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Abstract

This article identifies a research gap on expatriate students attending international branch campuses in their country of residence, and presents evidence that they are insufficiently distinguished from international students in research on student mobility and choice-making. It finds that the priorities and enrollment choices of expatriates are often understood using the same analytical language as for students who migrate for the purpose of education, particularly through the use of rationalist “push-pull” models and agent-centric frameworks that approach choice and mobility as inherent to all international students. The study suggests that the enrollment choices of expatriates studying at fee-charging international institutions are better understood through research discourses typically applied to non-mobile, domestic students, such as access, affordability and opportunity. Using a mixed-methods research design combining questionnaires and interviews, the author examines the pathways and obstacles experienced by expatriate residents studying at international institutions in the Northern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates. It finds that expatriate student choices are often constrained by structural factors that limit their mobility, including costs and family commitments, and are informed by senses of belonging and familiarity in their adoptive country of residence. Findings are contextualized through a discussion of an international education market which capitalizes on immobility and commercializes access to expressions of global citizenship. It concludes with implications for mobility research and calls for greater nuance in discussions on students attending international institutions of higher education.

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