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23. Undocumented migrants


Sans Papiers: The social and economic lives of young undocumented migrants in the UK is a new book based on research by Alice Bloch, Nando Sigona and Roger Zetter

Undocumented migrants, also known as irregular migrants, are people who have crossed an international border and are living a country without any legal right to reside there. Relatively little is known about undocumented migrants because they are a hidden group. It is impossible to know the exact number of undocumented migrants in the UK. What is known is that undocumented migrants have little or no access to services such as health, social services or welfare benefits and those without other means of support must find work to survive.

This work is usually in the less regulated and more hidden parts of the economy that are associated with low pay, poor terms and conditions of work. Two separate studies, by Alice Bloch and colleagues, have offered new insights into the lives of undocumented migrants and reasons for migration, different pathways to becoming undocumented, social networks and their role in finding work and coping with everyday problems, employment and working conditions as well as the structural impact of being undocumented and not therefore able to access welfare, health and other services.

The first study, of  undocumented migrants aged 18-30, found that many were living in a state of limbo. They wanted to get on with their education, work, careers and family life but their lack of official documents stopped them progressing their lives and contributing to their communities.

The second study focused on the working lives of undocumented migrants from China, Bangladesh and Turkey. It provides new understandings of the ways in which access to the labour market and experiences of work intersect with being undocumented, with class, power, gender, ethnic group and concepts of community. The study found evidence that some migrants, despite their vulnerable and disadvantaged position, were able to find ways of gradually improving their working lives and made concrete and rational choices about skills, pay, geographical location and the best ways of staying hidden from authorities.

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