This qualitative study explores experiences of living without regular immigration status and implications for health security among irregular migrants in Toronto. Irregular migrants include those who lack secure status in Canada, including visitors who overstay visas; refugee claimants awaiting status determination; and failed claimants remaining in the country without authorization, awaiting deportation or following alternative procedures when judicial appeal is impossible.
In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with irregular migrants recruited at a downtown community health centre. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed using grounded theory and qualitative analytical techniques. The theoretical framework employed anthropological metaphors of liminality and examined psychosocial factors associated with stress.
Experiences of the study sample counter popular assumptions about irregular immigrants. The majority of study participants came to Canada to escape violence as well as lack of economic opportunity in home countries in Latin America, and most have tried to follow correct immigration procedures. Most are parents working in low-paying, exploitative jobs. They have attempted to lead productive and meaningful lives, but lack social support beyond the immediate family. They showed signs of suffering from trauma, depression, chronic stress, family separation and stress-related physical illnesses. Despite expressing self-esteem and using personal coping skills effectively, many reported unmet health needs and described barriers to help-seeking. Beyond the individual, the greatest impact of living without status appeared to be on the family, especially the children.
More comprehensive information about this growing population is needed for health promotion, provision of mental health services and fair policy formulation.