Seeing Illegal Immigrants: State Monitoring and Political Rationality

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Social and Political Science


Irregular immigration via Europe's sea borders has attracted substantial political attention recently. But just as striking is the lack of knowledge about, or even strategic ignorance of, unauthorised immigrants already resident in European countries. Few countries regularly estimate the number of illegal residents on their territory, and governments tend to be reticent about collecting and publishing data on the control of illegal residence or employment.

This project will examine how states 'see' illegal immigrants, through addressing two sets of questions.
(1) Which forms of illegality do states monitor, and which are left unscrutinised? What sorts of techqniues and practices do public authorities use to monitor illegal residents? The project will be the first to systematically map, compare and explain the practices and technologies deployed in different European countries to monitor illegal immigrants.
(2) What do monitoring practices tell us about the type of political rationality informing state monitoring practices - what we term state 'logics of monitoring'? Through comparing monitoring practices in three countries, we can gain insight into how public authorities decide which aspects of illegal immigration to scrutinise, and which to overlook. The focus on monitoring provides a lens for reconstructing the logics underpinning political agency.

We will compare monitoring practices in three countries: the UK, France and Germany. These countries are similar in many respects. They each experienced a significant rise in immigration in the decades after World War II, driven by colonial commitments (UK), labour requirements (Germany), or a combination of the two (France). And each country introduced measures to close channels for legal immigration in the early 1970s. They are all subject to a range of EU provisions on borders, immigration and asylum (and Schengen rules in the case of France and Germany). Yet these countries differ across three main variables we might expect to produce different monitoring practices: state administrative capacity for monitoring, political dynamics and labour market flexibility.

The research will involve comparative and historical case study analysis. Comparison will help us identify and explain variations between the three cases. The historical perspective helps us to trace the evolution of monitoring practices over time, charting how they have been adjusted in response to different domestic and international factors. Historical analysis also helps us identify the ways in which current monitoring practices are constrained by prior choices.

The research will involve two main methods:
(a) Archival data analysis. We will study public records from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s, to examine how policy actors and politicians analysed and deliberated on policy and practices relevant to monitoring illegal immigrants, during a critical juncture in immigration control in each country.
(b) 100 interviews with policy actors, to reconstruct how public authorities perceived and responded to a second control crisis in the early 1990s; and to examine recent and current monitoring practices (up until 2015).

Through our research, we hope to foster more informed debate on the ethics and politics of immigration control. There is a pronounced gap between public/media debates on illegal immigrants, which focus on the need for robust control; and the practices of public authorities and organisations involved in providing services to illegal immigrants, which are far more ambivalent about such control. Through a series of events and media dissemination, we will stimulate a knowledge-based discussion of the issue, and encourage organisations to reflect on their role in monitoring and supporting illegal immigrants.

Planned Impact

Our impact strategy targets the following beneficiaries:

1. The general public, especially residents of the UK, France and Germany with an interest in immigration policy.
Public authorities and organisations providing services to illegal immigrants face a range of constraints and dilemmas in monitoring and enforcement of immigration rules. We aim to foster a more realistic and open debate about the ethical and political constraints involved in immigration monitoring and control.

2. Stakeholders involved in assisting or providing services to illegal immigrants.
A range of organisations employ or provide services to illegal immigrants, notably: firms, trade unions, landlords, health and education providers, and immigrant support and lobby groups. These groups face a range of challenges in implementing government requirements for excluding, registering or reporting illegal immigrants. Such requirements often go against the grain of their ethics of service provision or inclusivity, raising serious moral and political dilemmas. We aim to encourage officials to reflect on these issues and how their organisation/sector can best address the tensions involved.

3. Officials in international organisations involved in cross-national data collection and comparison of migration, including the European Commission (Directorate-General Home), EUROSTAT, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO), and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
We aim to strengthen their understanding of the factors shaping national practices on monitoring in this area, and on the impact of international data collection, comparison and harmonisation on national approaches.

We will target these three audiences through the following activities:

- Stakeholder Forum
At the outset of the project we will create a virtual stakeholder forum of around 100 officials from governments, international organizations and NGOs, including: the European Commission, ILO and IOM; national civil servants and politicians in France, Germany and the UK; national and EU-level employers groups and trade unions; and national and EU-level immigrant NGOs. Participants in the forum will receive three project updates through the course of the project, and will be encouraged to access our website and blog.

- Advisory Group
We have already confirmed 10 members, including from the Trades Union Congress, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Migrants' Rights Network, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the German Federal Office for Migration and OECD. The Advisory Group will provide advice on reaching target audiences across Europe, and pitching our research to maximise impact.

- Events
We will organise 4 events to stimulate debate and disseminate our findings, bringing together representatives of groups 2. and 3. above:
(1) A round-table event in Paris, co-hosted with the Institut National des Études Démographiques (INED)
(2) A round-table event in London, co-organised with IPPR
(3) A round-table event in Brussels, co-organised with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)
(4) A public event in Edinburgh (separately funded by the University)
To reach a German policy audience, we will present findings at the Jahrestagung Illegalität organised by the Katholische Akademie in Berlin. We have also had initial discussions with the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) in Berlin to plan a separately funded event in Berlin in Summer 2017.

- Media
We aim to publish at least one article in a quality daily in (respectively) the UK, France and Germany; we will disseminate our work through website updates, blogs and twitter; and build on existing media contacts to encourage news coverage and pitch documentary ideas to the BBC and Channel 4.


10 25 50
Description Launch of our website, twitter account and blogsite 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We launched our new website, containing information on the project and team members. We also set up a twitter account (225 followers, 269 tweets to date). We have already posted 8 blogs).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016