International Migrant Workers’ Use of Mobile Phones to Seek Social Support in Singapore

Arul Chib, Holley A. Wilkin, Sri Ranjini Mei Hua

Abstract


International migrants often need social support to deal with an unfamiliar environment and reduce stress caused by prevailing attitudes in their host country, as well as that induced by distance and separation from their family. This study investigates whether mobile phones facilitate or inhibit migrants’ ability to seek the social support needed to reduce the stress they experience in their host country. Further, gender differences are examined and discussed. A quantitative survey of men (n 5 56), primarily Bangladeshis working in blue-collar occupations, and women (n 5 60), primarily Filipina domestics, was conducted in Singapore. For women, mobile use alleviated stress by increasing social support; emotional support had the greatest impact on their psychological well-being. Male migrant workers were more likely to experience stress the more they used their mobile phones and when receiving increased emotional support. This finding is in contrast to traditionally held assumptions about the beneficial impacts of mobile phones. We caution against treating immigrants as a homogeneous group, and recommend inclusion of variables such as gender to understand the role of technology-mediated social support in alleviating migrant stress. We further propose that policies and programs facilitating transnational communication for low-income migrants need to be examined carefully in terms of their unintended impacts.

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