Rules, Paper, Status
Migrants and Precarious Bureaucracy in Contemporary Italy
Anna Tuckett


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the historical trajectory of Italian immigration law and the political and economic context from which it emerges. In general migrants have not been welcomed into Italian society, but low birth rates and a high aging population make their presence crucial. Italian immigration law, which is a curious mixture between harsh and exclusionary policies and frequent large-scale legalizations, embodies this ambiguous attitude towards migrants. This chapter argues that equal attention must be given to processes relating to "legalization" as to those relating to "illegalization" when considering migrants' experiences of "legal" and "illegal" statuses. While other studies on experiences of immigration law tend to focus on migrants' experiences of uncertainty, this focus on the bureaucratic and documentary practices of immigration provides insights on alternative affective dimensions of immigration law and its material artefacts.

1 The Center
chapter abstract

This chapter introduces the book's central fieldsite: a trade union affiliated migrant advice center which provides support and assistance to migrants in their completion of application forms, as well as navigation of the immigration bureaucracy more generally. Trade unions have a central function in the Italian welfare state, and the center's role in completing migrants' application forms is closely connected to this. Although affiliated to the trade union, in the eyes of its visitors, and in practice, the center's role is often blurred with that of the Questura (Immigration Office) and the state in general. Because the center acts as a mediator between migrants and the Questura, the assistance which clients received could determine application outcomes. Not all staff members were equally able or interested in migration matters, however, and the quality of assistance they provided was highly variable.

2 Working the Gap: Migrants' Navigation of Immigration Bureaucracy
chapter abstract

Through gripping case studies, this chapter illustrates how everyday experiences with Italian immigration bureaucracy are characterized by uncertainty, arbitrariness, and frustration. By closely examining migrants' bureaucratic encounters, however, the chapter reveals that the bureaucracy's arbitrary and uncertain nature also makes it flexible and relatively easy to manipulate. By engaging in effective strategies of navigation, migrants are able to manipulate the law's loopholes and aid the acceptance of applications. Tracing migrants' strategies, this chapter argues that "formal" and "informal" spheres are interdependent and symbiotic: migrants, brokers, advisers, and officials all must engage in "informal" and extra-legal practices in order to successfully navigate the immigration bureaucracy.

3 The Rules of Rule-Bending
chapter abstract

This chapter argues that rule bending is revealing of broader attitudes to the state and bureaucracy in Italy which, through their bureaucratic encounters, migrants also come to hold. Bureaucratic engagements are thus forms of citizen-making. Socially acceptable rule-breaking, however, is accompanied by strict compliance with proceduralism in relation to paperwork. Successfully navigating the immigration bureaucracy requires expertise in the management of documents: paper trails must seem authentic even if false. Yet, given the documented nature of migrants' lives, rule-bending in one application can potentially create problems in others, meaning that even skillful rule-bending can result in high risks for migrants, such as the loss of legal status or foreclosing the attainment of citizenship. There thus exists a mismatch between a migrant's social knowledge – which is required to navigate the bureaucracy – and exclusionary citizenship laws that make this embeddedness precarious.

4 Becoming an Immigration Adviser: Self-Fashioning through Bureaucratic Practice
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the role of community brokers – informal immigration advisers with migrant backgrounds – and shows how they style themselves as bureaucratic experts. Doing so enables these brokers to develop new subjectivities and fashion themselves in affective terms. Becoming advisers enables them a degree of professionalism, helps them gain standing in their community, satisfies charitable impulses, and places them center stage in the fight for social justice. Crucially, the role of a community broker offers possibilities for gaining social status that are generally not otherwise available to migrants in Italy.

5 Disjuncture in the Documentation Regime: The Second Generation's Challenge to Citizenship Law
chapter abstract

Reflecting on the second generation's experiences of immigration bureaucracy, this chapter considers the contradictory and divergent affects of immigration law encounters. If dealings with the immigration bureaucracy produce opportunities for first-generation migrants and their advisers, for the second-generation they create upset and disjuncture. This generation is the most vulnerable group in terms of immigration policies as its members may suddenly find themselves as "undocumented immigrants" after turning 18, due to Italy's jus sanguinis nationality policy. Their sense of ease and integration in Italian society make them strangers to the immigration bureaucracy which – due to restrictive immigration and citizenship laws – they are nonetheless subject. The disjuncture made apparent through the second generation's subjection to immigration law highlights the profound injustices and inequalities that such laws create for all migrants.

6 Stepping-Stone Destinations: Migration and Disappointment
chapter abstract

This chapter explores migrants' feelings of disappointment about their migration trajectory in Italy and their desire to leave the country. The disappointment of those who aspire to migrate but ultimately never leave their homelands has been extensively discussed in migration studies literature. The chapter places the focus on those who have migrated but who still feel as though they have failed due to their lack of onward mobility from Italy. Focusing on the feelings of disappointment and personal failure experienced by those who have already migrated, it highlights the differentiated inclusion of migrants into the global marketplace. The desire to leave Italy, whether imagined or acted upon, shows how the mobility enabled by neoliberal globalization reproduces hierarchies within the EU. By viewing Italy as a mere stepping stone in a longer trajectory, migrants – both those who leave and those who remain – conceptualize the country as an inferior destination.

chapter abstract

Drawing the preceding chapters together, this conclusion argues that the "border spectacle" (De Genova 2002) produces a lopsided view of migration by obscuring how immigration policies relate to broader political and economic processes of contemporary migration and globalization. Situating migrants' navigation of the documentation regime in relation to these process, the chapter argues that migrants' maneuvering provides them with only meagre benefits, while employers, lawyers, policy makers, and other stakeholders within the immigration nexus reap the rewards. The final section of the conclusion reflects on what policies could improve the current situation in light of the problems identified.