Becoming "Subjects" of the Visa Regime: How the Ban-opticon of the Canadian Visa System Affects Chinese Applicants

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Luo, Chen
Foucault , Immigration , Visa , China
This thesis examines the visa mechanism deployed by governments on state borders. I take the Canadian temporary residence visa system experienced by Chinese applicants as my working example. Though the visa system is generally regarded as something essential and efficient for border control, I argue that it only gains its power to judge people’s admissibility from the government’s routinized authority and deemed expertise to deploy the border control mechanisms. The visa system is a realm where governments practise their power on the bordering population and visa applicants are made into subjects of the visa regime. Didier Bigo’s (2005) model of ban-opticon is used as my theoretical model to analyze the Canadian temporary resident visa system in this thesis. Mirroring Bigo’s description of the ban-opticon, I first analyze how the legitimacy of visa system is constructed by the discourse of in-securitization of migration, which, by rendering the migrating population inherently dangerous to the sovereign states, legitimates and necessitates the deployment of border control mechanisms. Also, I argue that the legislation surrounding the Canadian temporary resident visa system not only regulates the operational procedure, but also naturalizes the Canadian government’s expertise in selecting admissible people. Lastly, from the Canadian visa application experience of 9 Chinese applicants, I analyze how the applicants’ admissibility is decided by the visa officers based on their interpretation of the applicants’ identity documents and prediction of the applicants’ future behaviour. Though some means of negotiation are embedded in the mechanism, their existence actually proves that the evaluation system itself is not determinate. As I conclude, the discourse of in-securitization of migration, the related legislation of the visa system, as well as the real-life practices in the process, as the three elements of the ban-opticon on the border, are all at play in the visa regime, jointly making visa applicants into subjects of the government’s power practice on the border.
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