LIMA Project


1. Objectives

This project examines how legal frameworks – Belgian and European - correlate with third country national migrants’ agency, namely how they impact migrants’ family and professional trajectories and to what extent they afford them the ‘capability’ to develop their lives according to their personal aspirations. It analyses the relationship between legal norms and migrants through both a top-down and a bottom-up approach: from the norms to the migrants and then from the migrants to norms with a view to proposing means to enhance migrants’ decisional autonomy.

By conducting a comparative analysis of the opportunities and constraints offered by various legal statuses on migrant’ families, mobility rights, professional trajectories, and the strategies these actors develop to deal with the legal framework, this project will reveal the unequal constraints exerted by legal norms on individual choices and the subsisting margins of autonomy, depending on a series of factors including not only legal statuses, but also ethnicity, gender, level of education, and socio-economic status.

The scientific aim is twofold: understand how legal frameworks shape migrants' professional, family and migratory trajectories and life projects; and analyse if, and which strategies migrants develop to bend the rules and circumvent obstacles, and/or use the opportunities offered by legal systems to fulfil their professional and family aspirations. This will lead us to address two questions that lie at the core of social sciences: the relationship between structure and agency, and social inequalities. The project also furthers our understanding of the inadequacy of normative constructions of 'the' family underlying migration policies, and the reality of migrants' family structures and dynamics. We will firmly ground our contribution to theoretical debates on the relation between structure and agency in the empirical observation and analysis of the lived experiences of migrants. Concrete scientific outputs include research publications in peer-reviewed journals and articles in collective volumes with the interim project findings, a legal definition of the notion of autonomy, and a final multi-disciplinary book.

2. Method

Our project triangulates the contributions of law, demography and sociology, and combines two perspectives. The understanding of migrants’ agency within the European and Belgian legal framework must be confronted to quantitative, demographic studies as well as qualitative, sociological analysis of the trajectories of a selection of migrants. This is done by using two closely inter-related perspectives: a ‘top-down’ and a ‘bottom-up’ approach of the phenomenon under study.

By adopting a ‘top-down approach’, this project examines how the legal framework composed by EU and Belgian norms and jurisprudence regulate migrants’ mode of entry in the national territory, and their access to labour markets, education and family life, through employing a legal analytical method and interviews with expert practitioners. The legal analytical method exposes the content of the legal framework whereas interviews with expert practitioners clarify the administrative practices regarding its concrete application.

This ‘top-down’ approach is articulated to a ‘bottom-up’ approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methods drawn from demography and sociology in order to investigate the impact of the legal framework on migrants’ professional and family trajectories and the strategies that they put in place to cope with these legal constrains and opportunities and organize their family and professional lives both nationally and transnationally.