
boundaries” . Transnational subjectivity is used in this
study to refer to a person’s memberships and belongings in
New communication technologies are creating transnational
experiences where time and space are collapsed and the ‘out
there’ is questionable [8,9,18,19]. Traditional media, or old
media, connected people to far-away places but the owners of
media companies or governments controlled the connection
and content. Internet technology, new media, is still owned
by powerful economic and political elites but the power of
production has shifted to anyone with the technology. New
media technology like the internet and wireless telephone are
providing end users with the ability to create and distribute
content as well as consume content created by others in realtime.
Satellite television provides a similar real-time experience
but without the interactivity of the internet and control of
production. Watching live real-time satellite television programs
from country of origin collapses time and space dimensions, that
is, it removes or reduces points of location on a map that mark a
specific place, but does not provide the same experience as the
internet with its power to seduce the imaginative and transport
us to participate in ‘local life’ through interactivity [20,21]
believes the transformation of the ‘web’ into a user-oriented
and user-generated platform that has continuously improved
accessibility across the world has “turned the Internet in just two
short decades into a paramount tool for cross-border interactions
and exchanges in diasporic settings”. Internet connectivity, which
does establish some forms of proximity, is changing the nature of
localities and identities. Some theorists [20,22] have identified
this as globalization’s transformation of the local order, which
has led to the buzz phrase of the early twenty-first century, ‘the
global is the local.’
The intercultural perspective referred to here is the means by
which elite migrant workers use internet technology to sustain
their ‘home’ culture in a global setting. This mediation raises the
question of how globalization through the use of communication
technology has and is changing the way we live and work. It is
not so much that migrant workers are using communication technology to interact with their ‘home’ cultures, especially the
internet, but that more migrant workers are using the internet
to interact with their original culture and sustain cultural values
while engaged in multiple locations.
They leave their ‘home’ country to live and work in a ‘host’
country. Through communication technology issues of time and
space are collapsed as they redefine what it means to live and
work in the twenty-first century within geographic boundaries
that are dislocated through technology. Nkosi  defines
dislocation as the displacement of people through emigration,
exile, and labor migrancy, which he believes creates rootlessness
as people are caught between worlds, living in a fluid present. In
this study I use dislocation to refer to the displacement of elite
migrant workers through labor migrancy and technology, that is,
through the use of communication technologies like the internet
to examine the fluid existence that has emerged among them as
they interact with ‘home’ and ‘host’ cultures.
This fluid existence is supported by the argument for ‘subjectivities
in-transit’ in post-colonial, global societies or what Patricia Hill
Collins identifies as ‘the outsider-within location’ . Hill Collins
uses the latter concept to describe the marginalized condition
of migrant Black women who no longer belonged to any group
and lived at the intersections of multiple systems of subjugation.
La Barbera  uses ‘subjectivities in-transit’ to describe the
new social identities that populate global societies, with an
emphasis on hybridism, multiple belonging and borderline-ness.
La Barbera adopts the term ‘within/out’ to define a particular
location for women who move across different nation-states
and communities and belong to several groups at the same time.
This study uses these concepts to explain the impact of shifting
subjectivities or positionalities on elite migrants.
As Sahoo and de Kruijf  argue, migrant workers are developing
new transnational communities and subjectivities through
communication technology. These individuals, wherever they
are, are sharing a sense of common belonging to a homeland
where they are not physically present while simultaneously
engaged in host countries where they are either living on the
margins or have integrated, partially. This new phenomenon
raises a number of questions about identification, identity and
belonging on the individual and collective levels.
Methodology: Examining Cross Cultural
Living in Twenty First Century
This study focuses on the experience of elite migrant workers
living in transnational spaces in the twenty-first century. It
provides greater understanding of elite migrant workers’
interactions in ‘host’ and ‘home’ cultures through the use of
information and communication technologies. Of particular
interest are the patterns of identification that have emerged
in the interstices between global work and global life. For this
group of elite migrants, their ability to communicate and interact
frequently within ‘host’ and ‘home’ cultures raises questions
about the effects of these interactions on identity and belonging.
