This article makes a conceptual and methodological argument for ethnographically studying a certain type of paperwork in immigration bureaucracies, namely internal administrative guidelines. Much ethnographic research has focused on case files, application forms, identity documents and judicial decisions attempting to shed light on bureaucrats’ discretionary power and migrants’ strategies of navigating immigration laws. This article shifts attention from bureaucrats’ discretionary practices to their efforts to standardise and codify their own practices. The administrative guidelines of the Foreigners’ Registration Office of Berlin and the visa guidelines of the Federal Foreign Office of Germany are examined as legal documents that are produced in a web of textually grounded legal meanings, as well as in a meshwork of social and political relations and in turn reconfigure both social relations and legal meanings. Contextualised in such a way, these administrative guidelines shed light not only on ‘immigration law at work’ but also on ‘immigration law in the making’.
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