Changing the impact format: new groups, new engagement

By: Ida Persson, Research & Communications Officer, COMPAS and Vanessa Hughes, DPhil candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London

Using alternative methods to create social science research impact was a key aim of the project “Exploring Migration: Research and Drama in Schools”. Working with schools in Thame, London and Birmingham the project involved using theatre exercises, workshops and performances to discuss issues relevant to undocumented migrant children and their families.

In previous blogs we reflected on different aspects of this project. After Thame, at Lord Williams’s, we considered what role a project like this, using theatre as an experience, might have as “impact”. Then after London, at Capital City Academy, we looked more closely at the education and learning element of the project. Now, having recently completed work at a primary school in Birmingham, we can consider how the same results were achieved at this final school, but in a very different way.

In Thame and London groups of 10-13 students, between 14 and 18 years old, worked together on the script as a whole, devising, planning and creating a piece of theatre unique to them. We met for an hour and a half once a week for 10 weeks before doing an open, public performance followed by a Q&A where the students articulately explained their thoughts and reactions to the project. Due to their pre-existing knowledge of some of the issues and vocabulary and to their maturity we spent only one session, with exercises and discussion, on the background issues and questions. We then, throughout the weeks maintained an open space for questions and discussion and allowed time to consider current news stories. Most of the time, however, was spent on the individually scripted stories and working on how to present them. This proved hugely effective and a deep learning experience for the students involved. The previous blogs mentioned above explore the impact and these aspects of this work in more detail.

Changing the routine

In Birmingham we had to entirely change our approach in order to make the most of the material and the students’ understanding of it. The reasons for the changes to our work at Water Mill Primary School in Birmingham was determined on the one hand by the students’ much younger age of 11 years, having a full class of 25 and covering full-day workshops over a shorter period due to SATS exams earlier during the term. We worked with the students for four full-day workshops spread over a fortnight. Our days and materials therefore needed to be organised and designed completely differently to suit.

This meant interspersing our introduction to migration issues with interactive learning activities. One activity, for example, involved students moving between “countries”, while increasing the obstacles and barriers with each round. The class was also divided into four groups and they worked on a monologue each, while focusing on a particular theme (character, movement, sound/voice, and emotions). This gave the groups a focus on which to hang the development of each story. We also encouraged them to think about the migration and their own stories and connections to migration throughout the process by asking them to bring in related items. The wide-ranging engagement and creative thinking demonstrated by students through this exercise was impressive. They brought money from a large number of countries, suitcases, passports, rocks, books, and even an oxygen mask! These items were used as inspiration to create collages and writing short poems in groups, which were then used in the performance. In addition we dedicated more time to theatre exercises designed to create feelings of collaboration and teamwork, as well as basic performance skills.

The children were hugely receptive to all the activities, and were very willing to share personal stories and thoughts as well as more general reflections. They rose to the challenge of this difficult topic in an excellent and impressive way, to an extent that even surprised their teachers. Using theatre as the medium for learning also meant that students who often struggled in day-to-day school life were able to engage and participate at whatever level they were comfortable with.

They performed their piece to a school Assembly and parents, which moved many members of the audience. It was very clear that the impact and education elements discussed in the previous blogs were also fulfilled in Birmingham. This was demonstrated by positive feedback from the students themselves, as well as their teachers and parents. The difference this time however was that the key element and learning experience for the students was felt in the process rather than the final product – allowing them not only to empathise and sympathise with other stories but also to place their own experiences in a broader context.

Questions and comments that particularly hit home and created interesting discussions were, “Why do people hate immigrant?” and “I don’t have a passport, and my parents are from different countries, so where am I from?” While the first question left us momentarily speechless, it also shows how difficult it is to find a rational, logical and coherent explanation for certain accepted societal norms. This probably is nowhere more true than in relation to the migration debate, where emotional and symbolic language around fear dominate. When real stories are placed in the foreground, however, this allows for a tangible discussion and often leads to unanswerable questions. More importantly, they prompt a non-judgmental curiosity and interest to understand another’s situation, asking “why”, “how” and  “what happened to him after this?

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Gender and Migration: Reflecting on the Debate

By: Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration and Citizenship and Deputy Director of COMPAS

Women are no longer rendered invisible in the migratory process. Their movement―as workers, as refugees, as partners, dependants, and students―is now firmly on the agenda. While this is often referred to as the ‘feminisation of migration,’ the fact is that women and girls have always moved: what has been ‘feminised’ is the debate about migration.

Re-reading this joint blog series co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS it’s striking how varied and rich the contributions are, from Mothers’ Migration Motivationsto Gender, Race and Detention. Importantly they aren’t only about women―though disappointingly we had only one male contributor. Gendering migration foregrounds social relations, exposes the fallacy of the atomised cost-benefit calculator that so often dominates immigration policies. Several of the contributions, for example, discussed matters of consent, agency, and force, and complicated the idea of the victimised woman. We see how ‘migrants,’ female and male, are woven into relations that shape their opportunities for and experiences of mobility. We also see how immigration controls reinforce gender relations for example through the Sri Lankan government’s requirement that husbands signal that they have no objection to their wives’ independent migration, and how the gendered implications of law and practice intersect with class, as in the differential treatment meted out to those who are ‘highly skilled,’ predominantly, but not always, male. Yet immigration controls can also undermine ‘traditional’ gender relations, as the experience of the undocumented father dependent on his British wife indicates, and they can also trump male privilege, as with the case of the foreign national criminal.

Judging by this blog series researchers have moved beyond assumptions about women’s vulnerability towards a far more complex, textured understanding of ‘migrants’ as social and embodied. Yet it’s clear that policy has to catch up. Where progress had been made, it has tended to be in areas associated with the vulnerability of migrant women and where the confusion between ‘feminisation’ and gendering of the debate brings its own challenges. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the take-up of anti-trafficking policy, which, at a national level, typically gives women rights as victims and often only if they agree to take action against a perpetrator. In the introductory blog post for this series, I cited Spivak, and ‘saving brown women from brown men’―whether from FGM, prostitution or honour killings―has given a humanitarian face to immigration policy even as immigration policies themselves contribute to deaths and detention.

