Being called “skilled”: a multi-scalar approach of migrant doctors’ recognition


  • Joana Sousa Ribeiro CES - Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal



Migration, doctors, multi-scalar approach, process of recognition, labelling


This article highlights the way the specific configuration of migrants’ skills relies on the relation between admission and inclusion policies, which involves several actors, time-frames and a multi-scalar integrative approach. It builds on a qualitative study which reports different scales of analysis for enhancing different actors participating in the recognition process of being called “skilled”. The study investigates how the “skilled migration” category is socio-institutionally constructed and how it corresponds to a recognition process that interplays with different scales (macro, meso and micro scales) and the corresponding actors (regulatory actors, civil society organisations and migrants). The main argument of this article is that the regulatory framework (e.g. admission policies, academic institutions’ procedures, professional bodies’ rules), organised civil society interventions and networks of power are key factors for the development of an “ascribed qualified migrant” into a de facto “achieved skilled professional”, and therefore the recognition of migrants as visible – and valued – “skilled professionals”.

Author Biography

Joana Sousa Ribeiro, CES - Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Joana Sousa Ribeiro is a researcher at Centre for Social Studies and a PhD student at the School of Economics, University of Coimbra. Her PhD thesis is about the de-skilling and re-skilling process of migrants in the healthcare sector. Her main research interests include socio-professional mobility and migration, longitudinal studies, intercultural studies and citizenship. Among other publications, she published in 2017 "Making the "Structures" Speak: Migrant Biographies along Time", a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 32, 2, 388-390; in 2015,"COMpartilhar histórias de vida: (inter)subjetividades, (inter)reconhecimentos e (i)migração", in Elsa Lechner (org.), Rostos, vozes e silêncios: uma pesquisa biográfica colaborativa com imigrantes em Portugal. Coimbra: Almedina and in 2014, with other authors, "Health Professionals moving to and out of Portugal: a typical case?", Health Policy, Volume 114, Issues 2-3, 97-108. With other two colleagues, she coordinates an IMISCOE research network group - YAMEC Network - that focuses on issues of mobility of young adults and the economic crisis.


Baganha, I., and Fonseca, M. L. (2004). New Waves: Migration from Eastern to Southern Europe, Lisboa: Luso-American Foundation.

Batalova, J., and Lindley, L. (2006). “The Best and the Brightest: Immigrant Professionals in the U.S.” In: M. P. Smith and A. Favell (eds.), The Human Face of Global Mobility: International Highly Skilled Migration in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

Bernstein, J., and Shuval, J. (1997). Immigrant Physicians – Former Soviet Doctors in Israel, Canada and the United Sates, Westport: Praeger.

Bommes, M., and Sciortino, G. (2011). Foggy Social Structures: Irregular Migration, European Labour Markets and the Welfare State. Amsterdam: AUP.

Bourgeault, I., Bach, S., Dingwall, R., Flood, C., Grant, H., Groutsis, D., Light, W. D., Lowell, B., Reiger, K., and Wanner, R. (2008). On the Move: A Comparative Analysis of Policy regarding Health Care Professional Migration in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. Interim Report.

Brenton, P., Pendya, S., and Leblang, D. (2014). “Doctors with Borders: Occupational Licencing as an Implicit Barrier to High Skill Migration”. Public Choice, 160 (1–2): 45–63.

Chiswick, B. R., Lee, Y. L., and Miller, P. W. (2005). “Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrant Occupational Mobility: A Test of the Immigrant Assimilation Hypothesis”. International Migration Review, 39 (2): 332–353.

Csedő, K. (2008). “Negotiating Skills in the Global City: Hungarian and Romanian Professionals and Graduates in London”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 34 (5): 803–823.

Espiritu, Yen Le. (2003). Home Bound: Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Countries. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fink, K. S., Philips, R. L., Fryer, G. E., and Koehn, N. (2003). “International Medical Graduates and the Primary Care Workforce for Rural Underserved Areas”. Health Affairs, 22 (2): 255–262.

Freidson, E. (1989). Medical Work in America: Essays on Healthcare. New Heaven, CT: Yale University Press.

Geddes, A., and Scholten, P. (2015). “Policy Analysis and Europeanization: An Analysis of EU Migrant Integration Policymaking”. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 17 (1): 41–59.

Hercog, M. (2017). “The privileged and useful migrant: An Evaluation of Changing Policy and Scholarly Approaches Towards High-Skilled Migration”. NCCR – on the move, Working Paper 16, Neuchatel: National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR), University of Neuchatel.

Isaakyan, I., and Triandafyllidou, A. (2013). “High-Skill Mobility: Addressing the Challenges of a Knowledge-Based Economy at Times of Crisis”. RSCAS Policy Paper 2013–14, Florence: European University Institute.

Kofman, E. (2000). “The invisibility of female skilled migrants and gender relations in studies of skilled migration in Europe”. International Journal of Population Geography, 6 (1), 45–59.

Kofman, E. and Raghuram, P. (2005). “Editorial”. Geoforum, 36, 149−154.

Luhmann, N. (1995). Social Systems. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mackay, D. I. (1969). Geographical Mobility and the Brain Drain: a Case Study of Aberdeen University Graduates, 1860–1960. London: Allen & Unwin.

Mick, S., Lee, S., and Woschis, W. (2000). “Variations in Geographical Distribution of Foreign and Domestically Trained Physicians in the United States: ‘Safety Nets’or ‘Surplus Exacerbation’?”. Social Science and Medicine, 50 (2): 185–202.

Morris, L. (2003). "Managing Contradiction: Civic Stratification and Migrants' Rights". International Migration Review, 37 (1): 74-100.

Oikelome, F., and Healy, G. (2013). “Gender, Migration and Place of Qualification of Doctors in the UK: Perception of Inequality, Morale and Career Aspiration”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39 (4): 557–577.

Parkin, F. (1979). Marxism and Class Theory: a Bourgeois Critique. London: Tavistock.

Parsons, C. R., Rojon, S., Samanani, F. and Wettach, L. (2014). “Conceptualising International High-Skilled Migration”. IMI Working Papers Series, 104.

Raghuram, P. (2004). “The Difference that Skills Make: Gender, Family Migration Strategies and Regulated Labour Markets”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 30 (2): 303–21.

Ribeiro, J. S. (2008 a)). “Gendering migration flows: physicians and nurses in Portugal”. Equal Opportunities International, 27, (1): 77-87.

Ribeiro, J. S. (2008 b)). “Migration and Occupational Integration: Foreign Health Professionals in Portugal”. In: E. Kuhlmann and M. Saks (eds.), Rethinking Professional Governance: International Directions in Health Care. Bristol:Policy Press.

Schuster, L. (2005). “The Continuing Mobility of Migrants in Italy: Shifting between Places and Statuses”. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31 (4): 757–74.

Sen, A. (2009). The Idea of Justice. London: Allen Lane/ Penguin.

Shuval, J. (1998). “Some Latent Functions of Credentialing: The Case of Immigrant Physicians in Israel”. In: V. Olgiati, L. Orzack and M. Saks (eds.), Professions, Identity and Order in Comparative Perspective. Oñati: International Institute for Sociology.

Wismar, M., Maier, C. B., Glinos, I. A., Dussault, G., and Figueras, J. (2011). Health Professional Mobility and Health Systems: Evidence from 17 European Countries. Copenhagen: World Health Organisation (on behalf of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies).



How to Cite

Ribeiro, J. S. (2018). Being called “skilled”: a multi-scalar approach of migrant doctors’ recognition. Migration Letters, 15(4), 477-490.