Listening beyond Immigration Status Categories: Research with People with Precarious Immigration Status in Toronto, Canada

Authors: Kathryn Dennler*, York University
Topics: Immigration/Transnationalism, Political Geography, Canada
Keywords: immigration, policy categories, formal immigration status, precarious immigration status, Toronto
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 15
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Formal immigration status—policy categories assigned to people by the state—is the product of a distinctive lens, a system designed to render people legible for the purposes of governance. Formal immigration status derives from the opportunities to navigate immigration bureaucracy within a field of restricted choice. As such, formal immigration status reveals more about the state and regimes of immigration control than about the person who holds a particular status. Yet because formal immigration statuses are associated with distinct eligibility criteria, rights, and restrictions, status is often deployed in ways that implicitly affirm its reliability as a proxy for identity and experience. Formal immigration status is used as the basis for assumptions about newcomers, as well as for recruitment in research on migration.
Drawing on in-depth qualitative research with newcomers in Toronto, Canada conducted across formal immigration status, this paper shows the inadequacies of using formal immigration status to understand people’s immigration and settlement trajectories. The findings suggest that migration motivations, need for humanitarian protection, and vulnerability cannot be predicted on the basis of formal immigration status. Such qualities are better established by attentive listening to how people are nested in social relations—political developments, communities, and support systems in their current and former homes—than by relying on how they are categorized by the state. The research calls for researchers to pay greater attention to when and how people, and scholars in particular, deploy formal immigration status categories in developing research questions, conducting recruitment, and framing research findings.

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