As well as reflections on gender and migration we also hosted some reflections on gender and migration researchers. I have just come back from Greece where I was lecturing at a summer school. One of the days was spent on a field trip including a visit to a former immigration detention centre, now an immigration processing centre. There were about forty students, almost all of them young women. Walking to the gates we passed by small tents, people outside the processing centre, waiting to get in and camping out with no toilet or washing facilities, surrounded by rubbish. Almost all of them were men, from Syria or Afghanistan. Many were keen to talk to these young women, sharing watermelon and Facebook contacts. ‘We’re nice guys, nice guys!’ I wondered how the interactions would have changed had the group been predominantly male, or older, or indeed had it been night time. The male guards then let all of us into the detention centre―with no passport checks (thank goodness as I didn’t have my passport!)―again I thought this might have been different had there been more men. Social relations are always gendered, and immigration and immigration research are no exceptions.

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How did migration play out in the 2015 General Election?

By: Ben Gidley, Associate Professor and Senior Researcher

The final COMPAS Breakfast Briefing of the 2014-15 series was held earlier in July, featuring Madeleine Sumption, Carlos Vargas-Silva and Rob McNeil of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, exploring what the recent UK elections mean for the migration field.

The dog that didn’t bark

Rob McNeil, the Observatory’s head of media and communications, introduced the briefing by focusing on how the migration issue played out in the election debate. To some extent, migration was seen as “the dog that didn’t bark” in the election. With UKIP seen as the main beneficiary of the salience of the migration issue, the mainstream parties were less keen to keep it on the agenda.

Rob explained this by showing how trust in political parties on the migration issue has shifted under the Coalition: while in 2010 the Conservatives benefitted from being the public’s most trusted party on the topic, there has been a “convergence of distrust”.

In my view, this is the result of the arms race the mainstream parties played over this issue. In 2012, I wrote that media and politicians’ fixation on the numbers game led to a rhetoric of toughness from both sides of the party divide, as politicians have attempted to demonstrate that they can get a grip on the numbers. [This has driven] a vicious circle, as politicians’ pronouncements on the scale of the problem feed the fears that generate a public desire for tougher controls. This vicious circle has created the situation where the Coalition government has made itself hostage to an almost certainly unattainable policy goal of reducing net migration “to the tens of thousands”.

The quest to reduce net migration

Because of that vicious circle, the Coalition and now Conservative governments’ attempts to meet Cameron’s rash net migration target has been one of the driving forces of immigration policy-making, apparently trumping other policy goals – whether economic rationales for using managed migration to build a knowledge economy or humanitarian responses to war and crisis.

With the pre-2010 Points Based System having reduced non-EU unskilled labour migration to a minimum and Labour’s extreme asylum restrictionism, the 2010 government found very few pathways to reducing net migration. Consequently, government has had to focus on some of the migration categories that not previously featured in the migration debate: family migrants, students and skilled labour migrants. Two of these groups – skilled migrants arriving under Tier 2 of the Points Based System and people who come here to study – were the focus of the remainder of the Migration Observatory briefing.

The Tier 2 cap

In April 2011, to be seen to meet the numbers reduction objective, an annual cap was introduced on Tier 2 migrants, temporary skilled workers from outside the UK. Due to pressure from business, which relies on high skill migration, the cap was set fairly high, and applications remained below the cap. As a result, as Madeleine Sumption showed in the briefing, the cap did not prevent a single person from entering the UK over the course of the last parliament. However, with the economic recovery, migration under this route has steadily increased, and in the year from April 2014 for the first time applications approached the level of the cap. In June 2015, the number of applications exceeded the cap for the first time.

Now, to get numbers down, the government has announced it will further tighten Tier 2 migration – which potentially puts them on collision course with business. Madeleine discussed the implications and trade-offs that will follow from this. Among these are the sectors (such as health and care) where salary is a poor proxy for contribution, so that capping based on income will reduce highly valued forms of skilled migration. Another is the possibility of creating a significant category of “permanently temporary” workers, conditionally accepted into the labour market to meet particular skills needs but denied social rights or access to permanent settlement.

International students and the net-migration target

A second area where the government has sought action is around students, on which Carlos Vargas-Silva presented. Because net migration figures are based on the International Passenger Survey (IPS) estimate of people coming in and going out, students arriving to study and leaving after their course is over are counted, which inflate the total numbers.

Some commentators have argued that students should not be seen as contributors to net migration and that there should not be a policy target to reduce their numbers, as students are temporary, are often not considered “immigrants”, and bring economic benefits. The Migration Observatory has recently published a Commentary on this.

Taking students out of the target would involve calculating a new level of non-student net migration from the IPS. The most obvious way to do this is to calculate net migration of all people who do not arrive as students, by removing students from inflows and removing former students from outflows – which is now possible to do with IPS data. Observatory analysis shows that removing students from the count would have meant the government would have met its net migration target in 2012 and 2013. Even only removing non-EU students would have enabled the government to meet its target in 2012. However, the target would still have been exceeded in 2014, with net migration, including that of students, on the increase.

Family migration

A third area where the government has sought to reduce numbers to meet its target is around family migration. This topic was not covered in the Breakfast Briefing, but I wanted to briefly flag it because it relates to the recent publication of the 2015 edition of Migrant Integration Policy Index, MIPEX, which measures countries’ policy commitment to the integration of legally resident migrants.

The UK’s ranking in MIPEX fell in the new edition, out of the top 10 to a mid-table no.15. The area where it fell mostly dramatically was around family life:

Separated families now face the least ‘family-friendly’ immigration policies in the developed world: the longest delays and highest income, language and fee levels, one of the few countries with language test abroad and restricted access to benefits.

COMPAS provided most of the data on the UK for the MIPEX update, and I have writtenon our results at Migrant Pulse, The Conversation and LeftFootForward. I suggested that this risk to the possibility of integration is a direct result of the net migration target and the restrictionist agenda it drives, but that there has not been a policy debate about the desirability of trading off family life between reduced migration.


The fourth area where the government has sought to reduce numbers is migration from elsewhere in the EU. Free movement is a key tenet of EU membership, and thus EU migration is the hardest element of net migration to change. But the government has sought to reduce EU migrants’ social and employment rights in order to reduce flows. At the end of the Observatory briefing, Carlos raised a series of areas where the Observatory is developing analysis now, to be published over the coming months. In terms of numbers and selection:

  • Who could be expected to qualify for admission if they faced the same rules as non-EU nationals?
  • Which sectors would be most affected by any changes?

In terms of in-work benefits:

  • What are the characteristics of families who are claiming in-work benefits?
  • What does this tell us about the impacts of proposed residence requirements on future migrants?

