Milestones: our one-year workshop

All projects need milestones. With this in mind, we decided to mark the (almost) one-year anniversary of the SIMs project with a one-day interdisciplinary workshop on 11 July 2017.

In contrast with all of the previous workshops, which have involved discussions amongst members of the SIMs team, this event included a range of other experts, including members of our advisory board. In addition to the three SIMs postdocs and the two investigators, we welcomed Sarah Kyambi (Edinburgh), Cetta Mainwaring (Glasgow), Angéline Escafré-Dublet (Université Lyon II), Jennifer Elrick (McGill), Dita Vogel (Uni. Bremen) and James Hampshire (Sussex).

From right to left: Cetta Mainwaring, Elisabeth Badenhoop, Angéline Escafré-Dublet, Sara Casella-Colombeau, Mike Slaven, Christina Boswell, Jennifer Elrick, Dita Vogel and James Hampshire.

We organised the workshop in such a way that each of the postdocs was able to present some initial findings in the form of a pre-circulated paper and then receive comments from one or more external member. It proved to be an excellent model that was stimulating and engaging for all concerned.

As one might expect, many of the comments were related to the specific cases. For example, James and Angéline highlighted the importance of the imperial past in France and Britain. They reminded us that ideas of illegality in the 1960s and 70s were disproportionately determined by questions of race, ethnicity and origin. Because these played such an important role in state monitoring logics, they suggested that we consider the impact of these structures more deeply.

In the case of Germany, Dita emphasised the organisational structure of the German federal state in the 1960s, while Jennifer encouraged us to think more carefully about the degree of competition between national and regional (Länder) government. There was also some discussion about the extent to which the German case needs to understood in relation to the Nazi, Weimar and Bismarckian legacy.

As above, except with Emile Chabal in the picture rather than Christina Boswell

With such a rich range of approaches on show, several of our guests raised the possibility of cross-case comparisons – particularly in relation to the administrative mechanisms that were used to monitor illegality in the 1960s and 70s. This will probably need to be developed on a case-by-case basis since, as the postdocs have discovered, archival documents are complex sources that lend themselves more readily to close-grained thick description than broad-brush comparisons.

Sadly, there was not enough time for the two investigators to present their joint theoretical paper about the emergence of illegal immigration as a social problem in France and the UK. There was, however, a chance to talk about the core hypothesis, namely that in France the issue of illegal migration was formulated in relation to “clandestine” employment and access to the labour market, whereas in the UK it related to a more diffuse public concern about “numbers” of (especially New Commonwealth) immigrants.

No doubt there will be time later for the SIMs team to discuss this amongst themselves, but this workshop was an excellent way to draw a line under a year of enormously productive archival work. Congratulations to our postdocs for being so cheerful, productive and hard-working this year – we look forward to many more fascinating insights from them!


Seeing illegal immigrants (literally): Donald Trump’s transparent border wall

We didn’t think of this one: when surveying the various methods that states use to “see” illegal immigrants, we did not include border walls explicitly designed to be see-through. And yet this is exactly what Donald Trump proposed in front of reporters on Wednesday.

The first reaction to this idea was incredulity. But perhaps we should actually try to take him both seriously and literally. After all, his idea points to a major starting point of our project: the inherent tensions in states’ attempts to address the illegal immigration “problem.”

The fantasies of the border wall

As everyone knows, one of Trump’s signature campaign promises was to build a wall across the US’s entire southwest border. There are many reasons to think that the two thousand mile-long barrier will never materialise. Besides its expense and logistical complexity, the “build a wall” catchphrase was pushed by a campaign team trying to keep their unruly boss on message. Moreover, there is evidence that, despite the symbolic politics of the wall, actually completing it is a relatively low priority for Trump voters. Still, discussions continue as to what form the wall will take. Will it have solar panels? Will it be glass?

On 13 July 2017, Trump tried to clarify what he considered to be the key features of his wall:

One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can’t see through that wall – so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what’s on the other side of the wall. And I’ll give you an example. As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them – they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall. But we have some incredible designs.

It’s easy to laugh at Trump’s reasoning. For one thing, being hit in the head by heavy sacks of drugs vaulted over border barriers currently ranks low on the list of dangers in the US-Mexico borderland. Trump’s comments do, however, underscore an inherent tension in combatting clandestine immigration.

US Border Patrol agent looks out over Tijuana, Mexico along the old border wall where it ends at the base of a hill in San Diego in June 2013.

