Between Strategy and Morality

Chinese Irregular Migrants Faced with the “Illness Clause”
By Simeng Wang

The purpose of this article is to analyse the social uses of law by migrants living in a precarious situation, through the case of Chinese parents of sick children, applying for regularization for medical reasons. Based on an ethnographic survey conducted on the two sides of the “illness clause” in the management of applications for residence permits – doctors as well as applicant parents – the article first shows that what is considered as stigma can become a resource for irregular migrants to facilitate their access to legality. Because of the anticipation that these parents will make use of the law, they are sometimes considered as “strategists” in the eyes of child psychiatrists, who evaluate the situation medically, morally and politically over time. After following these migrants in their care itinerary and migration trajectory over a relative long period of time, the ethnographic work has enabled me to analyze the temporal evolution of the moral issues involved in regularization for medical reasons. Among the parents concerned, there is an appropriation process of using a child’s medical monitoring as an administrative resource. At the intersection of medical and migration uncertainties, some parents are able to move from a regularization decision for medical reasons to a return to their home country, likewise for medical reasons. When those families are managed by “border guard” doctors, they are able to self-manage their relation to the borders between their countries of origin and their host countries.

Go to the article on