Qualitative method is useful in this research because of its explanatory power , especially for questions that cannot be
explained by numbers alone. Twenty elite migrant workers were
interviewed to provide an understanding of their cross cultural
experience using internet technology, in particular, to connect
with family, friends and colleagues at ‘home’, in ‘host’ cultures
and around the world.
I used a purposeful sample. The twenty participants were selected
as representatives of the key dimension of this study, high wage
migrants living away from their place of origin, ‘home’ country.
Twenty interviewees accepted my invitation to participate
in this study. This sample is too small to make generalizations
about this phenomenon but this group of migrants provides
us with information to help us understand how identification
and belonging are changing in the twenty-first century. The
participants were selected based on appropriateness, they
were living transnationally and were ‘good informants’ who
were willing to articulate, reflect and share their transnational
experiences. As Patton  contends, the participants are
information-rich cases from whom one could learn a great
deal about issues of central importance to the purpose of this
research. Participants were recruited through referrals via email
and telephone. I started with a list of known elite migrants and
requested referrals at the end of each interview. Participation
was voluntary. The interviews were designed to identify how the
participants use communication technology to stay connected
to their ‘home’ countries and the impact of this usage on their
ability to sustain cultural identity in ‘host’ countries.
The lived experiences of these high-wage migrant workers, or elite
workers, also provide an opportunity for greater understanding
of emerging patterns of intercultural relationships. They fit
Sassen’s  description of professional service providers. Their
current locations and employers are not mentioned to protect
their identity. Thirteen of the migrant workers in this study are
female professionals and seven are male professionals. Nine
are college professors, five work for non-profit organizations,
two are employed with for profit organizations and four are
administrative staff in higher education. At the time of the study,
the participants had lived in a variety of locations around the
world from five to thirty years.
The method of analysis is thematic interpretation. I used a
thematic approach to identify themes evident in these migrant
workers’ experiences. The interviews were conducted in English
and transcribed ‘in-situ’; words were transcribed as spoken by
participants who were native and non-native English speakers. I
did not change the interviewee’s conversational quality or speech
pattern so as to accurately reflect the interviewee’s experience.
Living Here, Working There: The Elite
Migrant, Globalization and Identity
To provide a deeper understanding of identities and belongings
in the twenty-first century, I explore elite migrants’ mediated
experience of reconnections with their ‘home’ culture and
readjustments with ‘host’ culture when they disconnect. Although
many scholars [28,29] believe migrants hold strong connections to the ‘home’ culture, some elite migrants in this study do not
hold strong feelings or connections to ‘home’ culture and prefer
to think of themselves as global citizens who adapt to their
environments base on their needs and wants. Others remained
strongly anchored to their original cultural identity and preferred
their culture of origin or ‘home’ culture.
Four major themes emerged: cultural transients: simulating realtime
interactions; global versus national citizenship: adjusting to
re-entry shock; frequent connection and belongingness; and inbetween
and multiple: negotiating identity. One of the prevalent
themes was the use of the internet to stay connected to country
of origin. The internet was the dominant method or channel of
communication for all of the participants. The most frequent use
of the internet was to maintain or sustain cultural connections.
The majority of participants acknowledged the need to connect
with their place of origin, ‘home’, while crossing multiple cultures,
in the ‘host’ and global communities that affect their reasoning,
lifestyle, behavior, values and perspectives.
Cultural transients: simulating real-time
The internet experience induced a state of being ‘there’ while
being ‘here’ in the majority of the participants. This is a common
theme in the literature on transnationalism, diaspora and
migration [13,16,30]. As Mitra  argues “a real-life person
is being transformed from a ‘real-life’ individual to a digitally
produced presence that dwells in a cybernetic space that is
produced at the congruence of the real and the digital”. The
internet, and its various platforms-Facebook, websites, YouTube,
WhatsApp, Skype, Facetime-simulate real-time experiences
for the participants. Life at the congruence of the real and the
digital induced a process, as Glick Schiller, Basch, and Blanc
[31-37] describe, by which these migrants forge and sustain
“simultaneous multi-stranded social relations that link together
their societies of origin and settlement”.