In terms of “demand-reduction” policies:

  • What are the expected effects of policies designed to reduce demand for low-wage labour from overseas without changing the UK-EU relationship?

And in terms of Brits abroad:

  • If EU countries imposed admission restrictions on British citizens in an exit scenario, which groups would be most likely to be affected and how?

Some of these areas, and more, will also feature in next year’s Breakfast Briefings, which will include a series of six briefings starting after the summer, as part of the ESRC’s UK in a changing Europe programme.

The light of evidence

After scheduling the first series of the UK in Europe briefings, I will be stepping down from my role in co-ordinating COMPAS’ Breakfast Briefings, which I have done for five years now, working with the invaluable Ida Persson. Over the five years, we have covered an enormous range of topics, featured some of the top academics from several UK universities, as well as contributors from government, thinktanks and other bodies. We have been kindly hosted by the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, who have also presented some of our best briefings.

I started to list some of my personal favourites from the series – Ben Rogaly and Becky Taylor on the white working class, Les Back on young migrant lives, Allan Findlay on climate change, Neil Coles and Gill Green on the private rented sector, Matthew Goodwin on the EDL, Peter Neumann on foreign fighters, Dan Silver on working class community, and several by the Home Office’s Jon Simmons – but the list soon began to get too long.

We don’t know the extent to which the presentation of evidence in these briefings has filtered through to decision makers or to the wider public debate. But we do know that continuing to promote an evidence-based conversation about migration remains an urgent task.

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EU migration and welfare benefits: Is unrestricted labour immigration compatible with an inclusive welfare state?

By: Martin Ruhs, Associate Professor of Political Economy and Senior Researcher

(This blog was first posted on 25 June on The Price of Rights website)

Reforming the rules for the free movement of workers within the European Union (EU) is one of the central elements of the Conservative Government’s efforts to negotiate a “better deal” for Britain in the run up to the referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU. One of the key demands of the UK government is to restrict EU workers’ access to tax-credits and other in-work benefits for low-income earners for a period of four years, a policy position broadly shared by the Labour party which proposed to ban EU workers from accessing tax-credits for the firsttwo years of employment in the UK.

The UK’s proposals for changing the rules for intra-EU labour migration face legal obstacles in the form of treaty changes that may be necessary as well as political challenges with convincing other EU member states that reforms are necessary, not only for the UK but for the future sustainability of free movement among the 28 member states. While the UK is not alone in calling for changes to the rules for the free movement of labour within the EU, the European Commission and some member states including Germany have, at least so far, expressed opposition to making significant changes to one of the “fundamental freedoms of the EU”.

In a new working paper, I discuss an important conceptual and empirical question that has a long history in social science research and that, I argue, underpins the current debates about reforming free movement in the EU: is it possible to combine unrestricted labour immigration with an inclusive welfare state?

Under the current rules for ‘free movement’, citizens of EU countries have the right to freely migrate and work in any other EU country and – as long as they qualify as workers – the right to full and equal access to that country’s welfare state. This combination of unrestricted intra-EU migration and equal access to national welfare states for EU workers is an important exception to the tension and trade-off between immigration and access to social rights that characterizes the labour immigration policies of most high-income countries outside the EU and many European countries’ policies for admitting non-EU workers.

Does ‘free movement’ in the EU show that the alleged tension between large-scale labour immigration and inclusive welfare states does not exist or, if it exists, that it can be overcome? Or will the free movement of workers within the EU prove to be unsustainable?

In my paper, I argue and show why continuing to insist on both unrestricted migration and equal access to national welfare states for EU workers has the potential to undermine the political sustainability of ‘free movement’ because it does not take adequate account of important differences in the labour markets and welfare states across EU member states.

In a free movement area with unrestricted labour migration across countries, the nature of the labour market plays an important role in shaping the scale of immigration in particular countries. More flexible labour markets tend to attract more migrant workers, especially for employment in lower-waged jobs, than more regulated labour markets. This is because flexible labour markets are characterized by fewer employment rights and protections, and thus make it easier and less costly for employers to “hire and fire” workers, than more regulated labour markets.

At the same time, the nature of the welfare state, especially the extent to which it provides non-contributory benefits (i.e. welfare benefits that are paid regardless of whether the beneficiary has made prior contributions or not), impacts on the net-fiscal contribution that new migrants make. In countries with welfare systems characterized by a high share of non-contributory benefits, low-skilled immigration will, everything else being equal, create a smaller net-benefit (or greater net-loss) than in countries with welfare states that include a greater share of contributory benefits (i.e. benefits that are only paid if the beneficiary and their employer has made a prior contribution). To be sure, the fiscal effects of immigration also depend on a range of other determinants but the role of non-contributory benefits is an important factor.

The flexibility of the national labour market and the nature of the national welfare state differ significantly across EU member states. In countries that have both a relatively flexible labour market and a relatively non-contributory welfare state (and the exploratory empirical analysis in my working paper suggests that this is the case in the UK and Ireland) ‘free movement’ can generate specific fiscal costs and economic tensions that are not present, at least not to the same degree, in countries characterised by more regulated labour markets and/or more contributory welfare states. These specific costs and economic tensions have the potential to undermine the domestic political support for the free movement of EU workers, thus threatening the political sustainability of the current rules for intra-EU migration among the 28 member states.

Whether and to what extent this potential threat results in actual political pressure for policy change in countries with relatively flexible labour markets and relatively non-contributory welfare states depends on a range of factors relating to, among other things, the (frequently contested) wider economic effects of free movement and the domestic politics of immigration which can and do vary across member states.

For example, the generosity of the national welfare state clearly matters. If a welfare state is relatively non-contributory but at the same time provides a relatively “low” level of benefits – keeping in mind that what constitutes a “high” and “low” is always subjective – the tension between unrestricted immigration and equal access to the welfare state may not create a significant domestic political issue. In the UK, the newly elected Government has committed to significant cuts in welfare spending and David Cameron has recently signalled plans to reduce in-work tax-credits for everybody (not just migrants). By changing the generosity and nature of the welfare state for everybody, some of the economic tensions created by free movement will become much smaller.

I argue that one of the most important determinants of the political sustainability of free movement in countries with relatively flexible labour markets and relatively non-contributory welfare states (such as the UK and Ireland) is whether it is possible for national policy-makers to politically defend the current rules for free movement based on the “collective impacts on the EU as a whole” (i.e. in terms of the impacts on all EU citizens as a group) rather than just (or primarily) in terms of the “national” effects for their citizens.

