Points of Entry
306 pages, 6 x 9
9 tables, 1 graph
Release Date:15 Feb 2016
Release Date:01 Sep 2015
Release Date:01 Sep 2015
Release Date:01 Oct 2015

Points of Entry

How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets in

UBC Press

Every year, over 1.3 million people apply to visit, work, or settle in Canada. The task of determining who is allowed in falls to visa officers, civil servants whose job it is to enhance and protect Canadian society. As gatekeepers, they yield tremendous power over the lives of the applicants they screen. In the face of such enormous responsibility, how do they assess credibility and risk?

To answer this question, renowned sociologist Vic Satzewich conducted interviews with 128 Canadian visa officers, locally engaged staff, and immigration program managers at eleven visa offices in Europe, the United States, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. Contrary to popular opinion, he found that individual biases rarely influence officers’ decisions. Instead, a combination of experience, organizational culture, and accumulated local knowledge shapes how they decide who gets in. When something in an application does not “add up” – somber photographs from a supposed wedding celebration, for example – an officer conducts follow-up interviews with the applicant.

In a world where no two visa applications are the same, and in the context of complex and shifting population movements and pressures, this is a fascinating look at how visa officers do their work.

Anyone who wants to understand how and why people get into Canada should read this book, including scholars and students of sociology, human geography, organizational behaviour, and public policy decision making. It will also be indispensable for federal agents, civil servants, lawyers, and consultants who work in the fields of immigration and settlement services.


  • 2016, Winner - John Porter Award, Canadian Sociological Association
This carefully researched and well-written book makes a major contribution to the field of immigration policy and its implementation. D.A. Chekki, CHOICE, February 2016
Satzewich’s first-hand account of the inner workings at the Department of Immigration is not merely timely, it is excellent. Satzewich visited 11 Canadian visa offices abroad, interviewed 128 staff and witnessed 42 interviews with immigrants. It was unprecedented access … Points of Entry is crisp and compelling, written with objectivity and an extraordinary eye for detail. To read it is to understand why Syrian boys died on a beach, and why politicians lament that ‘doing the right thing is not always easy’ — and then feel slightly ashamed. Holly Doan, Blacklock's Reporter, September 2015
Points of Entry is an ethnographically rich study which brings to life, at times sympathetically, the remote experiences of immigration officers. While offering an entree to the broader implications of how discretionary powers and the organizational culture of visa offices oscillate alongside experiential accounts of racism within Canada’s immigration system, the study also calls for further research into the motivations and intentions of immigration officers. Sonia D'Angelo, York University, International Journal, Vol. 71 No. 4, December 2016
Points of Entry is a well-written, accessible volume. It makes transparent the formerly hidden exercise of decision making on the part of Canada’s admissions officers and, in so doing, challenges an often critical literature that has presumed entry bias without the test of evidence. David Ley, University of British Columbia, BC Studies
In this brilliant and persuasive book, Vic Satzewich takes a storytelling approach to explain how immigration officers exercise discretion within the bounds of bureaucratic constraints to decide who is given or denied entry to Canada. Enlivened with behind-the-scenes interview materials and written in readable, compelling prose, Points of Entry will capture a wide audience interested in decoding the bureaucratic black box of Canada’s immigration system. Peter S. Li, FRSC, author of Destination Canada: Immigration Debates and Issues
Canada may be an immigration society, yet we are woefully unclear about Canadian immigration as a set of principles and practices that operate at overseas posts. In Points of Entry, Vic Satzewich draws back the curtain by illuminating this decision-making process. He also debunks some of our widely held misconceptions, such as the prevalence of bias in deciding who is trustworthy and admissible – or not. Augie Fleras, author of Immigration Canada: Evolving Realities and Emerging Challenges in a Postnational World
Vic Satzewich is a professor of sociology at McMaster University and the author of a number of books and articles, including Racism in Canada (Oxford University Press Canada). He is also co-editor of Transnational Identities and Practices in Canada (UBC Press). He is past president of the Canadian Sociological Association and was awarded its Outstanding Contribution Award in 2007.


1 Stated and Hidden Agendas

2 Delegated Discretion

3 Immigration Policy

4 Visa Offices and Officers

5 Approval and Refusal Rates

6 Spousal and Partner Sponsorships

7 Federal Skilled Workers

8 Visitor Visas

9 The Interview



Notes, References, Index

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