This paper analyses how the immigration state re-socialises persons or workers into migrant beings within the framework of regularisation programmes, under theoretical approaches of structure-agency. This analysis builds on fieldwork with Ecuadorian migrants conducted during the 2005 regularisation programme in Spain. Despite their political relevance, regularisation programmes have undergone little theorisation, but rather are presented as technical procedures outlining requirements and success rates. At the same time, theoretically grounded literature on illegality often concludes its accounts with the granting of legal status by the state, reminiscent of ‘and they lived happily after’; that is, the official end of a story. Legalisation is one way that states position migrants within society, which is on a continuum with illegality. The attainment of legal status by migrants is seen as a benchmark of progress and quality of life, but this is not necessarily, in fact, the case. A theoretically grounded approach of regularisation programmes and migrants’ re-socialisation provides an understanding of a puzzling empirical result: despite the assumption that legal migrants are spared from exploitation, vulnerability and precariousness, they often experience continuity and sometimes even worsening in their labour market position. Interestingly, much of migrants’ re-socialisation happens at the interface with employers and other migrants, and only occasionally with state officials.
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