Jen Bagelman and Jon Cinnamon (aka: Cinnamon Bagel)


e find the language of ‘hostile environments’ provocative, in part, because it casts critical attention beyond a particular policy and instead compels us to reckon with the wider landscapes, atmospheres and circulations through which hostilities take shape and manifest in daily life. In this forum we turn our attention towards the educational environments within which we intimately contribute and participate. In particular, our guiding question is this: how do hostile border enforcements creep into higher education? Here, we seek to understand how hostilities may be produced and sustained—often in seemingly minor and banal ways. Moreover, we seek to understand how this might change.

Our concern with these questions crystallized in a particular context: the UK-wide UCU strikes. During this period we discovered (through an anonymous note slipped under our office door) that as international staff with Tier 2 visas, our right to participate in peaceful industrial action is limited. Indeed, after more than 10 consecutive days of strike action—which is considered ‘unauthorized leave’— university employers are required to notify the Home Office. Unsurprisingly, neither the Home Office nor the university explicitly refer to this as a strategy of deterrence. However as staff with incomplete citizenship status, we feel this monitoring ritual contributing to an uneasy environment that weighs down on our desire/impulse/ability to engage as full political actors.

Animated by this troubling context, we published an article entitled ‘Home office rules mean non-British academics can be denied right to strike’ with The Conversation. Drawing on critical border scholarship we argue that our sense of unease should not be relegated to a personal problem but understood as a political product of surveillance strategies that create a sense of precarity to both shape and prevent certain activities. On Twitter, a number of colleagues echoed this analysis through responses such as the one below by Devyani Prabhat:


Rather than view the encroachment of Home Office regulations as an exceptional incident we suggest that this signals a more endemic problem whereby border enforcement entwines with ‘public’ services like education, health, and transportation. A requirement of our jobs as academics, for instance, is to monitor the attendance of students, including our overseas students. The data we compile could be shared with the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) division of the Home Office—the one branch of government expected to be exempt from the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a move that could effectively eliminate data protection rights for all migrants. We are concerned that sharing student attendance data with the Home Office could impact students’ right to remain if they happen to have precarious status. Moreover, if the GDPR exemption is put into law, the Home Office could deny their right to access information held about them in order to appeal a decision.

This environment, we argue, enrolls academic staff as agents of the state in ways that erode data protection rights and the fundamental right to education as recognized in a number of international conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As well, this downloaded responsibility to monitor undermines the trust and the basic principle that underlies our job as educators: duty of care.

After our article was published online, it was then taken down and our University (one of the funders of The Conversation) was granted the right to add a statement. Their statement can be read in full below:


More concerning, we think, than the university referring to its own employees’ views as ‘baloney,’ is the assertion that it does not act as a border guard. We remain unconvinced by this claim, and we are hardly alone in this. The public letter signed by over 160 academics from universities including Oxford, Warwick and Durham stating that that universities have become so preoccupied with "managing accountability demanded by UK Visas and Immigration" that they have "become its proxy" highlights this point.

We have no desire to point fingers at a particular institution, for to do so would in fact miss the deeper structural problems at play. Instead, we are keen to invite dialogue around a broader set of questions:  What is politically at stake when we witness intensified collaborations between that arm of the government tasked with (hostile) border control and our universities? In what ways might compliance with Home Office regulations imply certain forms of political responsibility? As insidious as compliance has become, how can we remain attentive to and inspired by powerful acts of non-compliance? For instance, might universities learn from the successful campaign led by schools in the UK which refused to comply with the Home Office’s demand to collect Country of Birth & Nationality data from 8 million pupils aged 5-19 years in England? How can we cultivate more of these hospitable environments? How can we mobilize and collectivize through existing networks like Universities of Sanctuary, which seek to make campus life accessible and welcoming to all?

We are keen to stimulate dialogue on these types of questions that are oriented towards change. Unfortunately, we have been unable to host these conversations through The Conversation. The website shut down the public comment section without our consent for undefined ‘legal reasons.’


For political reasons, we have decided to open space for commentary back up. Given threats to academic freedom that we witnessed during though not limited to the strike period we believe it is vital to seek out and create more spaces for transparent dialogue. We have been impressed with the range of platforms that have recently emerged to do this work. In particular, we are grateful to our local pop-up academy known as Volunteer University for occupying pubs, halls and churches for us to gather and chat. We are also grateful to journals like Society & Space for their leadership in carving out digital space to critically think together.

In this issue we open the comment section up to a group of international migration scholars, writers and students to reflect upon the question of border enforcement and the university. Alison Phipps, Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, reflects on the verb ‘creep’ with regards to enforcement. Engin Isin, International Politics Professor, comments on the ‘schizoid’ logics of hospitality-hostility that constitute British academic life. Jennifer Hyndman, Professor of Geography and Director of Centre for Refugee Studies, explores how shifting securitization processes asymmetrically impact academic migrants. Gulwali Passarlay, refugee and author of Lightless Sky, argues that British universities risk losing international guest-speakers by complying with Home Office regulations that make them feel like unwelcome intruders. Geraldine Pratt, Professor of Geography, reflects on the border regime within a Canadian context and considers possibilities for solidarity and allyship. Rishika Mukhopadhyay addresses ‘blanket study bans’ which compromise asylum seekers’ right to study and the academic border based on her experiences as an international doctoral student. Finally, Alison Mountz, Professor of Geography and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration, situates border conversations explicitly in relation to questions of settler colonialism and articulates what it might mean to enact a politics of resistance and refusal.