In their “struggle” to contain illegal immigration, states are torn between the need to project sovereign power by delimiting and excluding, and the need to make legible the space “beyond”. This produces a further symbolic problem because the practical need to see beyond the territory in order combat illegal immigration undermines the notion that the state possesses complete steering capacity within its territory.

Border barriers that allow some visibility through them are not uncommon, but Trump’s call for a “wall” conjures up distinct imagery: His voters imagine a structure that is towering and impermeable and he has repeatedly argued that unauthorised immigration is the result of the United States’ lack of will in stopping it. This has epitomised his unilateral approach to illegal immigration, which drops any pretence of working with Mexican authorities to curb unauthorised cross-border flows and instead promises to muscle Mexico into paying for the wall against its wishes.

The paradox of visibility

Fulfilling this political symbolism was always going to be a practical problem. The costs of Trump’s proposals are astronomical. More importantly, though, the usefulness of a wall as a place where the start of enforcement begins is challenged by the inherently transversal nature of border-crossing. Controlling it, especially at remote points, is much easier if one has a sense of what is happening on the other side.

Trump may not express that idea in such terms, but his example of the falling drug sacks absurdly manifests it. Practically, exercising effective power within the state’s purview (stopping the dangers of drug smuggling) means seeing beyond it (knowing the sacks are coming before they cross the line). Literal visibility is one way of achieving this kind of legibility that does not rely on actual cross-border cooperation.

For Trump, of course, any concession to the “other side” is elitist mush. But even in his scattered proposals, there seems to be the beginning of some realization that it is difficult to address such a “clandestine” problem without acknowledging its transnational dimension. Perhaps he also sees that hard-line expressions of sovereignty, like the promise of a tall and impermeable wall, actually risk exposing the reality of sovereign incapacity if they fail to stop the problem completely.

It is no wonder, then, that most states adopt a position of strategic ignorance in relation to illegal immigration. This type of ignorance, however, is an impossibility for Trump, whose presidency was made possible by the premise he saw the unauthorised immigration issue for what it really is. As these paradoxes likely won’t be solved by the Trump administration, we can expect many more discussions about the kinds of “openings” that befit Trump’s infamous wall.


Minors’ rights to enter the UK: past policies, present politics?

This week I presented some of my work about the UK at a workshop about unaccompanied child refugees in Scotland, hosted by Edinburgh Napier University and sponsored by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. What does our work in dusty archives have to do with such pressing contemporary issues? The fact that I was invited shows a refreshing interest in the history of the UK’s treatment of immigrants: Evan Smith has wondered about a lack of historical memory in UK immigration policymaking generally, and specifically regarding age assessment, a major topic at this workshop.

There are some informative parallels between such child asylum seekers and children who came to the UK, sometimes unaccompanied on their journey, as dependants of Commonwealth citizens already resident in Britain in the 1960s. In both cases these children’s ability to enter the UK rested on the basis of rights – for child refugees, in international law, and for child Commonwealth dependents, in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. However, in both cases, it seems that a system meant to facilitate such rights easily became consumed by the idea that this right was being abused. By examining how this happened in the 1960s – and how alleged “evaders” became a prime target for the demonstration of control when it was judged too difficult for the base right to be curtailed – we can gain insight into how similar issues might be dealt with today.

Commonwealth minors and “evasion of control”

After World War Two, many New Commonwealth male breadwinners would settle in Britain first and send for their families later. The 1962 Act ended the absolute right of Commonwealth citizens to enter and settle in the UK, but provided that dependent family of Commonwealth citizens settled in the UK either before or after the act would keep this right, sometimes articulated as “a man’s rights to have his family with him.” This included spouses and children under 16; more distant relatives and 16- and 17-year-old children were often allowed in on discretion. No visas were required, though there was a voluntary entry certificate system.

Over time, officials became concerned that the act was failing at its goal of reducing non-white migration to Britain, even though the largest part of this flow – dependants – was hard to limit. Policymakers were still compelled by arguments that such limits would strip meaning from the Commonwealth, and that denying dependents’ entry would be an outrage on humanitarian and integrationist grounds. What to do?

Beyond further reducing primary migration, it is here that “evasion of the control” emerged as a concern. Numerically, “evaders” represented some kind of unnecessary addition to already too-great flows. Ministers seemed readier to believe that evasion was a primary aspect of immigration problems, where bureaucrats, at least early on, saw it as an issue secondary to the simple fact that the law allowed a lot of people to come in.

