The decoupling of legal and spatial migration of female marriage migrants

The decoupling of legal and spatial migration of female marriage migrants
Tuen Yi Chiu; Susanne Y. P. Choi
The literature on cross-border marriages between women from the global south and men from the global north largely assumes patrilocality as a direct result of hypergamous marriage migration. There has been little research into the experiences of brides who relocate to their husband’s country to fulfil the roles of wife and mother but are not given citizenship rights or brides who do not relocate even after obtaining residency or citizenship in their husband’s country. Inconsistencies between the legal and residential status of foreign wives suggest that researchers should decouple legal and spatial migration. Using ethnographic data from Mainland China–Hong Kong cross-border couples, this article examines the causes and consequences of two forms of decoupling: (1) wife migrates spatially before her legal status changes and (2) wife’s change in legal status is not accompanied by spatial migration. We argue that these two forms of decoupling have their origins in state policies, economic constraints and personal choices, and that their impact on the intimate and household dynamics of cross-border families is gendered. Unravelling these complex dynamics sheds light on the intricate relationships between gender, marriage, migration and the state, and highlights the increasingly heterogeneous circumstances of cross-border couples.

Publication date


Journal title, volume/issue number, page range

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46/14, 2997-3013.




Social Sciences


Diasporas and Migration