1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


pre·car·i·ous  (pr-kâr-s)


1. Dangerously lacking in security or stability: a precarious posture; precarious footing on the ladder.

2. Subject to chance or unknown conditions: “His kingdom was still precarious; the Danes far from subdued” (Christopher Brooke).

3. Based on uncertain, unwarranted, or unproved premises: a precarious solution to a difficult problem.

4. Archaic Dependent on the will or favor of another.

[From Latin precrius, obtained by entreaty, uncertain, from precr, to entreat; see pray.]

pre·cari·ous·ly adv.

pre·cari·ous·ness n.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Precariousness (Accessed 21 September 2013)

“We elaborate our conceptual framework by examining the production of precarious status, which includes undocumented and documented illegality, and other forms of insecure and irregular migrant status. We argue that precarious migratory status, like citizenship, is multi-dimensional and constructed by specific state policies, regulations, practices of policy implementation, activism, discourses, and so forth, and that there may be multiple pathways to precarious status, depending on the context at various levels. To explore the implications of precarious status for differential inclusion, we link forms of precarious status to the presence/absence of rights and entitlements. In our view, precarious status is marked by the absence of any of the following elements normally associated with permanent residence (and citizenship) in Canada: (1) work authorization, (2) the right to remain permanently in the country (residence permit), (3) not depending on a third party for one’s right to be in Canada (such as a sponsoring spouse or employer), and (4) social citizenship rights available to permanent residents (e.g. public education and public health coverage). This definition disturbs interrelated assumptions about the stability, coherence and boundaries of concepts such as citizenship and illegality in several ways. First, it challenges the binary between citizen and noncitizen with the introduction of the less brightly bounded conceptual category of precarious status, which clearly occupies some space on the non-citizen side of the division but may intrude on the citizen side. Another draws attention to the instability of illegality as a category, since the ‘threshold’ question of who is and who is not (illegal, undocumented, an alien) is not set in stone, nor are the specific configurations of statuses that fall under the precarious category in given socio-temporal contexts (Bosniak 2000). Third, it underscores the potential multi-dimensionality of insecurity (e.g. work, residence, entitlements, rights).”

-Goldring, Luin. 2009. “Institutionalizing Precarious Migratory Status in Canada.” Citizenship Studies 13(3): 239-265.

“Precarious residents can be defined as non-citizens living in the state that possess few social, political or economic rights, are highly vulnerable to deportation, and have little or no option for making secure their immigration status. The archetypal precarious resident is the undocumented (or unlawful) migrant. However, there are many other barely tolerated individuals who also fit the appellation, such as asylum seekers (including ones whose claims have been rejected), guest workers, and individuals with temporary protection from deportation.”

– Gibney, Matthew (2009): Precarious Residents: Migration Control, Membership and the Rights of Non-Citizens. Human Development Research Paper (HDRP) Series Vol. 10. http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/19190/

Examples and/or Illustrations

“Nor was the uniqueness of refugee claimants’ precarious status fully explored as a potential employment barrier…the label of “refugee claimant” leads to discrimination through markers such as 900-series SIN numbers and an inability to commit to long-term work….over half of interviewed refugee claimants experience difficulty finding work. Resultantly then, many claimants are forced to turn to government assistance. Not surprisingly, Lacroix (2004) finds all claimants interviewed felt “humiliated” by the fact that they were professionals on welfare; this, compounded with their fear of no longer being “socially valued and contributing members of society”, amounted to deflated self-image, which may further hamper their employment prospects… Participants stated that because of their impermanent precariousness, they encountered various barriers that limit RCs’ potential. Challenges encountered included language barriers, devalued credentials, and issues relating to assumptions regarding [refugee claimants]’ worth and capabilities…[Participants] indicated heightened feelings of precarious impermanence as they remained in limbo, unable to begin working in their desired fields, unable to afford bridging, and fearing the inability to ever re-enter past professions… Indeed, [refugee claimants] are neither temporary workers, nor permanent residents, and instead straddle the precarious gap between citizenship and transience. Resultantly, [refugee claimants]’ employment experiences are underscored by the looming possibility of removal.”

-Jackson, Samantha. 2012. “Neither Temporary, Nor Permanent: The Precarious Employment Experiences of Refugee Claimants in Toronto.” Major Research Paper: Ryerson University. http://digitalcommons.ryerson.ca/immigration_etds/. [Accessed 21 September 2013].

“Precariousness in the Canadian labour market is described by Vosko in terms of “limited social benefits and statutory entitlements, job insecurity, low wages, and high risks of ill-health.”Vosko notes the essential role of particular economic and political conditions in combination with social stratification on the basis of factors such as gender and race. Migration status has a similar function: many authorized temporary foreign workers have limited labour mobility through the operation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations. Differential entitlements to social protection also occur on the basis of status.Wage disparity, poor working conditions, and inability to unionize are also well documented. For undocumented workers, these effects are greatly amplified. Through law, the state thus “creates a variety of different migration statuses, some of which are highly precarious, that in turn produce a differentiated supply of labour that produces precarious workers and precarious employment norms.”

