Successful encounters with bureaucratic systems require users to be familiar with 'insider' rules and behaviour. This article examines migrants' everyday efforts to become and stay 'legal' in Italy, and shows how they need to develop particular strategies in order to do so. While these strategies help migrants in the short term, I argue that ultimately they enable the Italian state to reconcile its conflicting interests and reproduce migrants' marginal and insecure status in Italian society. Examining everyday mundane interactions with the state and its bureaucracy reveals the various ways in which state practices produce insecurity.
Migrants' Everyday Encounters with Italian Immigration Bureaucracy
Italy as a stepping stone in migrants’ imaginaries
This article explores feelings of disappointment and failure among migrants in Italy. It argues that the ubiquitous circulation of discourses of disappointment can be traced to restricted possibilities for upward mobility produced by the legal, economic, and social forms of marginalization that migrants in Italy encounter. Disappointment, it contends, is the product of an imaginary migration trajectory that views moving on from Italy as the only way to be successful. Arguing that some low-status migrants can be considered “flexible citizens,” I examine how my respondents’ desires for mobility are shaped by opportunities and restrictions that are integral to late capitalism, as well as by the differentiated inclusion into the global market that these produce. By their very nature, however, I show how these desires neglect other kinds of future imaginaries and arguably impede the chance to build greater equality for migrants and their children in the future.
Migration, documents and bureaucracy
Stories of those who were victims of the Windrush scandal are characterised by tales of long-lost documents and urgent quests to procure paperwork – maternity certificates, payslips, dental records, school reports – that would attest to a lifetime spent in the United Kingdom. The so-called Windrush generation came to need this paperwork because, although unbeknown to most, the 1971 Immigration Act demanded that from 1973, all migrants must document their ‘legal’ presence in the UK. It was, however, only from 2014 – because of changes in legislation – that now retirement-age Commonwealth citizens, most of whom had migrated to the United Kingdom as children, found themselves facing deportation back to countries that many had not visited for decades (for a historical account of the legislation and politics that led to the Windrush scandal, see Olusoga 2019). The 2014 Immigration Act deleted a key clause of the 1999 legislation that had provided long-standing Commonwealth residents with protection from enforced removal (Taylor 2018). Some of those affected by this updated legislation report that they believed themselves to be legitimate citizens of the British state and therefore did not need to prove their right to be resident through such documentation (for case studies, see Gentleman 2019). In this case, as well as in common-sense thought more generally, documents and paperwork are understood to hold the ‘truth’. Uncover it and their holder’s rightful status will be triumphantly revealed. As such, documents are imagined to act as unambiguous mechanisms of inclusion, their absence therefore denoting the exact opposite.