The Paper Market: “Borrowing” and “Renting” of Identity Documents Ellie Vasta



The focus of this paper is on how the state sets up discriminatory structures and how immigrants work out ways of managing those structures. Two main issues are explored. The first is concerned with the relationship between state control and exclusion and immigrant resistance. Despite the increased surveillance and digital nets mounted by European states to keep immigrants out of their territory, the paper shows how the state is rather ambivalent towards irregular immigrants, many of whom form a reserve army of labour. At the same time, it is between the interstices of ambiguity that immigrants, by buying, renting and borrowing documents, have found ways through their networks and communities to resist or to get around exclusionary and contradictory regulations. Some immigrants, accommodated by the needs of flexible labour markets, find ways to circumvent the complex and harsh regulations in their quest to find better work and life experiences. Secondly, the paper is concerned with modes of immigrant integration and participation. The research reveals the flexibility with which immigrants move between regularity and irregularity. This is best characterised by the concept irregular formality – the attempt to ‘regularize’ one’s status within the constraints of irregular immigration and labour market status. The results indicate that immigrants accommodate irregularity by developing flexible or fluid life and work strategies in order to deal with new economic and socio-political contexts. Furthermore, the data, based on research conducted in London between 2004 and 2006, show how many of these immigrants are incorporated into the community, at work and in their localities. So, while they form a reserve army of labour, they have formed their own ways of integrating into their social and economic localities.


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Asylum and RefugeesIllegalityLabour MarketsNetworks