If there is widespread agreement within the domestic policy spheres of EU member states that the primary (or at least an important) aim of free movement is to maximize the net-benefits for the EU as a whole (i.e. for all EU citizens), the relatively greater costs incurred from immigration by selected member states, especially those with flexible labour markets and less contributory welfare states, will be less important as these costs will be easily offset by the very large gains that employment abroad generates for EU migrants and their families. It is not unreasonable to hypothesise that Ireland may be an example of this approach. Despite its similarity to the UK in terms of labour market flexibility and contributory basis of the welfare state, Ireland has not been among the most vocal advocates for reforming the current rules for free movement.

If, on the other hand, there are strong domestic political pressures to increase the net-benefits from free movement for individual member states – as it is currently the case in the UK – the tension between unrestricted immigration and equal access to the welfare state can become a problem that threatens the political sustainability of free movement. My own assessment (which is necessarily subjective and surely influenced by the fact that I have been an EU migrant in EU-sceptical Britain for the past 20 years!) is that, to be politically sustainable in the long run, EU laws and policies need to take more and not less account of (variations in) their national effects for individual member states.

Paying more attention to the impacts of free movement for individual EU member states requires an engagement with the tension between unrestricted labour immigration and migrant workers’ access to the welfare state. How to best respond to this tension is a normative question with no one right answer. In line with the discussion in my recent book The Price of Rights, my own normative position is that, if a choice has to be made, the unrestricted movement of workers within the EU is more important than fully equal access to EU member states’ welfare states.

The freedom to move and take up employment in other EU countries generates very large economic and other gains for workers and their families in lower-income member states. Protecting this freedom and these gains is, in my view, worth the price of temporary restrictions on EU workers’ access to national welfare states, especially to non-contributory benefits.

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Sex discrimination and UK immigration law

By: Catherine Briddick, DPhil candidate, Law Faculy, University of Oxford

Catherine’s research examines European responses to violence against women that have developed in migration law. Catherine is a barrister (now non-practicing) who has worked on violence against women issues in the not-for-profit sector.  Catherine is Chair of Asylum Aid. You can follow her on Twitter @CateBriddick.   

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until mid-July. 

Direct discrimination on the grounds of sex has been a feature of immigration law in the past and remains a part of immigration processes as central to the enjoyment of fundamental rights as refugee status determination. See, for example, asylum appeal statistics which show that women are significantly more likely than men to have a Home Office decision to refuse them asylum overturned on appeal and Asylum Aid researchwhich highlights the direct discrimination that women asylum-seekers encounter when having their claims for protection decided.

The focus of this blog, however, is on the indirect discrimination that migrant women are subject to by virtue of their position as subjects of UK immigration law. Of course, sex discrimination is not the only form of discrimination that can be identified in UK immigration law, its heteronormativity or the impact of particular rules or decisions on people of different nationalities might also be of concern, as might be discrimination that occurs for more than one reason, such as in relation to sex and nationality. Why is it, for example, that if you are Somali are you only half as likely to receive settlement (the right to live permanently in the UK) as a spouse than if you are Pakistani?

What’s interesting about immigration law’s sex discrimination is the extent to which it’s under researched and theorised, despite the fact discriminatory stereotypes based on gender (and indeed sexual orientation) are ‘written into’ UK immigration law and practice in a way that would be considered unacceptable in any other legal domain, including those, such as family law, that make such identities and relationships the object of its concern. Take for instance, the requirement that a wife obtains her husband’s signature on her application for leave to remain as a spouse. Alternatively, we might want to consider the privileging of marriage and heteronormativity that results in the Home Office reporting on the number of common-law spouses or same-sex and civil partner ‘wives’ or ‘husbands’ settling in the UK, when there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’ and the attribution of gendered roles such as those of ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ might be problematic in any sphere, never mind when used to describe roles or positions in same-sex relationships. The discriminatory nature of practices like those described here are ‘hidden in plain sight’, masked by immigration law’s greater discrimination as between nationals and non-nationals.

Indirect discrimination against women in immigration law can be shown through a brief consideration of labour migration to the UK. It is not just that the majority of labour migrants are men, whilst the majority of family migrants are women, but that within the highly stratified labour migration system, statistical information obtained from the Home Office via freedom of information legislation shows that men are are significantly more likely than women to benefit from the rights that accrue to skilled or highly skilled migrants (those on Tiers 1 and 2 of the Points-Based system). In comparison, women disproportionately receive the most disadvantageous labour migration status that exists, that of a domestic worker. Significant disparities in the proportions of men and women in different migration categories might be unproblematic if those categories bestowed ‘equal’ rights. But women are disproportionately present precisely in those immigration categories that lead to material disadvantage.

Drawing on Bridget Anderson’s analysis of how migration law ‘fashions’ precarious workers, the material disadvantage that migration law’s indirect discrimination against women produces can be understood  by reference to the reduction of women’s rights, forced dependency and precarity.

Those labour migrants who are considered skilled or highly-skilled are able to benefit from the ability to bring family members with them to the UK, can change employers and may be eligible for the right to settlement within a comparatively short period of time. Their positions of dependency on their employer or sponsoring body might well be problematic, but the disadvantage that results from this is of a different order to that experienced by domestic workers.

Domestic workers, in comparison, are entirely dependent on their employer for their migration status, and their position in the UK is precarious because they are granted leave for one unrenewable period of 6 months. Domestic workers are unable to bring family members with them, cannot change employers, cannot ‘switch’ to remain in the UK on a different basis and are not eligible to settle in the UK. KALAYAAN research has shown that, unsurprisingly, domestic workers have reported increased levels of exploitation, physical and sexual violence under this regime (known as the ‘Tied ODW visa’) since its introduction in 2012.

The Home Office’s justifications for the facets of the Tied ODW regime identified here as producing disadvantage are of particular concern. By stating that restrictions to the route are warranted because ‘those who enter in this capacity are not assessed against the economic needs of the country’ the Home Office is implying that the changes to the route that make it so disadvantageous can be justified as legitimate means of deterring people (women) from using it. The removal of the right to change employer is justified by reference to the existence of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for victims of trafficking whilst the limitation of leave is justified by reference to the ability of the employer (not the employee) to ‘transition’ to life in the UK and recruit workers from the UK ‘labour pool’.

