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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Outsourcing the border : recruiters and sovereign power in labour migration to Canada Zell, Sarah Elizabeth


Drawing on multi-sited qualitative fieldwork, this dissertation examines the recruitment and migration process of temporary migrants through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for work in lower-skilled jobs in Western Canada. Situated in an understanding of Canada as a recruited nation, I trace shifts in immigration policy that prioritize economic development and which have led to more market-driven and temporary migration flows. With a focus on recruitment practices, the dissertation contributes to theorizations of the “migration industry.” I take third-party recruiters, labour market intermediaries who facilitate and regulate migrant flows, as an entry point for considering how practices of gatekeeping and brokering (re)produce migrant subjects and the borders of the state. My analysis focuses on more “legitimate” recruiters because of an interest in disclosing power relationships in the legal, everyday business of recruitment. It reveals that even as some recruiters provide significant assistance and care, their actions and motivations can also produce and intensify precarity for migrant workers vis-à-vis their employers and the state. At the heart of this dissertation is an argument about configurations of state power—specifically, about forms and spatializations of sovereign power. My analysis examines the position of recruiters within the labour migration cycle and how their interactions with the state enable their legitimation as mobile bordering agents. I posit that recruiters are “petty sovereigns,” who make largely unsupervised and discretionary decisions that impact migrant access to the transnational labour market and the Canadian nation-state. These decisions play out in a transnational sphere, at the front-end of the migration process, and in spaces beyond Canadian jurisdiction. In a market-driven context, the devolution and outsourcing of migrant selection and admission from the state to employers, and employers to contracted third-party recruiters, effectively contributes to the contracting out of accountability. While they are integral to the regulation of labour markets and cross-border flows, recruiters remain largely invisible in many accounts of migration, and one objective of this dissertation is to write these agential actors into larger discourses on neoliberal governance and migration management.

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