This is evident in these two excerpts, first from No. 10 Downing Street and then from the permanent secretary of the Home Office:

TNA PREM 13/382, Reid to Morris, Minute of conversation between Prime Minister and Home Secretary, 5 Jan. 1965

TNA PREM 13/382, Cunningham to Mitchell, 18 March 1965

As family migrants became the major source of New Commonwealth immigration, “bogus dependants” became the major category of “evaders.” Policymakers suspected that some immigrants did not really have a qualifying relationship and that purported “child” immigrants were really 16 or even older. Related to this, officials worried that many older children were actually labour migrants in disguise. They were particularly suspicious of young men from the Indian subcontinent, whose identity documents they regarded as unreliable.

Monitoring the number of Commonwealth minors

In 1965, the government announced a reduction in concessions to family members whose rights were not guaranteed in the 1962 Act, including 16- and 17-year-olds and children joining relatives who were not parents. The rights-based discussion was not abandoned, however. On the grounds of both rights and efficacy, policymakers rejected both a mandatory registry of possible future dependant migrants, and mandating entry certificates for dependants.

But the situation grew more complicated as dependant migration still increased. Where officials were mostly sure at other periods that evasion was a secondary issue, by 1967 they seemed less clear. Incoming child dependants were subject to more fine-grained statistical attention, tracking ages and places of origin. Concern emerged in particular about Pakistani teenage boys coming to live in single-parent households with their fathers.

TNA HO 344/188, Minute by Fitzgerald, 9 Aug. 1967

How did immigration officers try to spot “bogus dependants?” The methods were not sophisticated. Apart from detecting false documents, suspicions were often raised by a boy’s appearance. Wrist x-rays were taken in at least some ambiguous cases in the 1960s. The most significant method was separate interrogation: questioning the would-be child immigrant and the adult sponsor at the port, separately.

One can imagine the duress of child migrants in such situations, many of whom spoke little or no English. When International Social Service suggested allowing young men to enter and live with fathers only after a welfare check of their future home and with an entry certificate, the Home Office rejected the idea because they saw separate interrogation as the only reliable way to produce the “truth” about a migrant.

TNA HO 344/297, [Draft] Memorandum Submitted by the Home Office to the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration on “Evasion of the Commonwealth Immigration Control,” 29 Jan. 1969

Ultimately, child migrants joining a single parent were seen as such a welfare and monitoring “problem” that they were banned almost entirely in 1968. Still, the difficulties faced by Home Office officials at British ports of entry could not be ignored: young people who had journeyed thousands of miles risked being returned, and immigration officers in many cases had to make rapid high-stakes decisions to deny entry or admit someone permanently. It is for this reason that the Home Office finally decided to introduce a system of “entry certificates”.

Entry certificates for dependants

The entry certificate requirement encountered significant bureaucratic opposition. It effectively required a type of visa for Commonwealth citizens that non-Commonwealth aliens did not need. It required rejecting people at the ports who lacked entry certificates, even if it was obvious they were in a category eligible to enter – a situation that before had been regarded as untenable, and that would require legislation. Since it did not reduce the amount of dependants with an entitlement to enter, policymakers also saw it as mostly beside the point of reducing numbers. It would put a hindrance on the exercise of rights, but to unclear ends.

However, with the opposition Conservatives arguing for mandatory entry certificates, there was political pressure to adopt the policy. The idea was brought back from the dead after increasing traffic in 1969 put growing pressure on immigration officers at Heathrow. Policymakers didn’t think of the move as effective at anything except smoother port management, but reasoned that it might look like action on the issue of immigrant numbers.

TNA HO 344/330, Otton to Fitzgerald, “Compulsory Entry Certificates,” 17 Sept. 1968

Looking back from the vantage point of the early 21st century, we can ask the same question as Home Office officials did in the 1960s: did the introduction of “entry certificates” really make a difference? There was certainly retrenchment at the margins of children’s rights to enter. But these rights were still mostly formally maintained, albeit with more suspicion and obstacles, and for a dwindling number of dependants, as primary labour migration was curtailed.

More broadly, we can ask whether this trajectory of mounting concern with child “evaders” was inevitable. Policymakers, then as now, believed that public confidence in the immigration system could be gained if “control” existed. But do intended shows of control actually achieve this, or reinforce the idea of shifty immigrants, mounting more anxiety? In either case, when there are strong political or legal justifications to be open to certain flows, this imperative seems to yield policies of dubious value, like the entry certificate requirement. Is there a way around these issues developing in such a way?

