‘Legality first’: moral practices and negotiation of moral values during migration in Germany

Mai Thi Thanh Nga


This project examines the practices deployed by new Vietnamese migrants in Berlin to legalize and legitimize their residency. Besides both commonly-known Vietnamese groups in Germany - former contract workers and boat refugees - migrants from Vietnam continue to perceive Germany as a desirable destination and attempt to move to the country. As they encounter German immigration and citizenship laws, however, they realize that their chance of success is quite slim. German immigration laws still feature an ethno-cultural understanding of national membership and selective civic inclusion, which creates a situation in which immigrants are likely to seek different ways to obtain legal status. This research aims to investigate the experience of German immigration and citizenship laws from the bottom-up. Specifically, Nga Mai focuses on migrants’ everyday knowledge, perception, and narratives of dealing with the legislative and law enforcement system. She observes that legality is at the top of people’s everyday concerns; correspondingly, many migrants prioritize the attainment of long-term residence status in Germany, weighed against the moral values of self and family encouraged by nationalist and essentialist viewers. In this long process, the perception of self and the structure of family relationships are subject to both re-evaluation and transformation. This project also asserts that religion plays an important role in tending to migrants’ spiritual needs and the transformation of the material world.

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