The aim of this project was to study how migrants, as parents working in Sweden, arrange care giving across the national borders, and how these care-giving arrangements are enabled or challenged by the institutional context of Sweden.
We have performed qualitative interviews with 22 migrant parents - mothers and fathers in 18 transnational families from Poland (N=9), Romania (N=8), and Latvia (1). The fieldwork was conducted between September 2015 and January 2017 in Stockholm and Gothenburg. 17 of our respondents were “lead movers” whereof seven were women. Research participants were recruited using multiple strategies, through the gate-keepers within the trade union or non-governmental organizations, churches and ethnic community associations, and snowball sampling to some extent.
We have also performed documentary analysis of regulations governing the incorporation of migrant family members in the Swedish welfare regime. The main sources of information to cover these issues have been official documents, regulations and statistics from the Migration Board, Swedish Social Security Agency and Swedish Work Environment Authority.
The majority of respondents in our sample worked within low-paid and lower-level jobs, with clearly gendered patterns:, men worked in construction and building industries, and women worked in domestic work, cleaning, hotel industries, and in food production.
The families’ decisions to migrate can be defined as ‘livelihood strategies’, involving complex and dynamic negotiations over the options and resources of entire families and their kin across generations and transnational locations. Both mothers and fathers express their genuine involvement in caring responsibilities. However, the actual practice shows that caring is still a gendered activity. Taking decisions to migrate reveals that migration itself is an act of relational and emotional caring involving moral reasoning, feelings and thoughts through which migrant parents negotiate their “good parenthood.
Another analysis of interviews with parents revealed that mobility for work instigated mainly by economic reasons aimed to secure the children’s well-being but also to seek new opportunities for family as a whole. European enlargement and open borders for EU citizens had a great impact on parent’s decisions to migrate to Sweden. However, their initial legal status as informal workers hindered migrant parents to practice care across borders. While situated in a transnational social field child/adult relations and care dynamics took particular twists. Some younger children contested parents’ decisions to migrate or refused to engage with adults’ migration projects, by avoiding communication via phone or Skype, or stopping to count on an absent parent as a close emotional carer. At the same time, some older children facilitated parental migration, especially for lonely mothers, by taking care of younger siblings and doing housework.
A longer time of living apart across the borders seemed to damage the emotional bonds between parents and children, especially when the separation occurred at an early age for the child. Therefore, reunifications in Sweden revealed an emotional gap caused by separation, making transnational parenting a particularly difficult endeavour. The contrasting institutional contexts of the declining and re-familialised post-socialist welfare states and the egalitarian and inclusive Nordic welfare states were also of importance. The respondents in our project indicated that they remain 'invisible' for the Swedish policy makers due to ethnical recruitment to jobs and housing, little or no knowledge of Swedish, and jobs in the informal labour market. Many of them lacked the 10-digit personal numbers during a long period of time, which prevented them from being eligible for general benefits.