These questions remain very much alive today – and I was glad to discuss them with the workshop’s many impressive co-presenters and participants. Let us hope that their important work with unaccompanied child refugees helps to avoid some of the problems of the past.


PS. For those who are interested, there are two further workshops on 6 June and 23 June – follow the links to register.

Our second workshop: thoughts from the archives

St John's Land

St John’s Land

We had our second project meeting on 15 February at St John’s Land, a part of the University of Edinburgh campus close to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. The main topic of discussion was the archives and what our postdocs have been finding there.

It has been approximately one month since our three postdocs began the archival phase of the research. Mike has been at the National Archives at Kew in London; Sara has been at the Archives Nationales at Pierrefitte in Paris; and Elisabeth has been at the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz. Already, they are overwhelmed by the scope, variety and complexity of the data they have been unearthing.

As ever in a project like this, the initial conceptual plan has taken on a different shape depending on the material available. The specificity of administrative archives makes this even more of a problem. The kind of documents that our three postdocs have been seeing are often hard to decipher and even harder to compare.

Still, some patterns are emerging.

Mike has focused much of his attention on the formulation of immigration policy in Britain in the 1960s. He has found extremely rich correspondence between Home Office civil servants and politicians who were still uncertain of exactly how to define the immigration “problem” in the 1960s. In particular, there were sustained discussions over the extent to which Commonwealth preference might help or hinder in the elaboration of effective immigration policy and there was a growing awareness of public dissatisfaction with supposedly “unsustainable” levels of labour immigration.

Yet the exchanges between civil servants and politicians also make clear just how difficult it was to come up with effective strategies to tackle “excessive” immigration. There was a relative absence of punitive measures that could be imposed on immigrants who overstayed or violated the terms of their work “voucher” and there was broad cross-party consensus that the question of immigration should not be overly politicised. Already Mike’s research has shed light on the uncertainty that surrounded the issue at a crucial time in the history of British immigration policy.

A document from the French administrative archives

Sara has also been looking at administrative archives but her focus has been on the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Many of her archives come from the French planning department (Commissariat général du Plan) and other government agencies in charge of population, immigration and labour.

From what Sara has read, it is clear that the French government did not problematise the notion of “illegality” in relation to migration until very late in the 1970s, despite the “closing” of the border in the early 1970s. Crucially for our purposes, the reports and correspondence from the archives indicate that there was a lack of statistical data to help analyse migration in France in the 1970s. It was not until the 1980s that the French government began to focus on the phenomenon of illegal immigration specifically. Sara’s research so far suggests fascinating insights into the history of French state rationality, the “turning-point” of the 1970s, and the relative importance of “illegality” as a theme in the history of state monitoring.

Finally, Elisabeth has been wading through hundreds of documents from myriad German government departments charged with monitoring foreigners and migrants in West Germany from the 1950s to the 1970s. Many of these documents have been extremely formal and administrative in tone – German bureaucrats did not correspond in the same jovial way as British civil servants! – but they nevertheless offer invaluable information about how the monitoring of migrants actually took place.

We were all especially interested in the work Elisabeth has been doing on the Ausländer­zen­tral­re­gis­ter (Foreign Central Register), which has its roots in the late nineteenth century but has existed in its present form since 1953. This centralised database collected – and still collects – information about every single foreigner resident on German soil, even though it was not widely known about until it was formalised by constitutional legislation in the 1990s. It therefore gives us an unusual angle from which to analyse how the (West) German bureaucracy approached the question of migration and what sorts of rationalities were at play in the construction and maintenance of such an impressive database in the 1950s and 60s.

As well as telling us more about their research to date, our three postdocs prepared preliminary article proposals based on their archival work, all of which were excellent. There is little doubt that this (at times rather painstaking and tedious) archival phase will lay the foundations for all sorts of innovative and comparative publications.

Watch this space!


Our first workshop: thoughts and reflections

Yesterday, the research team gathered for its first workshop. Our aim was to lay the theoretical and historical foundations for the first phase of archival research, which will take place from January to May 2017.

