by Luin Goldring and Patricia Landolt (eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013. 400pp. Cloth $80.00. ISBN: 9781442645875. Paper $34.95. ISBN: 9781442614086.

Reviewed by Ethel Tungohan, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto. Email: ethel.tungohan [at]


Patricia Landolt and Luin Goldring’s noteworthy edited collection PRODUCING AND NEGOTIATING NON-CITIZENSHIP: PRECARIOUS LEGAL STATUS IN CANADA encourages its readers to look beyond binary depictions of migrant legality and illegality by considering the “conditionality” of migrants’ status. For Landolt and Goldring, “conditionality” highlights what they call the “chutes-and-ladders” process that defines migrants’ lives, whereby government policies and regulations and everyday interactions and negotiations with various actors in different sites can place migrants up the “ladder towards more presence and rights” or alternately “down a chute towards more vulnerability, fewer rights or less access and a more uncertain presence in Canada” (p.16). Through this concept, Landolt and Goldring point to the various manifestations of non-citizenship that exist in Canada and raise an important and oft-forgotten point among immigration and migration scholars: that non-citizenship can be best understood as a dynamic “assemblage” of experiences across time and across space, encompassing different types of migrants with varying legal status.

The three sections of the book emphasize this point. The first section highlights how the Canadian state, through various actors’ and institutions’ (oftentimes contradictory) policies and practices, contribute to non-citizenship and illegality. These, in turn, lead different social actors and movements to push back and seek change. Chapters by Cynthia Wright, Salimah Valiani, and Delphine Nakache respectively discuss the immigration policies that lead to the state’s increased control over ‘undesirable’ groups and the range of these groups’ responses that run the gamut from legal challenges to labor strikes; the changes in Canadian immigration policy that has ultimately resulted in Canadian immigration being primarily employer-driven; and the contradictions that define Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, as seen through the jurisdictional disputes that arise between different institutions that invariably hamper temporary foreign workers’ interests, rights, and well-being. All three chapters concisely underscore the deficiencies of practices and policies that ultimately result in migrants’ precariousness. Wright, in particular, insightfully weaves historical analysis with a concurrent assessment of how different groups resist these conditions of precariousness, crucially emphasizing people’s agency amid restrictive policies and conditions. Valiani makes an important point on how shifts in immigration policy [*470] ultimately put more power in the hands of employers by giving them the ability to determine who can become permanent residents, to the detriment of migrant workers. Nakache similarly discusses the shortcomings of the protections provided for migrant workers, frequently citing examples from Alberta (as seen through her discussion of Alberta’s Employment Standards Code [p. 83] and its Workers’ Compensation Board [p.85]) in order to illustrate the protection gaps migrants face. Despite the strengths of the latter two chapters, however, there are a number of question that need to be answered in future research: were there institutional actors that proactively sought these changes? Were there structural trends that these actors used as justification for their policies? What was the larger political context whereby these changes were occurring? In addition, I would have liked to see Nakache reflect on other provinces’ policies towards migrant workers and whether some provinces are ‘better’ than others in ameliorating these protection gaps.

The second section shifts focus by looking at case studies of how different groups of migrants experience non-citizenship and illegality. Chapters by Julie Young, Katherine Brasch, Samia Saad, Landolt and Goldring, Janet McLaughlin and Jenna Hennebry, and Priya Kissoon assess the diverse strategies used by various groups when dealing with their precariousness. While these chapters have divergent emphases, from migrant youth facing the prospect of deportation to refugee and refugee applicants’ struggles with homelessness, they all serve to highlight the various ways exclusion and, thus, non-citizenship and illegality, are manifested. The rich narratives included in all of the chapters are effective in capturing the emotional, psychological, and physical stresses that ‘conditionality of status’ causes. While reading these chapters, I was struck by how they all discuss the negotiations migrants constantly have to make when confronting the various ‘chutes’ that emerge, despite their differing legal statuses and personal situations. Consequently these narratives show the very real human consequences of the policies and programs mentioned in the previous section. In a sense, then, the second section provides a vital human face to the policy shortcomings outlined earlier.

