ASU professor to investigate 'intellectual migration' between India, US

May 5, 2015

ASU professor Wei Li has focused her career on promoting cultural understanding, especially between new immigrant groups and native-born residents, in the United States, Canada and in locations around the world.

Li has explained how the opportunity to obtain business development loans was critical to Chinese immigrants to the United States and Canada. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, she compared the experiences of African-American and Vietnamese-American evacuees.   portrait of Wei Li in supermarket Download Full Image

More recently, Li, who has been named a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar, has turned her attention to the rapidly-growing segment of international immigrants who are highly educated – holding at least bachelor's degrees and often more advanced degrees. In one effort, she compared highly-skilled immigrants to the United States and Canada, focusing especially on individuals from India and China.

“Highly skilled international migrants from China and India are facing different challenges in these two countries,” Li explained. “In Canada, immigration policies make it easier for immigrants to obtain permanent residency and political rights, but many are unemployed or underemployed, or are waiting for their applications to be processed in their home countries.

“In the United States, on the other hand, many are employed in occupations that utilize their knowledge and technical skills; but without permanent residency, they are disfranchised politically.” 

On the other hand, in a world where specialized knowledge is increasingly critical – the “knowledge economy” – competition for highly-skilled talent in is high.  Migrants who build successful careers in their new countries often find that opportunities exist elsewhere, too – either in their home countries or in areas around the world.

How do highly-skilled immigrants decide whether to stay where they’ve built careers, take advantage of opportunities in their home countries, or move on? Are they impacted by policies of their new and original countries, by how they’re accepted in their new countries, by ties to family in their home countries? Understanding these different forces can be valuable to all countries seeking to grow their cutting-edge knowledge-based economic activities.

Another key question is, “What connections do those who return to their home countries continue to maintain with colleagues in the US?” These ‘transnational’ connections – extending across national boundaries – bring benefits to both countries.

Li, with her experience and interest in understanding cultures, is drawn to work towards understanding transnational connections as well as forces that impact where intellectual migrants choose to live.

Looking into India-US migration

India is the top source of highly-skilled migrants to the United States, so understanding US-India migration patterns is critical.

“Understanding these patterns will offer significant insights on how the United States can develop policies that will maintain its position as a leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and its status as a magnet that attracts talented individuals from around the world,” Li explained.

As a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar and funded by the United States–India Educational Foundation, Li will spend a few months each in 2016 and 2017 looking deeply into patterns of migration between the United States and India. 

She’ll focus on migrants from India who’ve taken highly-skilled jobs in the United States, on those who’ve worked in the United States and returned, and on one additional group: those who come to the United States to earn college degrees.

“Like migrants who already have advanced education, college students come to the United States in search of better futures,” Li said. “Students often consider taking jobs in the country where they did their studies.  It makes sense to consider these groups together.”

Li has coined a term for the phenomena of international migration among students and those with degrees, including those who continue to live away from their native country and those who return – “intellectual migration.”

The first phase of the research project will be to compile more accurate counts of migrations flows between India and the United States. Knowing more accurate numbers of migrants since 1991 (students as well as skilled laborers) and building a picture of how many of these individuals stayed in the US for a period of time and how many returned, will make it possible to better understand the changing scope and pace of migration.

In the second phase of the project, Li, along with Indian colleagues, will conduct an online survey of students at an Indian university, gathering information on the students’ past migration history, career plans, intentions to continue their studies either in the US, India or elsewhere, and more. To assist in interpreting the survey results, Li and her colleagues will conduct in-person interviews with some of the survey respondents.

Finally, Li will lead in conducting interviews with individuals who returned from the US to work either at an Indian University or at an Indian government agency.

“Intellectual migration can benefit both the ‘sending’ and the ‘receiving’ country,” Li said. "Both countries benefit from the expertise and creativity of the migrants. Whether they return home or stay in the ‘receiving’ country, intellectual migrants often continue to collaborate with colleagues in places where they’ve lived previously, helping build knowledge that’s beneficial around the globe.”

The Fulbright Program that will support Li’s work is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the US government. Its goal is to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and people of other countries. Wei Li is a faculty member in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with a joint appointment between Asian Pacific American studies in the School of Social Transformation and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


ASU alum's humanitarian efforts earn Harvard fellowship

May 5, 2015

Arizona State University alumna Aubrey Doyle has been using her language and intercultural skills to fight human trafficking since she graduated in 2012, and she wants to do more.

Not only does she plan to continue her humanitarian efforts, Doyle wants to expand her influence by pursuing a Master in Public Policy in the fall, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University awarded her the Dubin Emerging Leaders Fellowship to do so. Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China, and ASU alum Aubrey Doyle Download Full Image

Dubin Fellowships are given to students pursuing careers aimed at changing society and offer funding for two academic years, in addition to summer support for unpaid internships. Dubin Fellows also participate in a co-curricular program of weekly workshops and speakers, where they can connect with their peers to discuss international social issues.

