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Examining the lived experiences and life-course aspirations of young people subject to immigration control in the UK as they become adult

© RSN/Owen Roseblade

Young people who arrive in the UK without a parent or legal guardian face a range of possible outcomes when they ‘turn 18’. For a significant number, the transition to adulthood corresponds with a ‘transition into illegality’ (Gonzales 2011) as they become no longer eligible for support services dedicated to ‘children’, and reach the end of their legal right to remain in the UK.

Each year, of the 2000 unaccompanied migrant minors who leave care in the UK, many go ‘missing’ (in institutional terms), disengaging from institutions and ‘self’ integrating through informal networks (Pinter 2012), or adopting strategies of secondary migration - either to other parts of Europe (Olin 2013) or, if returned to a country of origin, returning to Europe via an alternative route (Schuster and Majidi 2013). While current policy frameworks have failed to respond to the social and economic consequences of these uncertain outcomes for young people (EU Fundamental Rights Agency 2011; Joint Committee on Human Rights 2013), equally scholars have failed to advance our understanding of the cultural and institutional factors influencing these phenomena and what the appropriate policy responses might be. Due to the ‘hard to reach’ nature of the population and the almost complete absence of longitudinal research, particularly across this significant age/policy transition, there are practically no data on the individual and/or collective behaviours, trajectories and wellbeing outcomes of this under-researched group.  

Moreover, there has been scant attention paid to the gendered experiences of young people’s transitions and outcomes. A better understanding of the life course aspirations and lived experiences of this population will help shed light on the phenomenon of ‘transitions into illegality’ in the UK, contributing, through new evidence, to international comparative scholarship as well as informing more effective policy and practice in the UK and internationally.

The study seeks to enhance understanding of: a) how young men and women subject to immigration control conceptualise their futures and wellbeing; b) how these ideas are formed and influenced over time; c) young people's lived experiences as they make the transition to 'adulthood' while subject to immigration control; and d) how young people's intentions for their futures fit with conceptualisations of futures and wellbeing embedded within contemporary immigration and asylum policies governing their lives.

Bringing together sociological, anthropological and social policy models of inquiry, the study combines: in-depth longitudinal research with young people subject to immigration control from four countries (Afghanistan, Eritrea, Vietnam and Albania); a critical analysis of culturally embedded understandings of futures and wellbeing (and their associations with migration and ‘adulthood’) in these four country contexts; an analysis of relevant immigration and asylum policies and their applications; a measure of wellbeing (using objective and subjective indicators) over time; and the building of a national profile of outcomes for young people subject to immigration control as they make the transition to adulthood.

The team

  • Nando Sigona
    Nando Sigona

    Professor of International Migration and Forced Displacement, and Director, Institute for Research into Superdiversity, University of Birmingham

  • Dawn Chatty
    Dawn Chatty

    Emerita Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration; former Director of the Refugee Studies Centre, 2011-2014