What makes a migrant legal or illegal? This paper suggests that rather than a black and white distinction between legal and illegal, there is an ‘in-between’ category of ‘semi-legal’. Many migrants are trapped in legal ambiguity. The paper attempts to define this idea by looking at migrants’ formal relationship with the state and the various ways in which they can act with regards to the law. The paper includes migrants’ own interpretations of where they stand regarding state legal frameworks.
This paper uses data from 360 interviews with international migrants in the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom. The author discusses three main conditions of ‘semi-legality’ in which migrants 1) meet the conditions of legalisation, but are unable formally to corroborate this; 2) move between various EU countries, understaying in some and overstaying in others; and 3) reside legally in a country, but work beyond the restrictions permitted by their visas.