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Department of Geography Economic Geography

Huey Shy Chau

Huey Shy Chau


My goal as migration scholar and cultural/economic geographer is to explore how place and space matters, and how they are shaped when people, knowledge, social and economic practices circulate. I am driven by the motivation to understand social processes and transformation in relation to socio-economic inequality through the lens of mobilities, migration and labour. What interests me most are the sites of struggles and negotiations around workers’ and migrants’ access to resources and social participation, freedom of movement, and the value of work. 

Reproductive life of migrant domestic workers in Singapore

In my postdoctoral research project, I examined how migrant domestic workers deal with questions around reproductive life in Singapore. Based on observations and interviews with domestic workers and key actors relevant for domestic workers' reproductive life and participation in the city, I analyse how practices and social relations between individual and institutional actors shape domestic workers'  reproductive lives, transnational mobility and their access to resources in the city. Drawing on 'rights to the city' and 'urban citizenship' approaches, I explore how domestic workers claim rights in the city and in this sense, manage urban space by themselves and for themselves.  

Funded by the SNSF 01/2018 – 06/2019

Brokering labour migration: The role of home care agencies in the migration of live-in care workers in Switzerland

My PhD research focuses on the recent emergence of private for-profit home care businesses in Switzerland. These care agencies recruit circulary migrating women from the European Union accession states and place them as temporary live-in care workers in private households. Based on participatory observation, qualitative interviews and informal conversations with care agents, recruiters, care workers, unionists, government officials, I explored how migration of live-in care workers to Switzerland is facilitated. In form of a ’mobile ethnography’, I traced the journey of migrant care workers from Eastern European countries to Switzerland and the practices and infrastructures that enable their movements. I portray care workers as active agents in this journey with the power to access desirable working arrangements. Moreover my research gives glimpses into the importance of carers employments in improving their families’ lives with their income, but also induce shifts in gender relations and care responsibilities in their home villages. 

I argue that these agencies contribute to the production of new migration infrastructures tailored to live-in care workers circular mobility patterns. This infrastructure intersects with existing work, gender and care regimes and works in ways that it encloses migrant care workers in their journeys, in the households and ensures their return home after an assignment. In this sense, home care agencies play a key role in the production and maintenance of a flexible and transnational workforce in the live-in care market. Hence, the findings point to fundamental changes in migration control with the extension of the free movement of workers in Switzerland to lower-wage countries in Eastern Europe. Not only has it granted workers more rights to move freely for work, but private actors such as home care agencies have gained new powers in determining who and under which conditions workers migrate. Whereas labour migration control largely took place at physical borders before the liberalisation of migration admission within the EU- and EFTA states, it has now shifted to less visible borders, such as around the live-in care labour market.  

Funded by the SNSF 09/2013 – 12/2017

The dissertation is accessible at the library of the University of Zurich. I have revised it as a book, which will be published in 2020 with Routledge. (see publications below)


2018 University of Zurich: PhD in Economic Geography

2012 University of Neuchâtel: MA Migration and Citizenship

2009 University of Berne: BA Social Anthropology


01/2018 - 07/2019 
SNSF Early.Postdoc-mobility fellow | Yale-NUS College, Singapore

09/2013 - 12/2017 
PhD Candidate/Research Associate | Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Switzerland


Chau Huey Shy. Forthcoming. Brokering Circular Labour Migration. A mobily ethnography of migrant care worker's journey to Switzerland. Series International Studies of Women and Place. Routledge.


Chau, Huey Shy. 2019. Producing (im)mobilities in home care for the eldery. The role of home care agencies in Switzerland. International Journal of Ageing and Later Life. 13 (2): 1-28. fulltext


Chau, Huey Shy. 2018. Brokering Labour Migration. The Role of Home Care Agencies in the Migration of Live-in Care Workers in Switzerland. PhD Thesis, Zurich: University of Zurich.


Chau, Huey Shy, Katharina Pelzelmayer, and Karin Schwiter. 2018. Short-term circular migration and gendered negotiation of the right to the city: The case of migrant live-in care workers in Basel, Switzerland. Cities 76: 4-11. fulltext


Chau, Huey Shy, Awanish Kumar, and Silva Lieberherr. 2015. ‘Non-Family Labour in the Swiss Agriculture: A Status Report and Future Prospects’. Journal of Socio-Economics in Agriculture 7 (1): 1–10. fulltext



01/2019     Producing migration infrastructures for circularly migrating home care workers: Recruitment and placement practices of home care agencies in Switzerland. Infrastructures of Injustice. Migration and Border Mobilities. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. 

08/2018     'Pregnancy in Singapore. Migrant domestic workers' right to the city', Global Conference on Economic Geography, Cologne, Germany. 

05/2018     'Brokering labour migration. The role of home care agencies in the migration of live-in care workers', The Mobility of the Highly Skilled towards Switzerland, NCCR- On the Move Closing Workshop and Celebration, Basel, Switzerland. 

09/2017     ‘(Im)Mobilisierungen von zirkulär migrierenden Arbeitskräften in der Seniorenbetreuung’ [(Im)mobilising circular migrant wokers in elderly care], German Congress for Geography, Tübingen, Germany: with Karin Schwiter. 

05/2017     ‘Die Rolle von Betreuungsagenturen in der 24h Betreuung. Transnationale Vermittlung von BetreuerInnen’ [The role of home care agencies in 24h care. The transnational placement of care workers], Nationale Konferenz: Bezahlte Arbeit in Schweizer Privathaushlten [National conference on paid domestic work], Zürich, Switzerland       

10/2016    'A commercial market for elderly care in Switzerland. The role of placement agencies in 24/7 care arrangements', 3rd International Symposium on Transnational Aging, Long-term care for the elderly across borders, Mainz, Germany

08/2016    'Home care agencies in control of labour migration? Transplacing live-in carers from household to household', The 18th Nordic Migration Conference, Oslo, Norway

11/2015    'Die kommerzielle 24h-Betreuung als vergeschlechtlichter neuer Markt: Vorstellung von Geschlecht, Mobilität und Arbeit' [commercial 24h care as gendered new market: Notions on gender, mobility and work], Interdisziplinäres Forschungskolloquium Gender Studies [Interdsciplinary Research Colloquium Gender Studies], Zurich, Switzerland: With Karin Schwiter and Katharina Pelzelmayer

10/2015    'Vermittlungspraktiken im Graubereich: Care-Migration in der Live-in Betreuung' [Placement practices in a grey area: Care migration in live-in arrangements], German Congress for Geography, Berlin, Germany

06/2015    'Governing transnational care work: live-in care arrangements in a grey area' 12th Annual Imiscoe Conference, Geneva, Switzerland

04/2015    'A flexible and replaceable workforce in the live-in care market?' Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers, Chicago, USA

04/2015    'Short term circular migration and the negotiation of rights to the city: The case of migrant live-in care workers in Switzerland' IGU Preconference of the Gender and Geography Commission of the of the International Geographical Union, Milwaukee, USA: with Karin Schwiter and Katharina Pelzelmayer

01/2015    'Arbeitsplatz Wohnzimmer. Zur performativen Herstellung eines Marktes im Privathaushalt' [Working in the livingroom: Performative construction of a market in the private household], New Cultural Geography Conference, Bamberg, Germany: with Karin Schwiter and Katharina Pelzelmayer