The participants selected the internet and its various platforms to
communicate with their ‘home’ countries because of accessibility,
affordability, instantaneousness, easy use, interactive
capabilities, and the need to connect with ‘home’. Their active
engagement simulated real-time face-to-face encounters and it
is this appeal that many of the interviewees referenced as their
main reason for using it. “The internet is my preferred medium
because it provides instant two- internet because “it is easily
accessible, interactive and easier on the pocket. It allows me
to engage with family and friends in real-time” (Benin, male).
Participants also described the influence of ‘real-time’ internet
communication in their life at home and work: “The real-time
interaction that the internet allows me to have with my family
and friends, who are not all necessarily at home in the Bahamas,
is most amazing to me. I can shoot a question off to someone
on the other side of the globe and get an answer back in about
5-10 minutes…wow!”(Bahamas, female 1). These participants
are experiencing what Mitra  identifies as two realms of
existence in transnational interactions-the organic carbon-based
self, the real self, and the binary-based self, the virtual self.
Participants spoke of their experiences in both realms as
powerful and important for restoring their cultural identity.
Using communication technology to interact and engage with
their home culture produced a longing to be ‘there’, at ‘home’,
their virtual experience made it possible for them to simulate
being at ‘home’ and thus they were able to relocate themselves
there with the use of technology.
All of the participants used the internet to obtain information
from their country of origin and to stay connected to family and
friends. The majority of the participants, 14 out of 20, used online
newspapers from their country of origin to stay connected to
daily events and news from their country of origin. Email was the
most popular medium for communicating with country of origin.
Nine of the participants used online chatting, Skype, Facetime,
WhatsApp or Facebook to communicate immediately with family
and friends in their country of origin. Only five of the participants
used internet radio and one participant used internet television
to stay connected. The participants who used internet radio and
television shared similar experiences of being transported to
local space as an active participant while being located in the host
country. The feeling of being ‘transported’ over time and space
to be ‘there’ (meaning at ‘home’) was a common experience.
These interactants liked the appeal of participating in real-time
life in their countries of origin. As Mitra  argues, these elite
migrants, transnationals, are living at the congruence of the real
and the virtual. The real-time, real-life interactions online allow
them to cope with living in their host country but their use of
virtual reality also provide them with the opportunity to control
which self they would become in the interaction. Their virtual life
affirms their cultural connections and immerses them in cultural
practices and discourse that allows them to fluidly move from
one subject position to another. For, Mitra  explains, they are
no longer powerless subjects in a specific structure or specific
position as technology enables them to move between national
boundaries seamlessly producing a ‘trans-identity’ as they adopt
everyday lived practices that are fluid and open.
Global versus national citizenship: adjusting to
Virtual border crossings, like real-life physical border crossings,
also require migrants to adapt to different cultural environments.
The difference is virtual border crossings are taking place more
instantaneously, frequently and quickly. Thus, the simultaneous
occurrence of the real self and the virtual self requires frequent
subjective adjustments by elite migrants; engagement with and
disengagement from virtual ‘home’ societies introduces the
process of re-acculturation to ‘home’ and ‘host’ societies. The
re-acculturation could last from a few seconds to longer periods
of time. Gibson  defines acculturation as “the process of
cultural change and adaptation that occurs when individuals
from different cultures come in contact”. From the perspective
of international migration, Phinney, Horenczky, Liebkind,
and Vedder  identified two dimensions of this process of
adaptation: 1) adoption of ideals, values and behaviors of the
receiving culture, and 2) retention of ideals, values and beliefs
from the immigrant person’s culture of origin. These dimensions are closely related to social and cultural identity. Bhatia and Ram
 and Phinney  found that identity is an important issue
among immigrant people but Bhatia and Ram  challenge
the assumption that all immigrant groups go through the same
‘psychological’ acculturation process. This was true of elite
migrants in this study; as noted some of the participants held
strong connections to their ‘home’ culture and national identity,
others referred to themselves as ‘global citizens’ and preferred a
more fluid existence.
Re-acculturation takes place when migrants re-migrate to
their home countries . Communication technologies and
improvements in transportation have increased the frequency
and speed of re-acculturation among migrant people. The elite
migrants in this study described the speed at which they could reenter
their home countries using communication technologies.
