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“Please Share Your Journeys”. Administrative Experiences of Family Reunification in France and Online Collective Strategies to Cope with Institutions

Julia Descamps

Research framework: French law guarantees on paper the “right to a normal family life” for immigrants, by allowing those legally residing in France to be joined by their spouse and children under 18.

Objectives: This article aims to study the way in which immigrants carry out the administrative procedures during a family reunification process, and how they adapt to them. It questions the conditions of the possible emergence of collective strategies for migrant families before the institution, in regard to a measure dedicated to the private sphere.

Methods: The analysis is based on observations in online “feedback” groups on the family reunification process, and semi-structured interviews conducted between September 2020 and January 2021 with members of these groups.

Results: The online groups constitute a bottom-up instance of socialization with regards to the right to family reunification and reveal a gendered sharing of administrative work. They are also the place for collective narratives and mobilizations that highlight the most successful paths.

Conclusions: Access to the right to family reunification should not be analyzed only at the level of the applicant, but also at the level of the couple and of collective mobilization. The community’s sharing has contrasting effects on the individual and collective experience of this right, from support to moral guidance of administrative careers.

Contribution: The article underlines the agency of migrant families to reunify under French law, and in particular the crucial role of spouses who have remained abroad, often considered as passive beneficiaries of family reunification. It invites reflection on the internalization by immigrants of the state’s selective norms for family immigration.