Whilst the NRM may identify and protect (some) victims of trafficking (a proposition that may also be doubted), it cannot assist those who are exploited in other ways by their employer (for example by having their wages paid late or being otherwise ill-treated). That the limitation on leave is justified by reference to the needs of the employer rather than the employee is striking, as it positions migrant domestic workers as a ‘benefit’ that might be given to (or taken away from) those that the Home Office wants to attract to the UK. When one approaches the ODW regime from this perspective, i.e. as a benefit that accrues to someone other than the person whose rights in the UK are determined by it, its considerable disadvantages suddenly make ‘sense’ as the route changes demand structures in this part of the economy, depressing wages and preventing domestic workers from securing better employment elsewhere. Justifications for disadvantage that are premised on that disadvantage being beneficial to others (such as an employer or the UK economy) cannot be accepted as legitimate justifications for discriminatory treatment.

It is thus clear that men are more likely than women to benefit from the comparatively generous rules that apply to migrants at the ‘top’ of the labour migration hierarchy. In contrast, women’s migratory routes, such as the Tied ODW Visa, produce material disadvantage, restricting rights and producing and reinforcing women’s dependency and precarity in unjustifiable ways. Sex discrimination continues, therefore, to play a central part in UK immigration law.

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Gender, Migration, ‘Trafficking’ and the Troublesome Relationship between Agency and Force

By: Julia O’Connell Davidson, Professor of Sociology, University of Nottingham

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until mid-July. 

Though anti-trafficking campaigners often state that men, as well as women and children, can be ‘victims of trafficking,’ the concept of ‘trafficking,’ especially that of ‘sex trafficking,’ actually provides a highly gendered lens through which to view the experience of migrants who are subject to various forms of exploitation, abuse, and violence in the destination country. This is because it hinges on an imagined line between those who’ve actively chosen to move and consented to the type of work they will undertake and the conditions under which it will be undertaken, and those who’ve been tricked, cheated, bullied, and trapped. In other words, it conceives of migrants as either willing selves, acting on the basis of their own freely made choices, or as forced to submit to the will of another. Some campaigners even describe ‘victims of trafficking’ as having ‘lost’ their agency along with their freedom. And here is where we enter territory that’s profoundly gendered and aged because adult men are regarded as almost by definition authors of their own destinies, whereas women and children’s grip on their own wills is understood to be already fragile and tenuous. They are readily imagined in the garb of victimhood.

How can researchers challenge this gendered vision in work on migrants who end up in appalling and highly exploitative conditions? One approach is to question the dominant liberal emphasis on the voluntariness of contract and whether or not violence or its threat is used to prevent a migrant worker from freely ‘walking away’ from an exploitative employment relation. This emphasis reflects a preoccupation with the form of compulsion produced by the exercise of direct, personalistic power, and so a very narrow and distinct understanding of ‘force.’ It reproduces a liberal vision of a world in which people are eitherabject, passive objects and slaves or freely contracting subjects, thereby missing the unseen, structural factors that force fates on men as well as women and children under the social relations of capitalism. It privileges a very particular kind of ‘freedom’―what G.A. Cohen described as the ‘the bare bourgeois freedom which distinguishes the most abject proletarian from the slave.’ We might, then, look to Marxist inspired critiques of neoliberal capitalism for tools with which to uncover how force works upon subaltern men, women, and children alike in the contemporary world.

However, the liberal model of people as either objects or subjects also works to obscure the agency that people (women and children as well as adult men) exercise in choosing between the narrow range of fates available and working them as best they can to meet their own interests and goals. And in this regard, Marxist critiques don’t always provide a clear counterpoint. In fact, there’s sometimes an alarming congruity between the representations of ‘victims of trafficking’ and ‘modern slaves’ in dominant liberal discourse, and representations of exploited workers of the Global South found in some Marxist writings on informalization, labour migration, and oppression under neoliberal capitalism. Likewise, some strands of feminist thought produce a vision of female migrants, especially those working in the sex industry, as non-agential objects, swept along like flotsam and jetsam by structural forces. In reaction against this, other commentators strongly emphasize the agency of such workers and/or construct their action as a form of resistance against patriarchal norms or the exclusionary forces of neoliberal capitalism.

Vincent Brown’s comments on how studies of transatlantic slavery ‘often divide between works that emphasize the overwhelming power of the institution and scholarship that focuses on the resistant efforts of the enslaved’ also speak to a dilemma faced by scholars and activists in relation to many groups of contemporary migrant workers. When writing against contemporary processes of neoliberal economic reform or of gender as a contemporary system of domination, those at the sharp end of these processes can easily (if unwittingly) be worked as figures that stand in for capitalism’s ideally subjugated, precarious workers, or patriarchy’s quintessentially dominated female Other. Their story is told in such a way as to reveal the workings of force, and so to emphasize the overwhelming power of the structures that oppress migrants, workers, and/or women. And a very obvious, and very serious, problem that arises from this, as much as from the depiction of the same people as ‘victims of trafficking,’ is that it encourages policies designed to prevent migration, suppress prostitution, eradicate certain forms of child labour, and so on, thereby further limiting the possible livelihood strategies open to those whose choices are already heavily restricted. And yet to simply invert the discourse and celebrate the self-activity of such workers as either a form of resistance or an expression of their resilience and creativity, runs the danger of reinscribing the liberal association between consent and freedom.

We need research that treads a course between these opposing narratives. We need studies that neither reduce their research subjects to abject victims and suffering bodies, nor romanticize them as ‘heroic subalterns,’ and that don’t insist on a gendered and aged division between willing subjects or will-less objects, or attempt to correct this by seeking liberalism’s rugged individual subject in all alike. Fortunately, there are a number of examples of ethnographies that do just this, including Svati Shah’s recent ethnography of migrant women in Mumbai whose livelihood strategies included both sex work and other forms of paid labour, Mark Johnson’s study of Filipino domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, and the research described in contributions to Tiantian Zheng’s edited volume on sex trafficking.  These and other studies suggest that a different vision of the relation between agency and force is required in order to trace the complicated intersections of gender, race, age, class, and other structural forces in shaping the experience of different groups of migrant workers. We need to simultaneously recognize the workings of force and the inalienability of the human will, and to approach agency as, in Shah’s words, ‘the capacity to act―differential, context specific’ and yet ‘always, in some fashion extant’.

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Gender, class and migration governance: a labour sending country perspective

By: Hiranthi Jayaweera, Senior Researcher

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June. 