Thus, the cultural transient argument of Onwumechili, Nwosu
and Jackson  could be extended to include the complications
of simulated experiences of return to ‘home’ countries through
The internet connectivity dislodged many of the participants in
this study from everyday environments in their ‘host’ country
and transported them to their ‘home’ culture. However,
disconnecting often left them feeling disconcerted and dislocated.
The ‘instant connection’ to ‘home’ culture produced a clash with
the host cultural space when they disconnected from internet.
“...When I disconnect I often feel disconcerted for a while and I
have to readjust to the host culture at work and outside of work.
I have to remember to change my way of speaking at work or if
I am out with colleagues and friends in the host culture I have to
code switch and sometimes this is exhausting and unsettling…”
(Bahamas, female 1). Participants described a sense of re-entry
shock when they disconnected from their ‘home’ culture. The
internet allowed them to feel rooted and grounded in their ‘home’
culture during their connection. However, the disconnection
from the internet brings with it a struggle to reconnect to the
host culture. “It makes me feel closer to home or connected to
what’s going on at home. Basically, it helps to break that all too
familiar feeling of isolation out here in this big, very often cold
world.” However, after disconnecting, “I struggle to reenter the
host culture, which requires me to code switch my speech style
and my emotional state to fit the appropriate context” (Bahamas,
Most of the male participants did not directly expressed
sentiments about how use of the internet to connect to ‘home’
made them feel, however, male participants also valued the
ability to connect frequently with their ‘home culture’ because
they wanted “to know what is happening there and what are
the changes” (Cameroon, male). One of the male participants
indirectly indicated he re-adapts to the ‘host’ culture when he
disconnected. “Granted, it takes a few minutes [to readjust]
but then it’s not too difficult [to assimilate again into the host
culture]” (Guinea, male). More female participants described
feelings of disconcertion than the male participants. But, one
male participant described his discomfort. “Disconnection
returns me to my immediate physical environment and it is hard sometimes to adjust or adapt to this [the host] culture when I’ve
just been engaged with my true home” (Jamaica, male).
None of the participants sought other cultures or countries’
media on the internet to feel connected to their culture. All of
the participants noted that they only looked at other countries’
online newspapers or other internet sources as they pertain to
the performance of their job, for research or in connection to
friends and family who lived in other countries. Those activities
were compartmentalized as work or connections with friends and
family who lived in other countries. They did not seek information
about the daily events in those countries unless those events had
a direct impact on their work or their friends/relatives’ lives.
These actively engaged communication participants agreed
that access to the internet increased the frequency of their
communication with friends and family at ‘home.’ Fifteen of the
participants experienced increased satisfaction with internet
technology because they were able to connect instantly and
frequently to friends, family and culture. This interaction brought
with it issues of re-acculturation, including the frequency and
duration of w-curve  adjustment patterns (culture shock) via
cyberspace and the impact of this on identity. These participants
are virtual transients who move back and forth between ‘home’
culture and ‘host’ culture frequently and rapidly aided by new
communication technologies. Instead of achieving frequent flyer
miles, they are acquiring frequent virtual miles as they simulate
their experience of ‘home’ via the internet and its various
platforms. Virtual transience is important to cultural identity but
few of us understand how important it is as this is an understudied
area of research. The virtual transient identity complicates
Onwumechili, Nwosu and Jackson  cultural transient
argument of long-term and short-term cultural environments
as the simulated reality brought about by virtual travel happens
frequently and rapidly with various durations of time. Thus, some
migrants in this study found themselves readjusting to home and
host cultures multiple times during a day.
Frequent connections and belongingness
Historically, migrants have always maintained contact with
people and institutions in their home of origin . Today’s
digital or virtual connections allow migrants to continue these
connections but have increased the speed and frequency
of doing so. Like previous forms of communication, digital
connection mitigates the loss of familiar relationships common
to the diasporic experience  and causes changes in personal
and social identity. Participants in this study valued the ability
to connect anytime, anywhere to family and friends to retain or
maintain personal, social and cultural identity.
