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Accepted Paper:

Fear frustration and the third man or woman: how visa agents smooth away mobility wrinkles in London embassies  
Cy Elliott-Smith (Goldsmiths)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is on distortions present in bureaucratic border control mechanisms regarding visa applications and the brokering role of the 'visa agent' in negotiating relationships and identities between border regime gatekeepers and visa applicants.

Paper long abstract:

Increasingly visa application procedures involve the negation of personhood by state bureaucracies. Certain characteristics such as job, religion or race are overtly or covertly deemed undesirable by certain states and the nature of exclusion is increasingly opaque.

The unique position of the visa agent helps mediate this; they have a better view of this field of operations and understand the process of 'smoothing out' characteristics that may fall into or between categories of exclusion. Agents make the reasons for their client's visa application intelligible to both the visa bureaucracy and the client by providing a human face for the client and systematic and rationalized face to the border bureaucracy.

Many of these visa agents/agencies are former employee's or affiliates of embassies and clients opt to use their services out of convenience and out of fear and frustration. The increasing complications presented to applicants by the growth of border control technologies, the changing nature and role of agents in both being able to negotiate and profit by the new combinations of tech based bureaucracy is of increasingly fine margins. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in London, I will show some of the more Kafkaesque occurrences that take place even for relatively privileged visa applicants. Highlighting the inequalities and unconscious and irrational biases present in a series of heavily rationalized border control systems, crossing borders requires remaking the subject as desirable and comprehensible in order to fit a shifting bureaucratic criteria 'window' as policies change in the face of global events.

Panel P111
Mobilities, inequalities, power
  Session 1