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Accepted Paper:

Negotiating the right to remain - Paperwork, social assistance and residency titles in Belgium and in Switzerland  


Sophie Andreetta (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Lisa Marie Borrelli (HES-SO)

Paper short abstract:

Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Switzerland and in Belgium, this paper describes how evidence is constructed by civil servants and by migrants who ask for social assistance to the state, exploring how such requests can both threaten and help advance migrants' residency status.

Paper long abstract:

Asylum seekers have been critically ogled due to their possession of mobile phones and their "suspicious" loss of papers, and forced to substantiate often hetero and chrononormative stories of flight with a range of documents. Materiality also plays a crucial role for those who arrived in Europe and based their claim to a legal immigration status on different grounds: to reunite with their families, in order to work, or get medical treatment. While materiality matters for those who make it through the doors of "fortress Europe", its relevance does not stop once a legal status has been granted. This paper analyses how asking for social assistance can both threaten or help advance migrants' legal status in their host countries. Based on ethnographic fieldwork within welfare offices in Switzerland and in Belgium, we explore how reports from welfare administrations can both contribute to contesting the right to remain of migrant individuals who possess a residence permit but have fallen on social assistance, or help those with a precarious legal status to obtain such a permit based on medical, or family reasons. We reflect on the way evidence is constructed by civil servants and by the migrants themselves, and explore how these reports are used by and beyond the administration that produced them in order to show how welfare and immigration policies are intertwined in the daily practices of street-level bureaucrats.

Panel P105
The Materiality of Migration: From 'bare necessities' to 'promising things' [ANTHROMOB]