When I get news from my country I feel as though I am keeping in
touch with my ‘roots’. This is what connects me to home. There
is also a sense of nostalgia particularly when I hear about places
or people I know. The moments I get each week helps me to feel
grounded and somehow makes me feel as though although not
physically there I still have a place somewhere; a place where I
feel a sense of belonging to some extent. (Guinea, female)
Identity has received a lot of attention in post-colonial studies.
Many scholars have attempted to nail down a firm definition
of this concept but at times it still remains elusive. Schwartz,
Montgomery and Briones  define identity as a synthesis of
personal, social and cultural self-conceptions. They identify
personal identity as the goals, values, and beliefs that an individual
adopts and holds; social identity as “both the group with which
one identifies, including its self-identified ideals, mores, labels
and conventions as defined by Erikson  and the extent to
which this identification leads one to favor the ‘in-group’ (i.e.,
the group to which one perceives oneself as belonging) and to
distance oneself from ‘outgroups’ (i.e., groups other than the ingroup)”;
and cultural identity as a special case of social identity,
the interface between the personal and cultural context. This
definition fits the experience of the participants in this study but
their identity now includes virtual identity.
The importance of identity maintenance was evident among most
of the participants. Their connectivity alleviated the feelings of
homesickness, marginalization or isolation that they experienced
living in cultures that are different from their culture of origin.
As McLuhan’s global village, the world is much smaller now. You
can be anywhere Iraq, England, Sweden, France, Nigeria, Australia
and can communicate with all these people simultaneously and
instantly. It’s not just that you can communicate with them but
it’s the immediacy of communication. And that creates a network
that perhaps would not exist without the internet. Through
the internet I have been able to reconnect with a lot of family
members and friends. It has facilitated a certain community
and commonality that would not existed without it. It’s a virtual
community but it is just as effective. If it weren’t for the internet I
would not have reconnected with many friends. Now I am chatting
with many of them and it is like face-to-face communication, the
instant messaging intensifies the experience. (Jamaica, male)
Reaffirming their original cultural identity when they used the
internet made them feel at ‘home’. “[I] feel a sense of connection
to home and familiar things … nuances of the language being
read, the tone, the subtle implications of what’s being read, and
the sense of history that I connect to in the [news] stories I read”
(Antigua, female). As such, participants believe the internet
has made living away from their original home country more
tolerable. “The internet has changed my life tremendously; I
couldn’t imagine being so far away from home without it and
being faced with communication by post [snail-mail] only…”
In the midst of these interactions, these participants are
changing the way they live and work in their ‘host’ country as the
‘connectedness’ of the internet allows them to shift between two
or more cultures anytime anywhere as virtual transients. “The
watchword is ‘connection’ as it keeps me informed on a demandbasis,
I know where to go when I need stuff, and on some level
I feel that I’m able to retrieve more information outside of my
country via the internet than if I were home depending on
traditional avenues” (Bahamas, female 3)
their membership in their original in-group through connectivity of the internet, the values, beliefs and practices of their heritage
culture remained relevant for most of these elite migrants. “The
internet makes it easy for me to be in [a] foreign country as it helps
me stay connected to my family, culture and country. Staying
connected to my home culture has an impact on the quality of
my work here, because it gives me a feeling of closeness with my
culture and reduces homesickness” (US American, female).
The frequent visits to their culture of origin via the internet not
only produced a feeling of connection to a place where they
belonged or restored their original memberships it also produced
tensions between the ‘host’ and the ‘home’ culture as return to
the host culture and the re-assimilation of host values, beliefs and
customs produce identity distress resulting from divided loyalties
between two cultures . Virtual reality or digital reality creates
frequent re-acculturation, (as discussed in the previous section),
and as Schwartz et al. believe with acculturation, re-acculturation
causes changes to cultural identity; however, the extent of the
shifting depends on one’s perception of the importance of
one’s heritage culture values, beliefs and customs and one’s
perception of the host’s culture values, beliefs and customs. As
noted this perspective emerged among some of the participants
who identified themselves as global citizens. This perspective is
discussed more in the next section.
In-between and multiple: negotiating identities
Being dislocated from ‘home’ often requires migrants to negotiate
multiple positions and identities via cyberspace. The internet
offered these elite migrant workers not only a tool to validate
their identity in their ‘host’ country but it also positioned them in
an in-between-ness where multiple positions and identities co-exist.
