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Contextualizing Vocabularies of Motive in International Migration: The Case of Taiwanese in the United States



Immigrants’ motives are central to understanding immigration, yet they remain an under-researched subject in immigration studies. To fill this gap, this article examines Taiwanese immigrants’ motives for relocating to the United States. Following Mills’ concept of vocabularies of motive, this article treats immigration as situated actions and explores how cumulative causation and structural positions shape immigrants’ interpretations of their immigration decisions. Based on 75 in-depth interviews, this study discovers important differences in motive during two migration phases, initial migration and permanent settlement, as well as differences according to gender, ethnicity, and social class. Migration through education comprises the major pattern of Taiwanese immigration, as most Taiwanese move to the United States to study and then settle there for job opportunities. While men settle for careers, women stay for family wellbeing. One ethnic group, benshengren, tends to settle for job opportunities, while the other, waishengren, migrates to unite their families. Moreover, professionals always consider return as an option, while labourers are determined to stay permanently. Findings of the study suggest the importance of examining the influences of immigration contexts and individual structural positions in shaping personal motives.