Weak state / tough territory: the South African mobility regime complex

by Darshan Vigneswaran

Working Papers WP 16-03
March 2016
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

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How do policy makers control international migration? Previous research suggests that they can only strengthen the immigration enforcement bureaucracy. This study points to an alternate method: by changing the ‘mobility complex’: the state’s set of overlapping and non-hierarchically organized regimes for controlling the movement of people. When policy makers ban old - or invent new - movement control regimes this can enhance or undermine the chances that street level bureaucrats will enforce immigration laws. The study demonstrates that such changes can dramatically impact the degree to which a given country can control international migration through an in-depth analysis of South Africa from 1980-2010. South Africa has a weak, corrupt and incompetent immigration administration. Yet, in the 2000s, the country became one of the world’s most prolific deporters of foreign nationals. The study demonstrates how South African policy makers indirectly engendered this outcome by changing the number of laws pertaining to movement control on their books. The paper uses these findings to call for more genuinely global and comparative research into the relationship between regime complexity and immigration control.

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