When I talked with my friend [names her friend who is also from
her ‘home’ culture and also lives and works abroad] from my
office, I close my [office] door so that we could talk openly and
privately. English is gone in our conversation as we get down
to the ground with dialect… It is during these conversations via
Skype or other technology that the rawest sense of who you
are at your core comes out…but when I disconnect from that
conversation almost effortlessly and instantaneously I put the
mask back on and adapt to the environment I am in [names global
company here]. I disconnect and it happens at the subliminal
level. (Bahamas, female 1)
Participants admitted that it is exhausting to switch back and
forth between identities but “it was not overwhelmingly so”
(Bahamas, female 1) as working and living abroad in the host
country requires one to assimilate and conform to the host
culture. Some of the participants accepted this as part of the
conditions for working in a host country. Other explanations of
how migrants cope with multiple identities and positions are
revealed in the following response:
Technology is filling the gap. People look for information they are
interested in …they go with what they can connect to … where
their memories are…that’s home and they can connect to it.
People feel more like their original self-identity in their homes
[physically inside] and switch to the assimilated identity of the host country when they go outside. It’s like what satellite TV did
before the internet to Africans and Arabs who had relocated to
France. Outside their apartment they are French, inside their
apartment they are Nigerian or whatever Arab country they
come from. (Benin, male).
One of the elite immigrants, who lived in his ‘host’ country for
more than thirty years, deliberately searches for his ‘home’
culture to sustain his cultural identity as he moves between
cultures, physically and virtually. Internet technology has given
him the ability to transport himself emotionally to his country of
origin anytime any place as long as he has access. He described
what happened to him when he read an online newspaper from
his home of origin.
I get emotionally involved because I can identify with the stories.
I have emotional investment in the stories. I know some of the
writers. Once I was reading a crime story [in an online newspaper]
and the guy charged was the football coach at my high school,
the judge was an ex-girlfriend and one of the witnesses was my
brother-in-law. I said how can all these people be in one story?
[Laughs] It seemed incestuous.
I may not be there physically but [I’m] there emotionally…it’s as
though I never left; 30 years later I am still there. I still have my
accent and I move with people [from similar cultural background]
in [host country] … When I want news from home it’s at my
fingertips. I get it instantly I don’t have to wait weeks, which is
what we did when we had mainly letters. (Jamaica, male).
Connectivity brings with it the complexities of negotiating
identity. Contacts with the home culture are not always pleasant
as in-groups and outgroups are redrawn and migrants who left
their country of origin are accused by those who have never left
their home country of no longer having full rights to citizenship.
At times, negotiating citizenship with friends, family and peers at
‘home’ is complex. In some respect Jamaican people in diaspora
are more patriotic than those who live at home, there’s a certain
amount of resentment towards those who live abroad. They
believe we abandoned Jamaica because we live abroad. They
often get defensive and hostile when we [those living in the
diaspora] try to reach out and help the country on individual or
collective level. They often say we don’t live in Jamaica and have
given up our rights [as citizens] to participate, assist, volunteer
or help, except monetarily…That is, they are happy to take our
money… but we should open our wallets and keep our mouths
shut…because they don’t want our advice, knowledge or
Despite this antagonism the participant quoted above continues
to retain his original cultural identity and assimilate to the ‘host’
country, making adjustments to his speech, in terms of the speed
at which he talks when interacting in the ‘host’ country, but
otherwise remaining “true to who I am in all settings.”
Schwartz et al.  and Vertovec  refer to the bicultural
tension that exists for migrants as they claim membership in
more than one place. The phenomenon of multiple citizenships
has led to a lot of public and scholarly debates on dual citizenship, dual nationality, rights, obligations, national identity
and transnationalism. There are a number of views on these
issues, positive and negative. The negative perspective views
transnational ties as weakening immigrants’ integration in the
receiving country  whereas the positive perspective claims
“democracy is actually enhanced by public recognition and
representation of migrants’ transnational, multiple identities”
The participants’ experiences indicate they are living multiple
parallel lives in the real world and in their virtual world.
