Suspended in Eurocrisis: new immobilities and semi-legal migrations amongst Nigerians living in Spain

J. Ahrens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Legislation concerning immigration draws clear distinctions between legal and irregular forms of migration, yet many migrants in practice are confined to ‘in-between’ migrant categories. This paper examines how the economic crisis has affected the legal status and mobility of Nigerian migrants in Spain and argues that it is producing new ‘semi-legal’ migrations and situations. The study is mainly based on ethnographic research and in-depth interviews with 40 Nigerians living in Madrid and Malaga. Findings suggest that there are four new categories of semi-legal migrant appearing amongst Nigerians in Spain: (i) migrants who lost their work in the formal economy and slipped back into irregularity, thus becoming forcibly immobile; (ii) Nigerians using their short-term residence permits to become perpetually mobile as ‘tourists’ between Spain and other Schengen countries; (iii) those who struggle to obtain the EU long-term residence permits in Spain and also come up against discretionary labour market restrictions when they move to a second member state; and (iv) Nigerian children who remain undocumented due to the long administrative waiting times and are being left in the care of friends while their parents temporarily relocate to other member states to earn money for their families in Spain and Nigeria. All these migrants share in common the fact that their semi-legal status is the result of a Spanish legalisation process which does not function in times of economic recession and is hampered by an overstretched immigration bureaucracy. The paper contributes new empirical insights to the literature on ‘status-mobility’, ‘semi-legality’
and the intra-European movement of third-country nationals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)115-140
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Mediterranean Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Spain
  • crisis
  • semi-legality
  • Nigerian migrants
  • precarity
  • onward migration


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