The third section addresses how “status and rights are negotiated in specific institutional scheme[s]” (p.23). Chapters by Paloma Villegas, Rhupaleem Bhuyam, and Francisco Villegas provide further empirical evidence of how conditionality of status is magnified by institutions such as hospitals, shelters, and schools. Conditions of non-citizenship and illegality are actively created through everyday institutional and individual practices, and not just through official policies. The fact that actors within these institutions have the leeway to interpret policies and to negotiate precarious migrants’ access to key services aptly illustrates how individuals can serve as gatekeepers and exacerbate migrants’ vulnerability. Indeed, a major strength of these three chapters lies in the authors’ ability to probe further into hospital, shelter, and school authorities’ decision-making process. The many constraints authorities face – as seen, for example, through the Toronto Police and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials’ entry into shelters to [*471] find migrants with deportation orders (p.252) and through ambiguities in legislation such as the Ontario Education Act (p.262) and in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy (p.272) – means that authorities face limitations when trying to help precarious status migrants. It should be noted, however, that these constraints do not automatically exonerate authorities for it is easy to “circumvent” policy directives (p.273), as in the DADT policy, and remain oblivious to how institutions foster exclusion.

Building on Wright’s contention that oppressive policies are met by migrant resistance and F. Villegas’s account of how the DADT coalition and No One is Illegal (NOII)’s strategies were crucial in ensuring the passage of DADT, Craig Fortier’s chapter examines how migrant justice movements are crucial in presenting alternative discourses that debunk nationalist ideologies that demarcate the boundaries of membership. Fortier’s account of the emergence of NOII and how its various groupings attempt to “decolonize resistance” by ensuring that their campaigns on behalf of precarious status migrants occur within “diverse yet imperfect models for indigenous solidarity” (p.282) saliently highlights the decisions migrant activists have to make when working within existing colonial frameworks. Indeed, upon reading Fortier’s chapter, I wonder how Landolt and Goldring, and the other contributors to this volume, conceptualize precarious status migrants’ conditionality of status amid indigenous communities’ similar yet different lived experiences with non-citizenship and illegality. It is essential for migration scholars and activists to reflect more thoroughly on these concerns.

The last two chapters in this section deviate somewhat from the previous four chapters in that they more directly deal with the challenges researchers face when working with vulnerable groups, such as immigrant, refugee, and non-status people living with HIV/AIDs (IRN-PHAs) and with migrants with “less than full status” (p. 305). Alan Li’s experiences in researching the barriers IRN-PHAs encounter when attempting to access treatment and health care and the strategies they have developed in response to these barriers presents numerous ethical conundrum, namely the difficulties of reaching out to vulnerable populations, maintaining confidentiality, and “balancing the target community’s expectations with the scope of the research” (p.299). In the same vein, Julie Young and Judith K. Berhnard’s accounts of the roadblocks they faced during the ethics review process highlights how knowledge-building can be hampered by university bureaucracies leery of ‘risky’ research, leading Young and Bernhard to conclude that researchers are placed in the “untenable position” of potentially placing their research respondents in a legally vulnerable position and of being unable to fully “capture an individual’s full experience” because of the limitations set by ethics review boards (p.315). The concerns of Li, Young, and Bernhard are those shared by many who work and research the situations of precarious status migrants, evoking further questions on the responsibilities researchers face when working with these groups and the types of methods and methodologies that are best suited to undertaking this type of work. From an [*472] editorial standpoint, I would have placed these two chapters in a separate section and perhaps even included more chapters from researchers reflecting on these issues. With an increasing number of researchers seeking to work on the broad issue of ‘precarious migration,’ discussing the ethical issues that arise when doing so is especially timely.

All of the chapters in this book are uniformly strong, providing support for the need to envisage citizenship through the metaphor of ‘chutes’ and ‘ladders.’ These chapters thus encourage more nuanced conceptualizations of citizenship and membership. My key criticism of the text concerns the need to include chapters that focus on the issues faced by precarious status migrants outside Toronto and Ontario. The preponderance of chapters that showcase research in these sites begs the question of what type of research is taking place in other cities and provinces and, more importantly, whether ambiguities concerning conditionality of status is magnified in areas with far less diversity. Furthermore, with an increasing number of precarious status migrants moving into rural areas, the challenges they face when attempting to settle away from major urban centers merits scholarly and activist attention.

In sum, by examining the various ways non-citizenship and illegality is manifested through policies, practices, and everyday encounters, PRODUCING AND NEGOTIATING NON-CITIZENSHIP widens one’s understanding of precarious status migrants’ lived realities. It should be required reading for academics, researchers, and students doing work on immigration and migration issues.

Copyright 2013 by the author, Ethel Tungohan.