“I sometimes feel like I flipped a switch and moved from
interacting in one space as one person and then become
someone else in another space, sometimes within seconds or
minutes and sometimes simultaneously” (Bahamas, female
1). These interactions are affecting their worldview, identity
and communication patterns; raising a number of questions
about identity, nationality, citizenship, nation-state, rights and
obligations that future researchers will have to answer.
Elite migrants in this study experienced flexible, fluid identities
and multiple belongings. The lived experience of these twenty
elite migrant workers reveals the complexities of identity and
belonging in the twenty-first century. Their experience provides
us with greater understanding of their interactions in ‘host’ and
‘home’ cultures as they move back and forth between multiple
locations through the use of information and communication
technologies like the internet balancing online and offline
identities. Their experience also reveals the significance of
virtual/digital reality in the maintenance and negotiation of
identity and belonging. Salient aspects of their experience
coalesced around issues of negotiating multiple identities and
positions in various locations as they engage and interact with
friends, family and colleagues using the internet and its various
platforms. The results of this study indicate that communication
technologies like the internet—Facebook, blogs, Skype, facetime,
WhatsApp, websites, online radio and television—are dislocating
elite migrant workers’ lives. Elite migrants in this study are
experiencing new social transformations and identifications
as described by Giddens , Escobar  and Appadurai
. Online media is reshaping their diasporic experience as
they create and sustain connections across national borders,
producing virtual transient identities that co-exist with who they
are in offline spaces.
Their experience also provides support for the ideas of Sahoo and
de Kruijf , de Kruijf , Appadurai , Basch, Glick Schiller
and Szanton-Blanc [39,40], and Bauböck and Faist  who believe
we are creating new forms of transnationalism, citizenship, and
identity. De Kruijf  argues that migrants are using the internet
not only to revive filial relations and community organization, but
also as a channel for social and political influence. He believes
“that the study of human mobility requires an approach in which
online interactive platforms (‘social media’) are recognised
as crucial additions to the instrumentarium of connectivity of
contemporary migrants and diasporas”. These elite migrants are balancing and merging multiple identities offline and online,
creating new hybrid forms of citizenship and belonging.
Issues of power are also connected to the influence of the
internet on migrants’ transnational interactions. Some
participants referred to issues of citizenship and nation-state in
their efforts to influence social, political and economic issues in
their ‘home’ culture. Although, there may be some resistance to
their interventions in their country of origin, the migrants in this
study claimed, enacted and performed citizenship as purported
by Joseph . These reflections relate to Sassen’s  and Ong’s
 arguments of the emergence of new kinds of citizenships that
center on debates of post-nation state and flexible identities. The
participants acknowledged the significance of online connectivity
in their ability to engage and interact with friends and family
across borders and described the impact of this interaction on
their identity. Connectivity was viewed positively. However,
despite the positive feelings brought on through the closeness
connectivity imbued, participants identified some feelings of
resentment towards diasporic citizens from citizens in the ‘home’
culture. Other scholars have reported similar findings.
The participants in this study are also living transnational lives as
identified by Glick Schiller, Basch and Blanc . Glick Schiller et
al.  identified a crucial shift in the character of migration that
forces a reframing into a “process by which immigrants forge
and sustain simultaneous multi-stranded social relations that link
together their societies of origin and settlement”. The internet,
with its capacity to link many people interactively across great
distances, seems to be the ideal tool for these elite migrant
workers who want to sustain identity and connections with
their home of origin. While none of the interviewees identified
themselves as transnational, they are living transnational lives as
described in the literature and are embracing the idea of fluid
identities as proposed by Bradatan, Popan and Melton .
