Canadian Visa Officers and the Social Construction of “Real” Spousal Relationships


  • The author thanks the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper, as well as John Biles, Daniele Belanger, Charlene Miall, and Dorothy Pawluch for their comments on earlier drafts, and Johanne Jean-Pierre for her translation assistance. He would also like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its support of this research, and the Department of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism for granting him access to overseas visa offices. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Canadian Sociology Association in Victoria, BC, in June 2013.


Cet article examine l'existence d'un paradoxe de facilitation/contrôle dans le cadre des efforts gouvernementaux de contrôler la migration des époux. La littérature sur le jugement discrétionnaire et les fonctionnaires de proximité est utilisée pour analyser comment les agents canadiens des visas décident quelles relations de couples sont “vraies” ou “fausses”. Cet article démontre que les agents des visas utilisent plusieurs cadres de référence pour construire des modèles types de ce que sont les relations “normales” entre époux. Ces modèles types permettent aux agents des visas de construire des cas comme crédibles ou non crédibles, et ce processus établit les bases des décisions concernant l'exclusion et l'inclusion d'immigrants.

This paper questions whether there is a facilitation/enforcement paradox associated with state efforts to control spousal migration. The literature on discretion and street-level bureaucrats is used to analyze how Canadian visa officers make decisions about which spousal relationships are “real” and which are “fake.” The paper shows that visa officers use various cultural frameworks to construct typifications of “normal” relationships. These typifications allow visa officers to construct cases as credible or not credible, and constitute simultaneous bases for decisions about immigrant exclusion and inclusion.