Normalizing Uncertainty, Risking Normality: How Migrants with Precarious Status Live with Troubled Temporalities

Authors: Kathryn Dennler*, York University
Topics: Migration, Immigration/Transnationalism, Canada
Keywords: precarious immigration status, uncertainty, temporality, everyday, future
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Hampton Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Increasing processing times for immigration applications and growing reliance on precarious immigration status as a policy instrument mean that more migrants spend more time living in Canada uncertain if they will be able to remain. During prolonged periods with precarious status, migrants are caught up in bureaucratic processes that impact nearly every intimate aspect of their lives. A growing body of literature about waiting and uncertainty among forced migrants documents an uneasy relationship with time as a radically unknown future unsettles the present. My research extends existing analyses of uncertainty by including a wider set of immigration statuses and by looking at how strategies for coping with uncertainty change over time. I am interested in the dynamics of uncertainty about future presence in Canada—fluctuations in sense of uncertainty across time and space, processes of normalizing uncertainty, and the risks of investing resources in place-based ties. I examine different ways migrants make decisions and allocate resources in the context of uncertainty and what factors disable or enable engagement in meaningful activities. Research findings show that the intersections between uncertainty and particular events—job endings, school years, visa expiration, and changes to immigration policy—increases the level of urgency associated with uncertainty. Secondly, different coping strategies are appropriate for different durations. Participants needed to shift their approach to living with precarious immigration status over time. These two transitions show that people continually reevaluate the foldings of the future into the present that ultimately re-make future possibilities.

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