Doyle’s journey as a human trafficking activist began shortly after she graduated from ASU's School of International Letters and Cultures’ Chinese Language Flagship program. Following her graduation, she took a year-long Fulbright Scholarship to Taiwan, where she worked as an English teaching assistant at public elementary schools.

Doyle was no stranger to Asia, having lived abroad most of her life in cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing. However, on a short trip to Cambodia, she witnessed the horrors of human trafficking first-hand when she saw young girls selling themselves on the streets. After being confronted with the trafficking problem in Southeast Asia, her worldview radically changed. She has been deeply involved in human trafficking rescue since her return to the U.S.

Before going on her Fulbright study abroad, Doyle had signed to work for IBM as a financial consultant; when she returned, she moved to Chicago to begin both her job and her volunteer work in human trafficking rescue. The Chicago Dream Center is where Doyle made the first connection between her knowledge of Chinese and human trafficking activism. On a visit to the local anti-trafficking non-profit organization, the volunteers told Doyle that one of their biggest problems is that the majority of the trafficking victims they help are Chinese, and that they had no way to communicate with them. Doyle said she instantly found her calling and how she could be of help.

At the Chicago Dream Center, Doyle worked in victim outreach, where she spoke to Chinese women to help them understand their circumstances, explain what human trafficking is (many women, she said, are not even aware that they are trafficking victims), and tell them about the center’s recovery program.

Due to her full-time position at IBM, Doyle was not always available to help Chinese victims. In response to this need, Doyle put together “cosmetic manuals” that discretely included inserts with life-skills instructions about opening a bank account, getting healthcare, buying groceries, driving, and other survival tips. This creative disguise allows women to hide sometimes lifesaving information in plain sight. The booklets come in both English and Chinese, allowing volunteers at the Chicago Dream Center and other similar organizations to reach out to victims even when Chinese speakers are unavailable.

Doyle explained that her involvement in human trafficking rescue would not have been possible without ASU’s Chinese program.

“My Chinese, without question, is where it is because of ASU and the incredible opportunities that the School of International Letters and Cultures provided me: the opportunity to have a one-on-one Chinese tutor three times a week, the opportunity to take the majority of my classes taught exclusively in Mandarin Chinese, and the opportunity to study abroad in intensive Chinese programs," Doyle said. "It is because of my confidence in my Chinese, and the vast subjects I can discuss, that we have been able to reach victims who have been confined in the United States for over ten years and unable to talk to anyone, left completely vulnerable and isolated. For that, I am so grateful.”

“Aubrey Doyle is an inspiring human being, and we couldn't be more proud that she learned her critically important language and cultural skills through ASU's nation-leading Chinese Language Flagship program," said George Justice, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "She is a perfect example of how language and cultural understanding are critical to efforts to change the world for the better.”

One of the issues that Doyle noticed during her outreach in Chicago was that many of the non-profits lacked volunteers who were fluent in foreign languages, thus limiting their ability to serve victims – many of whom are from foreign countries. In response, Doyle proposed a program called “No Borders” to the Institute of International Education.

Through this program, alumni of the Institute of International Educations scholarship programs, including the Fulbright Program, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, would use their language skills to provide outreach services for victims. If the proposal is accepted, “No Borders” is expected to reach 30,000 victims of sex trafficking across major US cities by its first year.

Doyle is also involved in the Skyway Railroad, which she and a team started up in response to the lack of connectivity between the United States' numerous trafficking rescue and rehabilitation programs. Skyway Railroad is a modern-day Underground Railroad for victims of modern-day slavery. It aims to connect law enforcement, non-profits and corporations in order to make victim outreach, rescue and shelter more effective. Since January 2014, Skyway Railroad has helped over 20,000 trafficking victims.

Doyle looks forward to involving herself in the Women in Public Policy Program at Harvard, where she will push for legislation to help eliminate the demand for sex slavery by criminally punishing buyers of women and young girls. She is also eager to participate in the Carr Center’s Working Group on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, where she will learn from leading thinkers in the trafficking arena.

The Dubin Fellowship itself also presented enticing opportunities. “Since trafficking is an international problem with no borders, I believe I can benefit greatly from the collaboration and global citizenship that the Dubin Fellowship offers,” Doyle said.

“Aubrey Doyle is a remarkable individual with a remarkable story. Her academic success and her dedication to having a positive influence on people’s lives should make all of us at ASU proud," said Robert Joe Cutter, School of International Letters and Cultures Director and professor of Chinese. "It is especially gratifying for those of us associated with the program to see Aubrey’s appreciation for the skills she gained as part of the ASU Chinese Language Flagship."

Written by Mikala Kass, School of International Letters and Cultures intern

Media contact:

Susan Kells

Communications Coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership