Provision of welfare to ‘irregular migrants’ (PROVIR)

Research project – VAM

How can welfare societies best deal with the issue of irregular migration? This question is currently high on the political agenda across Europe and beyond. This project aims to provide a combined judicial and social science approach to the provision of welfare to ‘irregular migrants’ in Norway. By combining a judicial and social science approach, the project will investigate the complex relationship between law, institutional practice, and migrants’ lived experience. Given the special vulnerability of children who are in an irregular situation, particular attention will be given to how the provision of welfare to irregular migrants affects the lives of children.

While figures are highly contested, Statistics Norway estimates that there are about 18 000 persons ‘without legal residence’ in Norway (see Thomsen et al. 2010). Legal systems and border controls are ‘producing’ an increasing number of migrants as ‘illegal’ in terms of entry, residence and the labour market. In contrast to ratified citizens, ‘illegal’ or ‘irregular’ migrants are positioned outside the conventional bounds of the state, and have been discussed in the literature in relation to concepts such as ‘homo sacer’ (Agamben), ‘matter out of place’ (Douglas) and ‘liminality’ (Turner).

In this interdisciplinary project senior researchers and research recruits from law, sociology, social anthropology, and political science will collaborate. The national and international network partners include University College of Bergen, NAKMI and CMI in Norway, COMPAS and City University of London in the UK, Center for Health and Migration, Danube University Krems in Austria, Center for Studies of Migration and Diversity and WELMA in Denmark, Nordic network on Biomedical Law, and Stockholm University in Sweden. Methods include law analysis, ethnographic fieldwork and qualitative interviews (Oslo and Bergen). The theoretical framework is defined by traditional and critical legal perspectives and by anthropological theories of law and of the body.

The project consists of two separate, yet interwoven parts: 1) A legal study of national and international rules applying to welfare provisions to irregular migrants. The main focus will be the complex legal surface, consisting of legislation, court decisions and administrative practice both on a national and international level. In addition, it will explore the deeper structure of the field, and address the concept of irregular immigrants and the underlying political values behind the current legislations. 2) A social scientific study of irregular migrant’s access to, use and trust of social welfare, in particular regarding health and education. The main focus will be on institutional practices and attitudes towards this population, the role of voluntary organizations and informal (ethnic and religious) networks, and the ways in which legal and actual practices form irregular migrant’s gendered experiences, agency and bodily expressions.

The component projects relate to the overarching research questions, working on a) international and national legal norms b) institutional practices and attitudes c) informal social networks d) migrants’ experiences, agency and embodiment e) children’s particular situation. Overall, the project’s investigation of how ‘irregularity’ is legally, institutionally, socially, and culturally constructed and experienced will offer much needed research-based knowledge of the consequences of present welfare policies and practices.

PROVIR is led from IMER Bergen – Uni Rokkansenteret by Dr. Christine M Jacobsen. For more information on the project, please contact christine.jacobsen@uni.no

The project is funded by Norwegian Research Fundation, under the programme VAM (Welfare, Working Life and Migration). Project period: 01.03.2011 – 31.07.2014.