Background and Purpose: This paper explores how precarious immigration status impacts service delivery and advocacy for immigrant women who are facing gender-based violence in Canada. Between 2015-2018 the Migrant Mothers Project conducted feminist, participatory, and action research to understand the broad spectrum of violence that women face in relation to their immigration status, specifically migrant caregivers and sponsored spouses. Both sponsored spouses and migrant caregivers enter Canada with conditions on their status, but different rights to access social and health services, including anti-violence against women shelters and programs. We compare two groups of immigrant women—migrant caregivers and newly sponsored spouses—to identify in what ways the deportability interacts with “the braid” of neoliberalism, criminalization, and professionalization to provide differential support to immigrants facing gender-based violence in relation to their immigration status.
Methods: We employed a qualitative research design that included interviews with front-line service providers and community legal advocates who work with immigrant women; and interviews with migrant caregivers and newly sponsored spouses. Using interpretive, critical and intertextual methods of analysis we explore how meanings of sponsorship, violence, and safety constructed in one genre of text are taken up, negotiated with, and/or contested in other genres. All observation notes, interview notes, and interview transcripts were reviewed by the research teach and coded thematically using a constructivist approach.
Findings: Following the conditions imposed on sponsored spouses, advocates across Canada dedicated considerable resources to advocate for individuals who left an abusive spouse; successfully lobbying to repeal immigration policy that required newly sponsored spouses to cohabit with their sponsor for a two year period. During this same period, new conditions were imposed on the work permits for migrant caregivers making it harder to maintain legal status and demonstrate eligibility for permanent residence. Migrant caregivers in our study found support primarily through informal peer networks, with relatively few professional service providers advocating for the individual or collective rights. These case studies raise questions about the types of gender-based violence that are visible within professionalized anti-violence against women spaces (specifically intimate partner violence) while violence that migrant caregivers face from their employers continues to remain outside the landscape of funded services. The consequences for migrant caregivers are particularly stark when they are turned away from non-profit settlement or anti-violence against women organizations.
Conclusions and Implications:
We argue that the conditional immigration status represents a form of structural violence that exacerbates the vulnerabilities for gender-based violence for both sponsored spouses and migrant caregivers. The capacity of professionalized anti-violence against women services to advocate for immigrant women, however, is sutured to the existing funding models that position professional services providers as ‘helpers’ or ‘advocates’ for women feeling an abusive intimate partner. The service sector has yet to politicize against employer-based violence for domestic workers; nor has the service sector at large politicized around the violence of state deportation, leaving many migrant women to rely on informal networks for support in times of crisis.