European Commission logo
français français
CORDIS - Résultats de la recherche de l’UE

Female migrants from developed countries in Southern Europe: A study of integration

Final Report Summary - FEMIDE (Female migrants from developed countries in Southern Europe: A study of integration)

Project: FEMIDE/Female Migrants from Developed Countries in Southern Europe
Researcher: Dr Irina Isaakyan (;

In both media and scholarship, there are ongoing debates about “feminization of migration” and “high-skill migrants”. These buzz-words are often pronounced in policy and media texts, especially within the current context of the deteriorating Immigration Law in OECD countries (De Witt 2013). Our world is, in fact, very mobile; and more and more highly skilled people become actively engaged in the migration project. Almost 50% of them are women, who may cross the borders not only for the traditional reasons of marriage but also for career purposes or another lifestyle upon retirement (Caritas 2010). How are their lives affected by their mobility? To what extent do their skills become utilized by host societies? Such questions relate to the ongoing debate about integration, or building a new society in which both the newcomers and the hosts would become one close-knit community. At the same time, there is a growing stream of empirical evidence saying that migrant-women are often discriminated in their careers and social lives (Rubin 2008). This leads us to ask what prevents such women (who are mothers, wives and/or just high-skill professionals) from becoming part of their local communities.

The majority of studies focus on the experience of female migrants who move to the West from Asia or post-communist Europe (Constable 2005; Williams 2010). The general public may thus have the overall impression that they are the only type of migrant who should be thought about. At the same time, there is a growing stream of highly-skilled, university-educated women who move to continental Europe from such highly developed countries as the USA or the UK (Sriskandarajah & Drew 2006; Wennersten 2008). Why they move and how they integrate remains obscure from the public eye. Their representation brings forward other strategically important questions: To what extent nationality matters and to what extent does their experience of integration differ from that of, for example, Indian or Ukrainian women in Europe? To what extent is their talent utilized by their host societies, given that due to their education and language skills they can theoretically offer a lot to the host economies?

Inspired by these ideas, my project FEMIDE has studied the integration experience of women from the high-income Anglophone OECD countries (such as the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) in the new immigrant states of Italy and Greece. I have conducted 88 in-depth interviews with Anglophone women of the age 30-70 who permanently live in Florence, Naples, Rome, Milan, Athens, Patras and the Greek island of Crete, among a few other geographical locations. I have also run an electronic survey for women from Anglophone countries residing in Italy and Greece who are older than 21, in which 350 have participated. These methods have allowed me to see a broad socio-economic panorama within their expat community as well as to focus on their specific encounters with and insights into the host culture and integration.

I have discovered that, despite their professional qualifications and visa-friendly status, Anglophone women in Southern Europe remain under-employed. For example, a former lawyer from New York can work in a chicken family-enterprise in the rural Greece. Although many of them have active tried to engage in socialization with local people, the latter might know very little about such women-migrants and might find it very hard to understand their behaviour.

An interesting fact is that the main channel of migration and settlement for these highly-qualified Anglophone women has been their marriage to the Italian/Greek man, which has also become their main gateway to the host society and culture. It is usually through the international marriage that the Anglophone migrant-woman has learnt the peculiarities of the new culture and has located local people for her socialization (including her mother-in-law or sister-in-law). The research conducted during the Fellowship has revealed interesting results about the relationship between cross-border marriage and nationalism. When multinational couples had disagreements, those became translated into the language of cultural differences – that is, into the language of nationalism. Married to Italian or Greek men and placed into the Italian or Greek households, the Anglophone women sought to negotiate various domestic values. Such negotiations often lead them to nationalistic conclusions: “This is not my culture, and I am not like them!”

Managing cross-cultural diversity was especially challenging for US-nationals, who had developed an assumption of a certain dominance of their own – American – culture when at home. Whereas some features of the Italian or Greek culture theoretically had a nice appeal to Americans, many of them were not prepared for unexpected nuances of the emerging patriarchy.

IMPACT: Within the focus of my project have been highly skilled migrants, who have been sometimes lost, invisible or non-responded – and thus possibly absent for the EU yet while in the EU. The project has investigated what makes Europe attractive for long-distanced migrants such as US-national or Australian women and has shown under what conditions their high-skill labour can be lost. The project has also identified a policy gap in approaching high-skill migration from the local community-building perspective. Based on the respondents’ social group identity as “strong civic actors” yet “slow cross-cultural learners”, local policy-makers can be advised on implementing certain COMMUNITY EDUCATION measures:

1. To actively engage retired Anglophone migrants (who, in many cases, hold sufficient pensions and professional experience in public administration, social work or counseling from their countries of origin) and non-working Anglophone moms in various kinds of volunteer activities such as support teaching of English and Cultural Studies in Italian and Greek public schools;

2. To better prepare Italian and Greek local communities for ideas and practices of civic engagement through establishment of community-service programs and mutual events for hosts and Anglophone expatriates, who would learn from and shape culture with each other.


Caritas Internationalis (2010). The Female Face of Migration: Background Paper. Retrieved July 1st, 2011, from:

Constable, N. (2005). Cross-border marriages: Gender and mobility in transnational Asia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

De Witte, B. (2013). ‘Using the law in the European crisis causes and conditions’, ARENA Working Paper Series. Available at:
Sriskandarajah, D. and C. Drew (2006). Brits Abroad: Mapping the Scale and Nature of British Emigration. URL:

Wennersten, J. (2008). Leaving America: The New Expatriate Generation. Praeger.

Williams, L. (2010). Global marriage: cross-border marriage migration in global context. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.