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EU project studies the work-related mobility of Thai berry pickers

Published on 2.10.2023
Tampere University
Mustikoita kämmenellä.Photo: Pixabay
A research consortium funded by the European Commission is analysing decision-making related to migration. Several European and Asian universities are investigating policies pursued by migrants’ countries of origin and destination as well as the reasons people give for their migration. The Finnish subproject conducted at Tampere University is focusing on the mobility of wild berry pickers between Thailand and Finland. The research began in January 2023.

The research consortium ‘Decision making of aspiring (re)migrants to and within the EU (AspirE)’ examines migration from East and South-East Asia to Europe. It has received funding from the European Commission’s Horizon RIA programme for a period of three years.

Tampere University participates in the consortium of several research partners with a sub-project focusing on the migration of Thai citizens who come to work as wild berry pickers for the Finnish berry industry. The study also examines the participation of Thai people already living in Finland in the picking of berries and other wild products and in primary food production.

Berry pickers, mostly picking blueberries (bilberries) and lingonberries for the berry industry, arrive in Finland on a tourist visa, which allows them to stay in the country for three months at the most during the berry season.

“This is work-related immigration without formal employment, which makes Finland’s case study unique in the context of the larger research consortium. Berry-picking is physically demanding, and the earnings are low. Finnish people are usually not interested in doing this work,” says Adjunct Professor Mari Korpela, Director of the Finnish project.

“In the wild berry industry, cases of exploiting the pickers have emerged in the previous years with Finnish authorities trying to address the issues. Nevertheless, people are still willing to move to a distant country for work,” Korpela points out.

The Finnish project is led by Adjunct Professor Korpela, and the other project members comprise postdoctoral researchers DSocSci Minna Seikkula and DSocSci Chaitawat Boonjubun, and research assistant Sonja Tiitola. PhD Mitra Härkönen also worked in the project until the end of August 2023.

The study analyses migration at the macro-, micro- and meso-levels.

The research consortium aims to show how multidimensional work-related migration is. “To understand overseas migration in the context of academic research, it is necessary to combine the analysis levels,” Seikkula points out.

“Berry picking is part of everyday life in Finland, but it is also of great economic importance, and the sector needs pickers for seasonal work. We are producing theoretical and empirical knowledge for migration research. We also aim to make policy recommendations to improve the position of people who emigrate searching for work,” Boonjubun says.

Immigrants are heard

In the project, the researchers have conducted interviews with seasonal wild berry pickers. Using the interviews, the project aims to discover why hundreds, or even thousands, of people travel from the eastern parts of Thailand to pick berries in Finland each year. In the interviews, berry pickers are invited to talk about their migration, situation and wishes, and their networks related to migration. Interviews have been conducted by Härkönen and will be continued by Boonjubun who has recently started working in the project.

In addition to berry pickers, the researchers interview authorities, stakeholder representatives and experts who are familiar with the regulation of migrant mobility. The study also analyses policies that affect mobility. Seikkula is responsible for the policy analysis.

Work-related migration is often approached from an economics perspective. Certain industries in, for example, Finland depend on migrant labour.

“It is important that immigrants are not only spoken of as a labour force but also considered as human beings with hopes, backgrounds, and relationships. That is why it is important to hear their views on work-related immigration,” Korpela says.

Asia and Europe doing migration research together

The ‘Decision making of aspiring (re)migrants to and within the EU (AspirE)’ consortium examines migration at several levels. The researchers are investigating how the migration policies of countries of origin and destination are shaping opportunities for mobility. They also analyse how migrants understand the causes of their own migration. In addition, the consortium examines re-migration and the ways in which individual people’s migration decisions change over time.

As a whole, the consortium focuses on the migration of especially Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Philippine and Thai citizens to the European Union; more specifically to Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy and Portugal.

Tampere University’s sub-project is cooperating especially with the project team at the Mahidol University in Thailand, which allows for a uniquely multi-dimensional study of migration. The two research teams also collaborate with the Isaan Record media in North-East Thailand.

According to the researchers in Tampere, collaboration with the Thai scholars based in the migrants’ country of origin, deconstructs the Euro-centricity of migration research.

The sub-projects in different countries focus on different forms of migration. In addition to work-related purposes, migration can occur in several ways, for example, as marriage migration or with an investment visa. The consortium is also analysing mobility policy at the EU level.

In addition to Tampere University, the partners include five European universities: Université Libre de Bruxelles (BE), Masaryk University (CZ), Goethe University Frankfurt (DE), the University of Milan (IT) and Instituto Universitario de Lisboa – ISCTE (PT), and five Asian universities: Scalabrini Migration Center (PH), Mahidol University (TH), Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VN), Asia-Pacific Center (VN) and the Education University of Hong Kong (HK). Waseda University in Japan is also a collaboration partner. The coordinator institution is Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB).

The project will run from 1 January 2023 to 30 December 2025.

Read more about the project on Tampere University’s website.

Contact persons:

Mari Korpela, mari.korpela [at] /+358 50 318 6131
Minna Seikkula, minna.seikkula [at] /+358 50 477 4528
Chaitawat Boonjubun, chaitawat.boonjubun [at] /+358 50 475 4459