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Nigerians in China: A Second State of Immobility



China’s rapid economic development has been accompanied by new forms of immigration. Investors and professionals from developed countries are increasingly joined by a diverse group of immigrants from around the world. While there is a large body of academic literature on Chinese emigration, China’s new role as a country of immigration has received less scholarly attention. This paper addresses the dynamics of South–South migration to China through a study of Nigerians in Guangzhou, a major international trading hub. The analysis is based on qualitative interviews and participant observation among African traders and migrants in Guangzhou. The paper contends that Nigerian immigration to China epitomizes global migration trends towards a diversification of migration flows, commercialization of the migration process and increased policing of foreigners within national borders. China was rarely the preferred destination of this study’s Nigerian informants but, rather, a palatable alternative, as their aspirations to enter Europe and North America were curtailed by restrictive immigration regimes. They escaped a situation of involuntary immobility in Nigeria through short-term visas obtained with the help of migration brokers. However, opportunities for visa renewals are scant under the current Chinese immigration policy. Undocumented migrants find their mobility severely inhibited: They must carefully assess how, when and with whom they move about in order to avoid police interception. This is a business impediment, as well as a source of personal distress for migrants who engage in trade and the provision of trade-related services. The situation can be described as a “second state of immobility”: the migrants have succeeded in the difficult project of emigration, but find themselves spatially entrapped in new ways in their destination country.