In advance of the workshop, each one of our postdocs was asked to prepare a 25-page background paper, with a special focus on the earlier part of our research programme (the 1960s and 1970s). Even though all three postdocs have been meeting regularly to discuss their specific case studies, this was their first opportunity to bring their thoughts together in a single piece of written work.

Not surprisingly, the discussion ranged far and wide. Our three case studies – France, the UK and Germany – offer sharply diverging histories of state monitoring of “illegality”, “irregularity” and “immigration”. In the 1960s and 70s, there was little consensus over the words that should be used to describe irregular migration or, indeed, whether there even was such a thing. Administrators in each country used different terms to describe the movement of foreigners or colonial subjects into (or through) metropolitan territories, which makes it hard to generalise about the way Western European states conceptualised and dealt with both legal and illegal migration.

Nevertheless, there were a number of key threads that emerged from our discussion about the 1960s and 1970s:

  • The crucial importance of the late colonial and decolonising moments, during which ideas of citizenship, “abode”, settlement, free movement and belonging were subject to close scrutiny and often radically transformed.
  • The concomitant role of Europeanisation, both in terms of changing migration flows and the growing importance of European integration as a political and strategic reference point.
  • The broad lack of interest in “illegal” or “irregular” migration. All the evidence we have gathered so far suggests that state administrators were rarely, if ever, concerned with illegal migration until the mid-1970s. There was much greater interest in the various routes migrants took and/or the means by which to regularise migrants already within a given territory. In this context, almost no administrative or political effort was expended in defining illegality.
  • The strong relationship between the monitoring of migrants and the monitoring of “suspect” political activists (eg. anti-colonial nationalists in France, Irish terrorists in the UK, or Communist “infiltrators” in West Germany). This also explains why European states in this period had a tendency to think about migration from specific countries rather than migration in a general sense.
  • The relative lack of politicisation of migration or immigration, and the existence of broad cross-party consensus on the issue, unless a migrant flow was related to a specific political problem (eg. Algerian migration to metropolitan France)
  • The surprisingly light-tough, ad hoc legal framework within which most migratory flows operated. Where there was legislation (eg. in relation to the German Gastarbeiter), it was either sector or region-specific, or it was governed by bilateral agreements between individual states. Ministerial cooperation was sporadic and often ineffective.

Of course, there was wide variation between our case studies as well. Some of the most obvious points that were raised had to do with the absence of a specific colonial and/or postcolonial context in Germany; the complex redefinition of citizenship after 20161216_161629decolonisation in France and Britain; and the contrasting background political philosophies that affected political discourse surrounding migration in the three countries (labour and work priorities in Germany, republicanism in France, and race relations in the UK).

Finally, we had the opportunity to discuss the next phase of the project. The three postdocs prepared preliminary lists of archival documents that they would like to consult and we talked at length about how best to make use of the archive. With such a wide range of possible themes and a wealth of archival material available, we should start to see some substantial and original insights coming out of our project very soon.


Images (from top to bottom): Christina and Jill listen to Elisabeth presenting the German case study; Elisabeth, Mike and Sara later in the workshop.

Outsourcing the monitoring of irregular migration in France

The fact that post-Brexit migration policies in the UK are taking the form of a broader involvement of public and private actors in the monitoring of irregular migration reminds me a lot the French situation in the early 2000s.

Nicolas Sarkozy, first as Minister of the Interior from 2003 to 2007 then as President in 2007, is often associated with this restrictive turn in migration policies in France. In September 2003, he addressed prefects (the representatives of the French state at the local level) and announced a measure that defined his period in office. This was the setting of deportation targets. Each prefect would be assigned an individual target, which would eventually become the basis for his or her evaluation. This had a spill over effect on the evaluation of other civil servants, among them local police chiefs. As a result, law enforcement was drawn inexorably into the “fight against illegal immigration”.

This went hand-in-hand with a more general mobilisation of private and public actors. Already, social services (the family benefits office, social housing) were required to ask for documentation and check the legality of a person’s status before providing any aid. But Sarkozy’s changes extended a policing logic to the private sector, for example to banking services. The case of a man from Mali who wanted to open a bank account was reported in Le Parisien in 2009. After finding out that his documents were forged, the bank employee sent a report to the prosecutor and the luckless client was arrested on this basis. The bank’s managers took responsibility and declared that this was a habitual and systematic procedure.