In February this year, the Ministry of Foreign Employment in Sri Lanka issued a circular titled ‘obtaining a Family Background Report of the women who aspire to go overseas for employment’ to administrators responsible for implementing the migration regulatory framework at a local – district, village – level. This family background report is specifically for women who ‘aspire’ to migrate as domestic workers or for any ‘non-professional employment’. The circular stipulates that on the basis of the report women with children under age 5 will not be ‘recommended’ for migration and those with older children will only be recommended if the officials are satisfied with the arrangements for the care of their children while the women are abroad. The circular simply formalises requirements and arrangements that have been in operation since 2013, the rationale for which is given as a concern ‘to prevent various difficulties and social problems that may be caused … when women migrate for employment without confirming the protection of their children.’ In the case of each woman, the official now needs to send a text message to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment with her passport details and a code ‘R’ if recommended and ‘NR’ if not. A similar reporting requirement does not exist for male labour migrants, or presumably for women leaving for ‘professional’ jobs abroad. The restrictions on migrant domestic workers with children have been criticised by women’s rights organisations in Sri Lanka as interfering with the freedom of movement of women enshrined in international human rights conventions. It is of concern that despite all these criticisms over the past two years, the new circular simply reinforces the content of previous versions.

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Centering orality: Exploring gendered wartime violence with South Sudanese women elders

By: Sara Maher, PhD student at Monash University.

Sara researches the impact of mass abduction and enslavement of South Sudanese borderlands women, during the second Sudanese civil war (1983-2005). This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

The precursor to my PhD research was an oral history project with South Sudanese Women elders. The Anyikool Project collected over thirty hours of life stories and those recordings have now become part of the oral archive of the State Library of Victoria, (Melbourne, Australia). The archive, in which women are vastly unrepresented, now includes African Australian women for the first time. The interviews will soon be made available online.

A knowledge of the recent history of South Sudan helps to contextualise these stories but this is not essential. All the interviews follow the same loose structure but vary greatly in content. The full spectrum of the class system is represented, from royal family to peasant farmers. About half of the participants had received some education, three had tertiary degrees. The women had been, in their former lives, farmers and teachers and nurses; a politician, a soldier, a businesswoman and a development worker. Individually, the interviews are nuanced portraits, covering a wide range of experience, including migration to Australia. As a collection, the thirty plus hours bring to life the cultural diversity and the conflicts that are synonymous with southern Sudan in the mid to late 20th century.

AwiliOpirOkach, Anyuak.: “… no medicine, no food, just horror everywhere”

Photo: S. Maher

Like South Sudan itself, the South Sudanese diaspora in Australia is extraordinarily diverse; culturally, linguistically, socially and economically. They constitute Australia’s largest minority community—of a refugee background—roughly twenty-thousand of whom reside in Victoria. Participants in the Anyikool Project represented seven different ethnic groups; Kuku, Bari, Anyuak, Chollo, Nuer, Dinka and Acholi. Multiple sub-groups exist within these ethnic groups, but all participants, other than Bari, originate from borderlands—the Acholi and Kuku with Uganda, the Anyuak with Ethiopia, Chollo, Dinka and Nuer on the northern border with Sudan. Women elders are a small percentage of the South Sudanese Australian diaspora and are rarely heard beyond their community for reasons of health and age, language barriers and isolation, yet they maintain the oral traditions of their cultures. Their stories are compelling and evocative, conveying unique accounts of a period in their country’s history that includes the introduction of missionary run Western-style education, the end of Colonialsim, the first civil war (1956-1972) as well as an array of cultural practices including marriage, food production and family life.

Hannah NyabielPonam, Nuer:  “…life was always on the running”

Photo: S. Maher

Powerful and often haunting accounts of the second civil war, (1983-2005) provide new knowledge and understandings of the gendered violence these women suffered during that long war. Raids on their homes by government-backed militias, and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), forced vast numbers into destitution and impoverishment, internal displacement and to cross borders into neighbouring countries as refugees. Famine, disease, enslavement and genocidal violence killed over two million people and displaced more than four million.

Throughout the twenty-one years of conflict there were uncountable incidents of gendered violence.  Stories of the war vary in perspective due to tribal and political affiliations but all of the women’s accounts embody survival in the face of extreme adversity. Women and children were targeted by militias and the SAF who avoided conflict with the rebel army, Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA), and instead attacked unprotected villages with the express purpose of destroying families and livelihoods. Communities on the northern border between the Arab north and the African south were especially hard hit. The border is historically porous, contested and hostile. For centuries African southerners have been abducted into slavery and trafficked across this border, a practice that had slowed by the end of British colonialism in the mid-1950s but remerged during the war.  It has been claimed that between 1983 and 2002, up to 200,000, mainly women and children, were abducted and trafficked into rural and urban slavery in northern cities and neighbouring countries. It is impossible to know how many remain enslaved. Such was the prevalence of slave traiding almost all Anyikool Project participants, without prompting, referred to or spoke of it directly. During one interview, the interpreter interjected and described their experience of being taken as a child during a raid and forced into slavery on a farm in the north until escaping months later.

Sudan’s wartime borders were often natural barriers, changeable, unpredictable, some guarded, others not. The Kirr River in the province of the Bahr el-Ghazal separated southern Sudan from the north. The Gilo River in the Gambela district of Ethiopia was the border with Sudan. Thousands of women and children fleeing violence had no choice but to cross these rivers, made dangerous by deep, fast water, armed attacks and wild animals. Rarely did the crossing of these rivers lead to safety.

NayanutManyangArop, Dinka:  “….they kill the men and take women and girls.”

Photo: S.Maher

Those who travelled north did so believing falsely that they might find some protection in the so-called peace camps and shanty’s of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. But first they had to safely cross the Kirr and make the long trek through Baggara territory with the risk of being killed, abducted or raped by their militia. The alternative was to move east into Ethiopia via the Gilo River, another long, dangerous trek that could take months. Three refugee camps were created in Ethiopia from the mid-1980s; Dimma, Pinyudo and Itang. Of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who filled those camps, approximately 27 thousand were unaccompanied and orphaned children—a group that became known as the Lost Boys.

