Research Seminar. Beyond ICT access: what kind of integration for ‘connected migrants’?

Notes from the research seminar Beyond ICT access: what kind of integration for ‘connected migrants’?, held at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona, Spain, on October 14, 2010.

Beyond ICT access: what kind of integration for ‘connected migrants’?
Adela Ros

Why is there a proliferation of telecentres around which immigrants gather? In many places in the world, immigrants meet in telecentres, and not only to call home or use any kind of Internet service. Why is it so? Indeed, in the home countries of these immigrants (there emigrants) there is a symmetric reality that mirrors the telecentre as a gathering point in the host countries: telecentres in countries of origin have also a specific role that goes beyond just access to the Internet.

Migrants state that access to Internet or mobile telephony is changing their lives. Actually, most of them were non-users before they migrated to another country.

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The research programme has gone from “Immigration and Information Society” to “Migration and Network Society”. It has shifted from analysing the casual relationships if ICTs and flows of migrations — very ICT centered — to a research more focused on the social implications of technology, seeing ICTs more as an intermediary, especifically to understand migration under the current conditions of networks of information and communication, seeing networks rather than migration itself as what is worth. This includes:

  • The organization of migration.
  • The experience of being dislocated.
  • The ways of establishing social capital in migrant contexts.
  • The everyday life of migrants.
  • The new mechanisms of power.
  • The influence of national and other traditional political-jurisdictional boundaries.

Beyond ICT access: beyond access for disadvantages groups, beyond space and time for dislocated groups. Are groups of migrants more or less included in their host societies because of ICTs? Does access to ICTs affect their levels of inclusion (mind you: not e-inclusion)? What are the new elements that reinforce inequality and disadvantages also in the case of the connected migrant?

Project1: Mihaela Vancea

A bivariate analysis was performed to calculate the digital divide as referred to the distance between migrants and natives and taking into account the technological equipment of households by origin.

Concerning home availability of technology, there are differences between natives and migrants. For instance, desktops are more frequent between natives but Satellite TV is more frequent between migrants. In general, though, most homes (natives’ and migrants’) only differ in the lowest levels of technology at home, were natives’ are better off.

Big differences come in usage. Surprisingly, migrants are normally more intensive users of technology (Internet, mobiles) but are less likely to use it from home or workspace. On the contrary, they are much more likely to connect to the Internet in a telecentre.

Concerning the qualitative use of the Internet, communication-related uses are more likely to be performed by migrants, while information searches or access to online services are more likely to be performed by natives.

Running a multivariate analysis, the determinants of living in a technologically advanced household are being an immigrant (-), the level of education (+), age (-), gender (being a woman), having a job (+), the number of children at home (-), the household structure (+) and the habitat (+). Concerning Internet usage, findings are similar, though opposite for gender, and very strong for computer ownership. In general terms, we can state that being an immigrant conceals/hides a latent effect of social class.

Project2: Graciela De La Fuente

Project on Bolivian women in Catalonia.

In recent years, there has been an increase of female migration from Bolivia to Spain. This has had some consequences in the country of origin, as more dis-attended children and child abuse, higher rates of school drop-out, etc.

The project took a participatory action research approach, within the framework of a training context. The project also aimed at understanding how Bolivian immigrant women were managing the distance with their families, what challenges they had to deal with as a first generation of immigrant women.

The methodology, strictly qualitative, had a twofold approach: a training and a research methodology. The former centred in workshops, tutorial action and support groups; the latter based on discussion groups, questionnaires and in depth interviews.

Results showed that migrant women with limited educational levels and with literacy problems are not excluded from the use of ICTs; on the contrary, they make often use of them: they just make other kinds of use of them, appropriating technologies based on their specific needs.

Maintaining family ties and relationships at a distance is the key motivation for the use of ICTs. But this type of use also drives them to using the Internet as a source of information or recreation. ICTs are really central in their everyday lives in many different aspects (even one of the interviewees acknowledged having resigned from a job because there was no public Internet access point nearby). These Bolivian women fear no more technology and have it under their control and use it for their own purposes.


An interesting debate ensues on the topic of the knowledge gap theory.

I state that we have evidence that sustains the knowledge gap theory in education (laptops do well in education for kids with higher socioeconomic status and do bad for those with lower SES), and more evidence sustaining the knowledge gap theory in e-participation and e-democracy (people with higher SES participate more online and get better results, people with lower SES are actually kicked out of the online debate).

So, my point is whether all this access to ICTs is, in the end, good or bad? What if, in a very cold and materialistic approach, migrants are “losing their time” chatting with their peers at home instead of levering the power of ICTs for their own (economic) benefit? What if they end up worse than they would be without ICTs (just recall the woman that left a job because it was far from the telecentre)? Is there a trade-off between getting home information and using ICTs for “productive” purposes? Is there a trade-off between time to maintain home bounds and time to improve their local lives? How does ICT affect these trade-offs? Do they actually worsen them migrants?

Graciela De La Fuente thinks otherwise: most migrants’ intention is getting back home the sooner the better. So, on the one hand, they are not very much interested in improving their lives in their host country, but earning some money, sent it back home and, when possible, be back with their beloved ones. On the other hand, and closely related to the previous point, it might indeed be a rational choice not to improve their lives in their host country but to maintain their social network in their home country: this way, when they’ll be back, they’ll still be a part of the community.

Graciela’s point is surely very relevant. But then, maybe governments should rethink their policies of integration and shape them as policies of “transition”. Graciela’s point of view is that, even if that might be true, it is also true that many migrants, despite their intentions, end up not getting back home, so integration policies still apply.

The open question then is: can we provide e-government services (one of the upcoming projects of the research group) both for the ones to be integrated and the ones in transition?

About Me

    I am Ismael Peña-López.

    I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia, and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university. I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.