The twenty participants in this study are coping with the new
cultural realities of globalization-multiple positions and fluid
identities. Communication technologies play an active role in
the maintenance of their cultural identity, the management
of multiple identities and the adjustments or re-acculturations
that frequently take place in global interactions. De Kruijf 
argues communication via the internet and its various platforms
should be seen as a force that transforms individuals based on
the massive increase of speed and scale of exchanges. According
to de Kruijf , “the impact of the internet on the experience
of migrant transnationalism relates to spatial-temporal effects
of online interactions”. It is the internet’s ability to transcend
time and space limitations and generate social formations and
attachments, facilitate digital reconstruction of existing ties
and shape processes of identity formation  “to provide a
continuous pattern of mediated interactions [e.g. SNS posts,
e-mails, WhatsApp messages] that combine into ‘connected
relationships,’ in which the boundaries between absence and
presence eventually get blurred” . Thus, the simulated
experiences of being there while being here, the adjustments to
re-entry shock, and the management of multiple positionalities
may become normalized behavior for all migrants, not just elite
Four significant areas emerged from the interviews with elite
migrant workers: the creation of cultural transients through
interactions in real time, the impact of frequent connections and
belonging, the need to negotiate multiple identities and adapt to
re-entry shock. The participants in this study identified the need
to use the internet to connect and continue relationships with
family and friends at home in real time. They used the internet
to strengthen, build and sustain identity. This connectedness is
important to them because it helps them to bear to the cultural
environments of their ‘host’ culture and build community with
their ‘home’ culture.
However, what also emerged, and is just as significant, is the
frequent need to adjust one’s identity in global interactions.
Communication technologies are allowing dislocated global
citizens to maintain a greater sense of cultural familiarity thus
changing the way they work and live. New communication
technologies allowed the participants in this study to interact
with their ‘home’ culture from any physical location in the
world. These dislocated elite workers are immersed in a foreign
virtual workspace, where language, time, rituals, and social
networks are shaping new cultural identities, ones that are
multi-perspective. As such communication technologies are also
presenting new cultural realities: clashes and co-orientations.
The frequent adjustments that result from these interactions
produced complex feelings of dislocation that happens through
connection, engagement and disconnection. Unlike Sawyer and
Chen’s [44,45] study which found these cyber connections helped
participants to overcome adjustment challenges, the participants
in this study also suggest something else, that is, these frequent
connections made adjustment more complex and complicated
when they returned to the ‘host’ culture or engaged with the
‘home’ culture. The intercultural communication explored in this
study needs further research to extend our understanding of this
The elite migrant workers in this study are a part of a growing
trend among migrant workers who use technology to maintain
close ties to their ‘home’ culture. The internet permits frequent
intimate connections that simulate real-time face-to-face
interactions. As Levitt  explains, these interactions heighten
the immediacy and frequency of migrants’ contact with their
home cultures and allow them to be actively involved in everyday
life there in fundamentally different ways than in the past.
However, these frequent ‘cyber visits’ include challenges of reentry
in both ‘home’ and ‘host’ cultures. The elite migrants in this
study are coping with contrasting self-concepts, disconcerting
adaptations and constant boundary maintenance through the
creation of virtual identities and are creating new forms of
There are several limitations to this study. First, to be connected
is, on the whole, an advantage. The internet connects us, yet
many people face barriers to effective virtual engagement.
Access is neither equitable nor ubiquitous and information
literacy is far from universal. In any study of new phenomenon brought on by technology we should always remember that any
analysis of this phenomenon is inherently biased towards those
who have access. However, access is expanding and as such this
study should be extended to include the non-elite migrant worker
experience. Second, elite migrant workers leave home with more
economic, social and political capital. This gap between elite and
non-elite migrants, brought on by social, political and economic
differences, allows elite migrant workers to engage with their
host country and culture in different ways than non-elite
migrants. Elite and non-elite migrants leave home with a strong
sense of identification with their country of origin. However,
the elite migrant workers in this study indicate that class plays
a role in the channels they select to communicate with home
country, the frequency of the communication and the type of
communication. Future studies should include this factor. Third, further studies should include a wider range of countries, a larger
study population and mix methods (ethnography, interviews and
surveys) to provide a more in-depth cross cultural comparative
This study raises questions about our understanding of the use of
communication technologies in transnational diasporic identity
construction. It identifies an area that needs more understanding
of the acculturation process that takes place through connecting
and disconnecting from ‘home’ culture via the internet. This study
points to a gap in the literature on migrant transnationalism by
focusing on elite-migrant’s use of communication technology,
specifically the internet, to sustain or maintain ‘home’ culture
and negotiate multiple identities, and highlights new areas for
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