Naturally, the pressure to achieve deportation targets also affected the police, who developed “creative” ways to apprehend undocumented migrants, such as requesting access to schools or requiring school directors to cooperate with immigration control objectives. One of the most controversial incidents was when a school director was asked by police officers to present two of his students to police officers, who brought them to a police facility to wait for their undocumented father to come get them. The school director had no idea he was part of a plan to trap the students’ father.

Two further examples demonstrate clearly how this ‘outsourcing’ of monitoring played out in practice.

The first relates to the role of employers in implementing migration policies. Even before Sarkozy’s reforms, it was illegal to hire an undocumented migrant. But a new law on immigration passed in 2006 changed the system of control so that it became company-based. Employers (as well as employment offices) now have to check that the foreigners they want to hire are allowed to work. Employers must then send a copy of the document of the person they want to hire to the local préfecture so that this office can verify the document is not forged. Moreover, since 2007, employers and temporary work agencies in the construction and service sector are required to provide a list of the non-EU citizens that they are hiring. Amber Rudd’s recent proposal to introduce this measure in the UK met with a public outcry, but in France the measure passed with little public reaction.

The second example relates to education. In 2004, a new database called ‘Base-élève’ was created and tested out in preschools and elementary schools. In theory, it was unrelated to migration issues since it was designed as a management instrument for educational administrators  But, within a general atmosphere of suspicion, certain data (nationality, date of arrival in France, main language spoken at home) were suspected by human rights organisations and teachers’ unions to have migration control objectives.

These suspicions were confirmed when, in 2008, the education board of the Haut-Rhin department “accidentally” sent an e-mail to 850 school directors asking them: “Are you aware of the schooling of illegal [sans-papiers] students in your school? … If so, could you please let us know today by mail or phone.” Amid the strong reaction against this requirement, the minister withdrew the controversial data from the database. It is not surprising that it is exactly the same kind of concerns that are being raised at the moment in the UK as the government expands the collection of school information to include “pupils’ nationality and country of birth”.

What conclusions can we draw from this brief comparison of the French and British experiences of expanded migration monitoring? First, we should consider the effects of a general mobilisation of various actors around immigration policy goals, which can occur outside of more formalised outsourcing processes. Second, we see that changes in the involvement of civil servants in the fight against “illegal” immigration does not necessarily require changes to the law. Finally, we should think more carefully about the impact of prominent politicians, in this case Nicolas Sarkozy. Hopefully, the historical dimension of our project will allow us to assess the relative weight that can be accorded to individual actors in the formulation of migration and monitoring policies.


Amber Rudd’s Speech: Monitoring After Brexit?

The speech by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, was arguably the most policy-heavy presentation at the Conservative Party Conference. It also made a strong claim to be the most controversial, so it is hardly surprising that it provoked a vigorous response from some quarters.

The main focus of ire was Rudd’s proposal – offered in post-speech briefing notes, rather than in her address itself – that companies “be clear about the proportion of their workforce which is international”.

As the storm exploded, Rudd began to backtrack. But, while she argued that her proposal to “name and shame” businesses was just an idea, she continued to defend the meat of her address. This included a whole raft of proposals:

  • a new aim to reduce international student numbers based on the possibility of different rules for students in different courses or universities based on their judged quality
  • tightening the Resident Labour Market Test
  • requiring businesses to invest more in training British workers
  • making it a felony for landlords to rent property to “illegal immigrants” (which they already must check they are not doing)
  • requiring banks to perform regular checks that they are not providing services to such individuals.

Such policies would represent significant increases in the “outsourcing” of monitoring duties by the Home Office to other sectors and organisations – businesses, universities, landlords, and banks. This has been an unmistakable trend in British migration policy since the elevation of “sponsorship” to new levels of importance in the immigration system upon the introduction of the Points Based System in 2008.

With the post-2010 drive to lower net migration numbers, the Home Office has forced the evolution of these visa “sponsorship” relationships into ones where organisations are bound to monitor migrants to see that they are doing what they allegedly supposed to do – that student visa holders are actually attending class, that labour migrants are actually on the job, etc. This has been accompanied by another category of increasing onerousness, where the Home Office has gradually eroded the ability of many non-EU immigrants (especially students) to switch between visa categories and put up greater administrative barriers (raising requirements and visa fees) to come to or stay in the UK.

Rudd’s proposals are then, in many senses, fundamentally familiar – a rerun of what is by now a well-worn playbook. Familiar, too, is her rhetorical devotion to the benefits of allowing in the “best and brightest.” Indeed, in her time as Home Secretary, one of Theresa May’s crucial political moves was to ring-fence intra-company transfers, other sponsored “high-skill” migration, and the ability of reputable universities to sponsor international students.

