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Snakes and Ladders: The combined effect of qualifications and marriage on the employment trajectories of Peruvian graduates in Switzerland


Research on the risks of under- or unemployment faced by highly qualified non-EU immigrants to Switzerland has focused on the absence of recognition of their foreign qualifications as a major source of vulnerability in the host country. The aim of this paper is to study the employment trajectories of a specific group of migrants who have graduated from a Swiss higher education (HE) institution. Drawing on a life-course perspective, the paper is based on sixteen biographical interviews with a diverse group of highly skilled Peruvian men and women living in Switzerland, after having graduated from a Swiss HE institution. We identify three ideal-type trajectories of migrant graduates with a Swiss HE qualification, based on their field of study, their route of access to formal residential status (essential employment clause / bi-national marriage) and the domestic division of labor and care responsibilities within their households. We show that obtaining a Swiss HE qualification is rarely enough to guarantee non-European graduates access to a stable job that is commensurate to their qualifications. The ability of these Swiss-trained migrants to translate their educational credentials into favorable professional outcomes is highly dependent on family formation patterns and gender arrangements. Some routes to formal residential rights in Switzerland after graduation would seem to cancel out the advantages associated with having a Swiss qualification and lead to long-term precarious employment experiences, especially for female graduates from the humanities and social sciences who receive residential qualifications through marriage to a Swiss or EU national, rather than on the basis of their own contribution to the Swiss labor market.

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