MagretNyapurMamur, Chollo: “….we were never safe”

When the Mengistu government fell in 1991, those refugees were forced out of the camps back across the Gilo River by Ethiopian militias. A woman gave birth the night before the camp was attacked and put the newborn in a bucket, the bucket on her head and walked to the Gilo river with her two other small children. At the river she wove reeds into a basket, put the children in it and crossed safely. A group of women pulled their children across in a fishing net at low tide. But many did not survive. Estimates of the number of fatalities at the Gilo River range from two to nine thousand. In most case they were children, drowned, eaten by crocodiles or killed by militias.

Photo: S. Maher

The women conveyed these stories in a range of ways, including urgency, sadness and nonchalance. One woman showed signs of traumatic distress and accepted a referral to a trauma agency. On the whole it seems that these women want to speak about that time. They remain silent only until they are asked. Being heard means their experience is acknowledged. And that is one of the purposes of the doctoral research the Anyikool Project led to. The other is to address the impact of slavery ten years after the war ended; to address social and cultural changes caused by the mass scale abductions. Questions are few in number and non-prescriptive, designed to encourage the orality of the participants. Fieldwork in Australia will begin in the coming weeks. Fieldwork in South Sudan will be conducted later this year. Despite a new life in a new country, South Sudanese Australians remain intensely connected to their homeland. While South Sudan achieved independence in 2011, the country has not found stability or peace. A third civil war erupted in December 2013. Memories of the past had always been fresh and alive before this, but the latest conflict has torn open old wounds. All attempts to end the current conflict have failed, adding to the already profound sense of loss and injustice that already haunted the country and its Diasporas.

The women elders of South Sudan have much to offer in terms of discourses on wartime gendered violence, on trafficking and slavery and border crossings; discourses that have historically excluded women’s stories. By engaging with indigenous knowledge, social science researchers can tap a vast wealth of experience and knowing. Methodologies that center around orality can de-colonise knowledge production and lead researchers into largely unexplored territory.

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Book Review: The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women

By: Angelo Tramountanis, Researcher at the National Centre for Social Research (EKKE) and Phd Candidate at the Panteion University of Athens, Greece.

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

In The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women, Alison Gerard (Routledge, 2014) discusses existing conflicts between the responsibility of a state to protect refugee populations and the securitization of migration. She argues that, in essence, these two notions seem to be mutually exclusive. States and supranational organizations such as the European Union, use the tools provided by the securitization of migration in order to curb the rights that, in other circumstances, they would be obliged to provide to individuals seeking humanitarian protection. As Jef Huysmans argues, through the process of European integration, the securitization of migration is evident in three major themes: internal security, cultural identity, and the crisis of the welfare system. Following this typology, Gerard uncovers the ways in which the securitization of migration affects the choices, lives, and strategies of those who travel to Europe in order to seek protection. She does so by focusing on the specific case of Somali women arriving in Malta.

The securitization of migration, refugee protection, gender, and irregular immigration are the key parameters through which the main research question of this book is formulated: ‘What is the impact of the securitization of migration on women’s experience across the four key stages of migration―exit, transit, arrival and onward migration’ (p. 3). In order to answer this question, Gerard has organized her work in eight chapters. In the first, she describes the current irregular migration trends, discusses the methodology she employed for her research, and gives a brief migration profile of Malta. The second and third chapters provide the conceptual framework and structural analysis of the two regimes in conflict: the securitization of migration and refugee protection. The following four chapters examine the empirical data of the impact of securitization on the experiences of migrants during the four key stages of the migration process. The last chapter returns to the key tensions and research questions, and attempts to identify the pathways necessary in order to transcend these tensions.

Through her analysis, Gerard argues that the paradox between the refugee protection framework and the securitization of migration is evident in five intertwined areas. The first area relates to the restrictions imposed on border crossings by sovereign states, which directly contrast the right of individuals to cross international borders in order to seek protection. The second tension is the contradiction between providing sustainable solutions for refugees, and the increasingly popular practice of containing (or ‘warehousing’) populations for prolonged periods of time. The third tension lies between states’ obligation to provide rights and entitlements to refugees, and the continuing attempt to dilute these rights with the introduction and codification of temporary forms of protection. The fourth tension deals with crimes of entry, since refugee protection principles prescribe non-penalization for those who illegally enter a country to seek asylum, yet the use of administrative detention for those that illegally cross international borders is becoming widespread. Last but not least, the fifth tension arises from states’ obligation to not commit refoulement, when in practice states employ all means possible to deter ‘onward migration’―that is, the mobility of migrants beyond those member states that form the external borders of the European Union.

Gerard’s research took place in the island of Malta, which is strategically situated in the borderline that divides the so-called global north from global south. Furthermore, Malta is in the periphery of the EU and―alongside Greece and Italy―receives a large part of migrants attempting to make their way to Europe. In the book, Gerard focuses specifically on Somali refugee women. She doesn’t use the term ‘refugee’ as strictly defined in the 1951 Refugee Convention. Rather, she takes a broader definition that includes those women who self-identify as refugees―those in need of some form of humanitarian protection. Gerard carried out her research using a mixed-method qualitative approach, including semi-structured interviews with refugee women, as well as NGO and law enforcement representatives.

The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women exposes its readers to the migration of these women through the above-mentioned four (non-linear) stages that form a migration process. Readers follow this process through participants’ eyes and experience the journey from the country (or countries) of exit to Malta. We observe the particularities and dangers of their journeys, particularly with regards to their gender. Indeed, gender is pivotal in Gerard’s research. Most mainstream literature on the migration experience is based on the narratives of immigrant men, while women’s migration is perceived as associated and dependent on the decisions of their male counterparts. Gerard demonstrates how gender is a key factor in the decision to exit the county of origin, in the choice of the different routes taken and strategies employed during the transit phase, and in the different experiences during arrival. Gender is an important lens through which we can witness the consequences of securitization of migration in the process of seeking protection.

Through the narratives presented in The Securitization of Migration and Refugee Women, we also witness how gender-based violence and insecurity influence the decisions of Somali women to exit their country, and how they’re prioritized to leave before their male family members. Women further describe the dangers and forms of violence (both direct and structural) that they experience during the transit stage―the journey from the point of exit, to the point of arrival, Malta. Exposure to violence at this stage can be mediated by money. When women lack adequate access to financial resources, their bodies may serve as a form of currency.

The criminalization of migration begins when women arrive in Malta. For this ‘crime of arrival,’ immigrants are punished both explicitly and implicitly in specific legal and administrative areas of life. Furthermore, the sexual violence experienced by these women during the exit and transit stages shape their experiences of arrival in Malta, since many arrive pregnant or with children. Women themselves regard the Dublin II Regulation as further punishing them upon their arrival (or return) to Malta. We see how they become ‘stuck’ in Malta, in a ‘constant state of arrival,’ without the option of going back, moving to another country, and, most importantly, reuniting with their families.

