Accepted Paper:

Dispelling suspicion of sham marriages: the rational and emotional work of undocumented Northern Chinese migrant brides in France  


Florence Lévy (CECMC EHESS / MAPS Neuchatel University)

Paper short abstract:

Undocumented Northern Chinese migrant women need to marry a French citizen in order to gain a legal stay document. However, they first must convince themselves as well as their fiancé and public officers that this is not a marriage of convenience; otherwise they run the risk of deportation.

Paper long abstract:

Illegality shapes the space of action of undocumented Northern Chinese migrants in France. It constrains their choices of jobs, wage, and housing, their relationship with their families in China, and confines them to a life of permanent precariousness, as they could be deported at any time. Many women decide to marry a French citizen, in order to gain a legal stay document. But they are ambivalent with this choice, viewing it only as an adaptation to French immigration law. They have just divorced in China and have no intention to remarry; their French fiancés are old, poor, not well-educated, and do not seem like a good match. Both of the partners in these marriages have different individual expectations about these relationships, which do not consider romantic love or family life. The relation seems to be based on a "legal-sexual exchange": women look for legal document, men look for sex or care provider.

These binational marriages are considered with suspicious by many actors: the Chinese migrant, her French fiancé and his family, other Chinese migrants, and the French administration. The marriage procedure is risky for these undocumented women who might be arrested and deported if their fail to convince police officers that this is not a marriage of convenience. They have to distinguish themselves from the image of sham marriage. They therefore have to do rational and emotional work in order to convince themselves, their fiancé, their family in China and public officers of the legitimacy of these unions.

Panel RM-MRB10
The bureaucratic routes to migration: migrants' lived experience of paperwork, clerks and other immigration intermediaries