What Ties Individuals To A Society In Eyes of a U.S. Consular Officer?: How Stability-Mobility Capital Stratifies Legal Movement from China to the United States

How do ties to a society stratify international legal mobility? US immigration law requires consular officers in 157 countries to deny non-immigrant visas (NIVs) to foreigners if they lack strong socio-economic and social ties in their country of residence because of concerns such individuals will overstay their visas and immigrate. Based on an analysis of unique survey data I collected from 2,395 visa applicants exiting US consular bureaus in Beijing and Chengdu, I find no evidence that officers are more likely to grant visas to applicants that have many stronger indicators of socioeconomic status and strong social ties to their country of residence than those denied visas, contrary to what US immigration law mandates them to do and previous literature suggests. However, officers are consistently more likely to grant visas to those who tell surveyors they would immigrate if they had an opportunity. This is because officers are also more likely to grant visas to those who possess specific types of social ties and SES that are forms of what I define as mobility-stability capital. Mobility-stability capital consists of traits that signal to the officer that an applicant is likely to return and includes education, travel experience, attending a foreign/selective school, and years working at their current job. This study contributes to knowledge about migrant/travel selectivity, governments’ capacity to control migration, and inequality both between and within migrant-sending and migrant-receiving societies.


Jacob Thomas is currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center on Contemporary China, Princeton University. He received his BA in Interdisciplinary Studies of globalization at UC Berkeley, his MA in Social Science at University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in Sociology at UCLA. His areas of specialty are in the sociology of law, international migration and mobility, and social stratification and inequality. His research has appeared in a variety of academic journals such as International Migration, Theory and Society, and Law &: The Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal.

Speaker(s) Dr Jacob THOMAS
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Center on Contemporary China, Princeton University
Date 26 Jan 2021 (Tuesday)
Time 11:00 am
Venue Online Via Zoom (link will be sent via email)

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