Precarious migration status provides a lens for analysis of the effects and functions of the law because it uses a category that is itself defined not by law but, rather, by the fact and degree of exclusion occasioned by legal distinctions: an alternative to accepting “legal” and “illegal” as the primary terms of reference. Conditions such as labour vulnerability and access to social services serve as the binding characteristic between migrant groups, cutting across the dichotomy of status/non-status and across qualitative distinctions made by legal regulation and policy rhetoric. This allows us to shift the focus away from scrutinizing the moral legitimacy of entry to assessing potential membership claims for those who are already here. The effects of less-than-permanent residence on migrants should be of concern to a liberal democracy that purports to maintain equal rights for those within its territory: I argue below that there is good reason to believe that the Canadian workforce includes at least 300,000 people with precarious migration status and that this number is likely to increase, particularly on the more vulnerable end of the spectrum. If precarious migrants constitute a large and growing proportion of Canada’s population, there is a pressing need to critically assess whether, and on what basis, it is justifiable to exclude such people from social membership.”

– Marsden, Sarah. 2012. “The New Precariousness: Temporary Migrants and the Law in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 27(2): 209-222.


Other Useful Sources

Canadian Council for Refugees. http://ccrweb.ca.

No One is Illegal. http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org/.

Solidarity City Toronto. http://solidaritycity.net/.

UNHCR Refworld. “Asylum-migration nexus/ Illegal immigrants/ Undocumented migrants.” http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?page=topic&skip=0&tocid=50ffbce4132&toid=50ffbce4141.

UN General Assembly, International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, 18 December 1990, A/RES/45/158, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3980.html [accessed 21 September 2013]. 



Bacon, D., 2008. Illegal people: how globalization creates migration and criminalizes immigrants. Boston: Beacon Press.

Basok, T., 2002. Tortillas and tomatoes: transmigrant Mexican harvesters in Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Berinstein, C.J., McDonald, P., Nyers, C., Wright, S. and Zerehi, S. 2006.  “Access not

fear: non-status immigrants and city services preliminary report.” Toronto.

Bernhard, J., Goldring, L., Young, J., Wilson, B. and Berinstein, C. 2007. “Living with precarious legal status in Canada: implications for the wellbeing of children and families.” Refuge 24 (2):101–114.

Black, R., Collyer, M., Skeldon, R. and Waddington, C., 2006. “Routes to illegal residence: a case study of immigration detainees in the United Kingdom.” Geoforum 37: 552–564.

Bhuyan, R. (2010). Negotiating Social Rights and Social Membership on the Frontlines of Service Delivery to Migrants with Precarious Status. In workshop on Producing and Negotiating Precarious Migratory Status in Canada. York University, Toronto: Research Alliance on Precarious Status (September 16). Available from: http://www. yorku. ca/raps1.

Coates, T., & Hayward, C. 2004. “The costs of legal limbo for refugees in Canada: a

preliminary study.” Refuge, 22(2).

Das Gupta, Tania. 2006. “Racism/Anti-Racism, Precarious Employment, and Unions. In Leah Vosko (Ed.) Precarious Employment: Understanding Labour Market Insecurity in Canada (318-334). Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Dauvergne, C., 2008. Making people illegal: what globalization means for migration and law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

England, K. 1996. ““They think you’re as stupid as your English is”: constructing foreign

domestic workers in Toronto.” Environment and Planning, 29, 195-215.

Gibney, Matthew (2009): Precarious Residents: Migration Control, Membership and the Rights of Non-Citizens. Human Development Research Paper (HDRP) Series Vol. 10. http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/19190/.

Goldring, L. 2010. “Temporary foreign worker programs as precarious status.” Canadian Issues, 50-54.

Goldring, Luin and Patricia Landolt. 2011. “Caught in the Work-Citizenship Matrix: the Lasting Effects of Precarious Legal Status on Work for Toronto Immigrants.” Globalizations 8(3): 325-341.

Goldring, Luin and Patricia Landolt, ed. 2013. Producing and Negotiating Non-Citizenship: Precarious Legal Status in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

IOM (2008) “Designing a Programme for Assisted Voluntary Return”. Online at www.iom.int/jahia/Jahia/about-migration/managingmigration/ cache/offonce/pid/663;jsessionid=A135CE5BF97B681C0E6E1484580E0677.worker0 1.

Johnson, Mark. 2010. “Diasporic Dreams, Middle-Class Moralities and Migrant Domestic Workers Among Muslim Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.” The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 11(3-4): 428-448.

Koehl, A., 2007. “Unlocking the school door: immigrant status and the right to learn.” Education

Canada 47: 58–61.

Lowry, M. and Nyers, P., 2003. “‘No one is illegal’: the fight for refugee and migrant rights in Canada.” Refuge 21 (3): 66–72.

Marsden, Sarah. 2012. “The New Precariousness: Temporary Migrants and the Law in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society 27(2): 209-222.

Rygiel, Kim. “Bordering Solidarities: Migrant Activism and the Politics of Movement and Camps at Calais.” Citizenship Studies 15(1): 1-19.

Sawyer, C., & Turpin, P. 2005. “Neither here nor there: temporary admission to the UK.”

International Journal of Refugee Law 17(4): 688-728.

Simich, L., Wu, F. and Nerad, S., 2007. “Status and health security: an exploratory study among irregular immigrants in Toronto.” Canadian journal of public health, 98 (5): 369–373.

Standing, Guy. 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. New York: Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Teelucksingh, C., & Galabuzi, G. 2005. “Working Precariously: the Impact of Race and

Immigrant Status on Employment Opportunities in Canada.” In T. Gupta (Ed.), Race and Racialization (pp.202 – 209). Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.

Wilson, Amanda. 2010. “Co-opting Precariousness: Can Worker Cooperatives Be Alternatives to Precarious Employment for Marginalized Populations? A Case Study of Immigrant and Refugee Worker Cooperatives in Canada.” Just Labour: A Canadian Journal of Work and Society 16: 59-75.