These accommodations have allowed these powerful constituencies to live with developments they find uncomfortable, with the bulk of policy changes affecting family migrants, the lower-skilled, and higher educational institutions lower on the perceived pecking order. Again, Rudd’s plans – subject, as she emphasises, to “consultation” – seem to be an extension of these patterns.

So, if this “outsourcing” is just a continuation of existing patterns, why have Rudd’s announcements been received in some quarters as the foretelling of a dark new era?

Brexit has brought forward the possibility of EU migrants falling under such policy changes, which up to now have affected only non-EU migrants. Including Europeans under such a regime would make migration to the UK fundamentally more rigid and would impose much more extensive monitoring duties on institutions that have, up to now, only had to adopt such roles in relation to non-EU migrants.

Of course, the government has not exactly decided what rules it will impose on EU citizens in Britain. One thing is for certain, however: the claim that Brexit would lead to a relaxation of the government’s unrealistic target of reducing migration to the “tens of thousands” has been dashed. The idea of “naming and shaming” – while a throwaway as far as the speech was concerned – echoes what many see as the disturbing new acceptability of anti-immigrant feeling since the referendum. With further restriction being imposed on an ever-growing number of people – and with the government’s renewed emphasis on multi-sectoral monitoring – we should be in no doubt that this is a process that has just begun.


Meet the SIMs team!

We are delighted that all of our Edinburgh-based team have now started work on the project. To mark this important milestone, we decided to take a series of pictures of the team at our first meeting on 4 October. Here are two of them:


(From left to right: Christina, Sara, Elisabeth, Mike and Jill)


(From left to right: Elisabeth, Mike and Emile)

We will be meeting regularly for the next few months, as our postdocs prepare for their archival work. In the meantime, I will work on sitting still for photographs…


Irregular Migration and Political Ignorance

It has become very fashionable in migration studies to see states as preoccupied with maximising surveillance and control of their populations. On these accounts, public authorities are keen to produce ever more data on their residents, with a view to steering and disciplining their activities. This resonates with mainstream accounts of state ‘rationality’. States are first and foremost concerned with controlling their borders, and monitoring their populations. The history of state consolidation is often depicted as the ineluctable rolling out of bureaucratic capacity to monitor and control the population.

I’ve long endorsed the less fashionable position that states are often keen to sustain opacity on tricky social problems. The ministries and agencies implementing immigration policy are all too aware of their deficiencies in monitoring and steering irregular migration. Faced with strong and often unfeasible public expectations, it may be more attractive to obfuscate, to retain some ‘fog’ around issues of irregular residence and employment, rather than risk being exposed as unable to control such transgressions.

This view is partly based on literature from new institutionalism. These theories suggest that organizations are not engaged in a straightforward bid to enhance their power. Instead, they are preoccupied with securing legitimacy, which they seek to do by meeting expectations from their environment about appropriate behaviour. Importantly, they also have to juggle these external demands with the need to retain loyalty and support from their own members. In many cases, this means trying to evade external pressure or responsibility – especially where the organization is aware it cannot meet expectations.

Doubts about the ‘maximizing control’ thesis are also supported by my research on the UK Home Office and Border Agency over the past 12 years or so. The Home Office is an embattled organization, struggling to retain legitimacy in the face of a constant stream of crises and scandals. Why expose itself to another line of attack, by producing more data on irregular migrants in the UK?

Indeed, when the Home Office’s failure to size its illegal population was revealed by a parliamentary committee in 2006, a senior official had to admit that the department ‘didn’t have the faintest idea’ how many immigrants were illegally resident in the UK. The response of his colleagues in the Home Office? A palpable sigh of relief. As one interviewee told me at the time, ‘most people in the IND [predecessor of the Border Agency] said, good on you Dave, you told it as it is. Of course we haven’t the faintest idea. Why are they asking this question? Don’t they know, we only know what we know? We know what we control. By definition, we don’t know who we don’t control’. The Home Office was well aware of its inability to monitor this population, and were happy to leave this particular stone unturned.

If this is the case – if there are issues over which states would rather retain opacity – then we need to rethink our notions of political rationality. It may be quite reasonable for public authorities to obfuscate or produce fog around certain social problems. Especially where they are pessimistic about their chances of meeting public expectations – and where they know they can get away with it, because of the general lack of reliable information on the problem.

