The decoupling of legal and spatial migration of female marriage migrants

Tuen Yi CHIU, Susanne Y.P. CHOI

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2997-3013
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number14
Early online date2 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • agency
  • cross-border marriages
  • Decoupling of legal migration and spatial migration
  • gender, power and space
  • state governmentality


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