featured, Notebook

Decentering methodological nationalism to study precarious legal status trajectories

By Patricia LandoltLuin Goldring & Paul Pritchard

Our paper tackles the knowledge gap between people’s experiences of immigration status and quantitative research on the matter, and proposes a survey design solution for the gap. We consider how this knowledge gap is produced and perpetuated in Canada, a traditional country of permanent immigration in which temporary migration has become a core feature of immigration management. We showcase the most important survey and administrative data sources used in Canada to study the relationship between immigration and social inequality. We capture gaps and omissions in data sources and show why the loyal application of state legal status categories to the empirical study of the relationship between changes in immigration status and social inequality is flawed. In the second half of the paper, we present the design lessons learned by the Citizenship and Employment Precarity project. We discuss our community consultation process and the survey questions we developed to capture respondent’s precarious legal status trajectories, and some of the limitations of our approach.

Research shows that precarious legal status situations are proliferating globally and have profound long-term impacts on migrant life chances and social inequality. Precarious legal status is characterized by a lack of permanent authorized residence, partial and temporary authorized access to social citizenship and employment, dependence on a third party for authorized presence or employment, and deportability (Goldring et al., 2009). Across the world, migrants move between immigration status categories, often in unpredictable ways that do not fit easily within state categories or the design of international migration management or state policy. Migrant precarious legal status trajectories crisscross jurisdictions and programs. There is movement between authorized and unauthorized legal status situations, failed transitions, denied and repeat applications. Yet the bulk of quantitative research on immigration status is organized around state legal status categories and programs. As a result, analysis cannot take into account potentially life altering moments in a person’s precarious legal status trajectory that fly under or around the radar of the state.

The research design process is a crucial moment with the potential to generate methodological autonomy from state classification and counting systems. In our work, the community social service agency-centred knowledge network generated conceptual and analytical autonomy from state practice. Active consultation with stakeholders to incorporate their insights and priorities into the survey design was essential throughout the research process.

The target population for the survey included employed, working age, residents of the Greater Toronto Area who had entered Canada with precarious legal status. Respondents’ current legal status was not a sampling criterion, which means that the sample ranges from illegalized, unauthorized migrants to permanent residents and naturalized citizens. In addition to questions on precarious legal status trajectories, the survey includes demographic data and modules on pre-arrival planning and financing of migration, education pre- and post-arrival, early settlement and work, current work, income and financial security, and a self-rated health score and questions about access to healthcare. The twenty-minute, self-administered online survey includes a mixture of closed-response and multiple-choice items and a limited number of open-response items.

The survey has three sets of questions that together capture a respondent’s precarious legal status trajectory in Canada. Respondents are asked for immigration status at entrance or the first time they entered Canada. Current status is captured with three sets of questions. One question establishes the respondent’s immigration status category. Another asks if and when the respondent transitioned to permanent residence. Third, the respondent is asked if they currently have a valid work permit, with a probe for work permit type (open or closed). Work permit type is associated with varying degrees of labour market access, rights and entitlements. The three-part question is a check on the potential for mismatches between authorization to be present and authorization to work that are built into the immigration system.

A separate set of questions captures movement within and between legal status categories including successful and failed attempts to change status. The respondent is asked to identify all immigration statuses and work permits held, including a deportation order and the total number of attempts to gain permanent resident status via humanitarian applications. They are also asked if they ever left and returned to Canada under a different or renewed immigration status. The survey also asks for costs incurred by a family unit to finance migration and efforts to regularize their legal status.

The survey has limitations that truncate the temporal and directional complexity of precarious legal status trajectories. Limitations result from balancing the practical requirement of manageable survey length with comprehensiveness. The survey does not capture sequential data on legal status trajectories, only what statuses a respondent applied for and held. It is also not possible to establish whether the total period without status or work permit is continuous or discontinuous. We also note that survey pilot testing confirmed the inherent difficulties of collecting sequential data given lacunae in respondent recall and gaps in knowledge, particularly when these are handled by a third party such as an immigration lawyer, consultant or family member. A second limitation involves legal status trajectories outside of Canada, before first arriving in the country, or between arrival and the survey date. The survey does not address precarious transit zones.

You can read the full article in IJSRM here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s