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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Law's permissions, law's exclusions : precarious migration status in Canada Marsden, Sarah Grayce


The number of people with less than permanent migration status in Canada has increased in recent decades. While such people often have social and economic ties to Canada, and live and work within its territory, they do not have legal permanent membership by way of permanent residence or citizenship, and experience differential access to legal rights and entitlements. This dissertation examines the role of migration status in the lives of people who identify themselves as having “uncertain” migration status. In this study, I draw on interviews with migrants and representatives of migrant-serving agencies as well as legal and policy texts, deploying Dorothy Smith’s institutional ethnography as a methodology to ground the dissertation both analytically and structurally in the interview data. This study enlarges the understanding of the nature and effects of migration status as it is enacted in local institutional sites. Using the construct of “precarious migration status” as a theoretical frame, I focus specifically on the nature and effects of precarious migration status. I explore the effect of precarious migration status on working life and on migrants’ interactions with state institutions governing health care, education, and income security. I conclude that precarious migration status has a deleterious effect on the employment relationship itself as well as access to worker protections, even though the law creates no formal barrier to such protections on the basis of status. With regard to social state, individuals with precarious status are often formally excluded in the text of the law as well as through various exclusionary policies and practices within local institutional sites. I conclude that institutional sites in which precarious migration status functions to exclude should be understood as forms of enforcement. I further conclude that human rights and anti-discrimination strategies through Charter and provincial human rights statutes, while valuable, are unlikely to improve inclusion for precarious migrants, while contestation of membership at the level of local institutions has greater potential to do so.

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