Of course the UK Home Office and its Border Agency is just one example of a bureaucratic agency working in this area. We may see quite different dynamics in the case of public authorities in France and Germany. We may also discern different logics or rationalities at play in various of the agencies implicated in monitoring irregular migration, depending on which sector they work in (home affairs, justice, enforcement, social security, employment), or at different levels of governance. But we certainly expect our project will debunk more simplistic notions about state monitoring. Watch this space for more insights and findings over the coming months.


The arbitrariness of ‘illegality’ in Germany

Welcome back to the ‘Seeing Illegal Immigrants’ project blog! Having joined the fantastic SIMs team on 1 September, I am delighted to provide you with an update on our ongoing work. Today’s blog post also briefly sketches the premises of the project in general and outlines the structural conditions and background of the German case study in particular.

During the initial project phase, we will produce three country reports (one each per case study) based on available literature, legislation and policy documents relating to the monitoring of unregistered migrant residents with a focus on the late 1960s and early 1970s up to the present. The aim of this work is to develop starting points for the next phase of empirical fieldwork, with a view to discussing our findings at a team workshop in early December.

The first phase of our research is guided by the assumption that ‘the state is profoundly implicated in the production of irregularity’ of migration (Hampshire, J. (2013) The Politics of Immigration: Contradictions of the Liberal State, p. 63). Thus, ‘irregularity’ or ‘illegality’ is not an intrinsic feature of certain people but a category and status ascribed by state authorities. Our focus lies on the agents who are involved in identifying processes by designing or implementing policies that are aimed at controlling such categorised persons. ‘Illegality’ may result from unauthorised entry, entry using forged documents, visa overstay, violation of visa terms (e.g. working without authorisation) and rejection of an asylum claim. In Europe, it is assumed that the vast majority (80-90%) of ‘irregular’ migrants results from overstaying or visa term violations – unlike political and media reports suggest, only 10-20% of ‘illegal’ migrants follow from unauthorised entry (Düvell, F. (2011) Paths into Irregularity: The Legal and Political Construction of Irregular Migration).

This is one of the reasons why in our research of different types of migration control policies, we will put the focus on internal ‘gatekeeping’ and ‘fencing’ policies (cf. Vogel, D. (2015) International Comparisons of Migrations Controls). That means we will critically examine policies targeting migrants who already reside within the respective country. ‘Gatekeeping’ policies refer to efforts to identify unauthorised migrants, for example, through laws and policies obliging individuals  to register with the authorities or by imposing the duty on authorities to cooperate in sharing information. ‘Fencing’ policies, by contrast, refer to detection practices such as home raids and workplace inspections.

I am conducting the German case study which is now underway. In Germany, the issue of who the state regards as an ‘illegal’ immigrant is open to considerable scope of interpretation. German law distinguishes between two different categories of unauthorised residence, ‘illegal’ (illegal) versus ‘irregular’ (nicht rechtmäßig), but does not sufficiently clarify these terms (Schönwälder, K. et al. (2004) Migration und Illegalität in Deutschland, p. 38). The legal categorisation and social-political construction of ‘illegality’ is therefore particularly ambivalent and prone to arbitrary reasoning in Germany compared to the United Kingdom and France.

This is further complicated by the territorial division of competences. Unlike Britain and France, Germany is characterised by a federal state structure according to which the federal state (Bund) and the 16 constituent states (Länder) share competences in the making and implementation of policies and laws. In addition, each state has its own legislative, executive and judicial powers. In the area of ‘irregular’ migration, the federal state for example grants or rejects asylum and separately collects information about ‘foreigners’ by maintaining the Central Aliens Register (Ausländerzentralregister). The member states, on the other hand, issue or withhold residence permits and enforce inspections.

The federal state structure thus leaves it to the authorities of the member states and their municipalities to determine whether or not an individual’s residence is considered ‘illegal’ hence prosecutable. What is more, the lack of clarification in the federal law gives local authorities considerable discretion in the decision-making process – a fact that will be of particular interest for the empirical fieldwork.

You will soon find our detailed project bibliography under ‘Work in Progress’ with an extensive list of references on the topic of monitoring of unregistered migrants. We will update this bibliography regularly as the project develops. Please feel free to use it for your own research, to share it with friends and colleagues and do not hesitate to get in touch with us with any queries or suggestions you may have!


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