Place and meaning of returning to higher studies in the migratory trajectory of dependant migrant women


Place and meaning of returning to higher studies in the migratory trajectory of dependant migrant women : an intersectional approach of transition experiences.


Thanks to a qualitative and longitudinal sociological fieldwork, this project gives a voice to Congolese, Indian and American adult women who arrived in Belgium under the family reunion program and enrolled into higher education. It aims to question and develop the knowledge on this phenomenon of going back to studies as a transition period in the migratory trajectories of these "dependent" women, paying particular attention to the roles played by their personal networks.

The interconnections of study projects and immigration projects has become an important phenomenon in international migration, particularly as it takes place in a context of increasing tensions between legal constraints and the capacity for individual actions. Although formally neutral, migration policies remain gender-based and have different effects on mobile women and men, particularly in the context of family reunification schemes. Indeed, while family reunion procedures account for a significant part of migrations to Belgium, the predominance of women is striking. In addition, women who benefit from this scheme are placed in particularly vulnerable positions, as right to remain in Belgium depends on the maintenance of their relationship with the person they joined. 

Many women return to higher education to deal with complicated situations in the host country. These projects often reflect a desire to actively engage in their new environment and regain a certain control over their lives but also a desire to meet new people and access new resources. However, these women often face a number of obstacles (limited recognition of their diplomas, competition with their family responsibilities or even a certain reluctance from their families). Moreover, in higher education these women are subject to a number of categorizations and differentiations that – whether experienced as obstacles or opportunities – tend to reduce the singularity of their stories and the complexity of their situation.

This project is articulated around three specific research questions : Which place occupy these projects of returning to higher education in the migratory trajectories of these so-called “dependent” women and what do they imply, as transition periods, in terms of networks, socialization and social roles in the host society? How do structural constraints – including the Belgian and European legal framework, migration and education policies but also classical social factors, the legal status, gender roles and relational structures – and forms of autonomy interact during this particular period? What roles do the personal networks of these women play in their life course and, in particular, during their studies?



– Sarah Smit, CIRFaSe

Principal Investigators:

– Prof. Laura Merla

Center :


Funding :

F.R.S-FNRS doctoral fellow

The end of Love and the Law
Migrants’ personal and family aspirations and the laws
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