Gender also shapes eventual onward migration, and the outcome of these journeys. We witness how the strategic decisions by these women regarding onward migration are undermined by the operation of the Dublin II Regulation. Furthermore, Gerard shows how different resettlement programs perceive this population either as ‘resource intensive’―and hence not appealing to be selected for resettlement―or as exactly the opposite, a vulnerable population that should be prioritized above all others.

The thorough analysis provided by Gerard makes this book a highly recommended read for a wide-ranging audience, from NGO personnel to policy-makers and legislators. Overall, this book achieves its main goal and contributes significantly to the debate on the tensions between the securitization of migration and the refugee protection framework.

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Spousal Migration, Gender and UK Immigration Law

By: Helena Wray, Associate Professory of Law, Middlesex University

This post is part of the joint blog series on ‘Gender and Migration’ co-hosted by Border Criminologies and COMPAS. Posts in this series will be published on both blogs every Friday until the end of June.

Immigration controls over marriage both reflect and reinforce the gendered norms of family life. In this polarised and politicised arena, such norms have often been articulated with particular crudity. In my work on the regulation of spousal migration, I have shown how certain migrant husbands have been characterised, at best, as cynical instrumentalists and, at worst, as sexually exploitative or abusive. Female citizens, who bear responsibility for national, social and cultural reproduction, have been castigated for their irresponsibility, disloyalty or naivety in entering unsuitable relationships. These ascriptions have been even more marked when relationships have subverted other expectations about power relations and sexual attraction. A relationship between a man from a developing country and an older British woman will often be seen as ruthless opportunism on his part and self-delusion on hers.

However, such controls have never been mainly about gender or marriage.  To be sure, the ways in which gender emerges and is deployed in marriage migration controls have evolved as societal understandings and expectations have changed. Even in this socially conservative arena, ideas about who has agency, who may love whom and who will exploit whom are not exactly the same as they were fifty years ago. But gender’s significance in the control of spousal immigration has also varied according to its ability to serve immigration-related outcomes. Gender, while always present, comes in and out of focus as a critical feature of the legal regime and has been harnessed in different ways to underpin particular forms of exclusion.

The development of differential treatment

Overt gender discrimination is now both legally and culturally unacceptable but this was not always so. Until 1948, women were assumed to adopt the nationality of their husband. British women foolish enough to marry aliens were liable to deportation, disenfranchisement, loss of consular protection, and other disadvantages. Early immigration controls assumed a male worker, wife and dependants. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, which imposed immigration controls on non-white Commonwealth citizens, had a statutory exception for wives and minor children while the admission of husbands was discretionary. For five years from 1969, all Commonwealth husbands were barred from entry in the absence of ‘special features’. Once the ban ended, aspiring migrant husbands continued to be treated less favourably than wives.

This differential treatment ended after the case of Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali, where the European Court of Human Rights confirmed that article 8 ECHR, the right to respect for family life, applies to immigration decisions. However, the Court found against the government not because its policy was too restrictive but because it was discriminatory. Compliance could be achieved through levelling down; an equality of misery for all. Since then, the law has been formally neutral but its gendered implications have not disappeared. Until it was removed in 1997, the primary purpose rule required spouses applying for entry to show that the primary purpose of entry was not immigration. It was particularly used against husbands entering arranged marriages who were said to breach traditions of patrilocal residence by joining their wives in the UK and who could not counter allegations of immigration instrumentalism with a conventional narrative of romantic courtship.

The dismissal of family life claims made under the Human Rights Act 1998 was regularly underpinned by the minimisation of men’s affective ties and commitments. Discussion of immigration control measures directed at preventing forced marriage relied implicitly on common representations of oppressive, patriarchal families and vulnerable female victims. Most recently, the implementation in 2012 of a high income threshold has particularly affected women (and some other groups) hoping to sponsor the entry of a partner, reinforcing a longstanding pattern of greater male exclusion.

The acceptable marriage migrant

But, while gender has been a persistent and protean presence in the control of marriage migration, I would argue that it often appears most salient when the main regulatory concern is elsewhere. All of the measures discussed above were or are ways to control the admission of those whose defect is or was not only or even mainly their gender but their race or nationality, their immigration status or their socio-economic position; classic instances of intersectionality. The primary purpose rule, for example, was only used against men from non-white countries. In the same period, thousands of wives and children from the Indian sub-continent could not join husbands and fathers in the UK because they could not show they were ‘related as claimed’. These surprising conclusions (why would so many men wish to bring in wives and children who were not their own?) were drawn using administrative means including unrealistic documentary demands, reliance on ‘discrepancies’ arising during lengthy and hostile interviews and dubious ‘medical evidence’.

Meanwhile, men and women from white countries continued to enter unhindered. The attempt to raise the minimum age of entry and sponsorship of spouses to 21 was, in effect, struck down by the Supreme Court because it had an insufficient connection with the prevention of forced marriage. But the policy was consonant with wider concerns that transnational arranged marriages, particularly between the young, enabled the reproduction of family norms and practices regarded as problematic. The minimum income requirement is congruent with a policy aim of making immigration an elite activity.

So, while assumptions about gender shape perceptions of who is an acceptable marriage migrant, they also support the routine and unpleasant work of immigration control. Family migration is a tricky proposition for governments. The exclusion of most migrants has little immediate impact on the resident population but marriage migration, by definition, engages the interests of a British citizen or resident in the most intimate sphere of their lives and where they would otherwise expect considerable autonomy. These expectations are sometimes supported by the courts using their human rights jurisdiction. Governments, however, fear the admission of unskilled, culturally different or otherwise apparently unsuitable entrants, undermining restrictive policies elsewhere and perceptions of competence.

The trend in the UK (and in some other European countries) is towards the application to spouses of criteria more commonly associated with economic migrants such as integration and language tests and elevated income requirements. Sham marriage controls often target a much wider group, recently those without approved immigration status. Controls over marriage migration must be justified and explained both more extensively than and differently to other forms of immigration control. In that context, the ability to deploy or rely on gender and gender norms, overt or, in recent times, tacit, to control or cast doubt on the suitability or credibility of unwelcome applicants is a valuable resource.

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