We have intentionally curated this issue in the form of a comment section. As such, we do not conclude this issue; rather, our contributing colleagues have the next words on how we may dismantle hostile environments.  


Professor Engin Isin (Queen Mary University of London) @enginfisin

As Jen Bagelman and Jon Cinnamon expressed, their act exposed a scene of ‘intractable tensions that underpin the logic of our universities’. For nearly a decade now British universities have been incorporated into the border control apparatus of the state aimed to make the UK hostile to some and hospitable to others in a deadly game with deportation (hostile) and possibly investment (hospitable) targets, deradicalisation (hostile) and sponsorship (hospitable) programmes, and surveillance (hostile) and exemption (hospitable) measures. The more hostile the UK becomes for some the more hospitable it is made for some others. As many scholars wrote and spoke openly against, the statutory demands of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and the Prevent Duty are both a trigger and effect of this deadly zero game into which universities have now been dragged. All this is well known. What is troubling is that a university – any university – statement can be utterly ignorant of it. The hostility/hospitality game has created a university where it is required simultaneously to be most hospitable (highly valued sponsor) and hostile (reporting on staff and students). What Bagelman and Cinnamon have triggered is this schizoid logic in the statement by their university for all there to witness.

Professor Alison Phipps (University of Glasgow) @alison_phipps

Border enforcement doesn’t creep. Not at first. It is imposed. Nobody in higher education was sitting in committees saying “gosh, our students would have a much better learning experience and be secure and safe in their studies if we imposed border checks at various points in the academic year, and then made the people responsible for marking their assignments and exam grades, their border guards.” Clearly, no institution with any understanding of the conditions which make for good learning – safety, trust, enjoyment, concentration, lack of pointless interruption – would come up with such a pedagogical plan. But in the Home Office, with its stated policy of creating a Hostile Environment, then the creation of hostile learning environments for international staff and students is clearly part of a strategy and to do so using systems of penalties and detentions and sanctions means that the punitive language of classroom disciplinarians joins that of penal and administrative justice. The result is the same. Fear.

The creeping comes through the good will of all those many street level bureaucrats – administrative staff, support staff and academic staff – who are all now required to make sure we comply with the hideous border enforcement which has visited us like a toxic virus, and invasive species entirely out of place in a learning context, actively interfering in the processes and practices of learning. In a context with goals and performance targets then each staff member has to do their best to ‘hit’ the ‘targets’ and ‘comply.’ The discourse is punitive and violent (hit/targets/comply). No one learns well whilst being beaten. Now we beat each other and beat our students with compliance and targets and hits around their immigration status in a hostile environment of our own compliant making. The result here is the same too. Fear.

Professor Jennifer Hyndman (York University, Canada)

My first foray to the border to obtain an international work permit before starting an academic job in Arizona ended in tears. I had allocated a day to drive down from Vancouver, British Columbia, have my TN-1 (a NAFTA visa under which academics are considered a tradable service) processed, and get back, but secretly hoped it would be half of that. I was not prepared for the dismissive, angry border patrol office who declared that I could not have a work permit because my offer was for a full-time, continuing job, not a short-term one (the visa was only good for a year). I knew I had it easy, as immigration encounters go and compared to so many others, but the experience of being hazed, intimidated, and made to fear the very real discretion of these petty sovereign visa officers was real.

Fast forward twenty years to the American Association of Geographers’ meeting in 2017, held in Boston: it was a conference that many Canadian geographers decided to boycott in the wake of President Trump’s executive orders banning a number of mostly Muslim nationals from entering the U.S. I attended, however, and protested these violent and exclusionary bordering practices with other geographers who walked around Copley Square carrying signs that I and others made featuring my colleague from Toronto who could not, or rather would not, attend the AAG in the US. She had had her own direct and indirect experiences of harassment and hazing in the weeks before the conference. My colleague is a Canadian, born in South Asia; both she (a tenured professor) and her son (a veterinarian), on different trips experienced such egregious treatment at the hands of US authorities at airports (including bullying and overnight detention without charges) after the enactment of the bans months earlier that she was not willing to come to Boston. Thankfully, she could choose, as an academic to a conference. Other more junior scholars faced a more difficult decision when they decided not to come.

The border is everywhere, a common refrain in border studies these days, but who knew it was in our work permits? We don’t simply ‘choose’ to work abroad. In academic circles, employers choose us, and we go where the jobs are. As a Canadian, I have held two tenure-track jobs in Canada and two in the US. I worked in Syracuse where I was on an H1-B visa (I had had to ‘surrender’ my green card to US authorities years earlier, when I had left the job at ASU for one in Vancouver). In Syracuse, I remember writing to New York State’s Attorney General, pleading for forgiveness on a speeding ticket in order to be able to renew my visa and/or apply for a green card. A person with a felony on her record is ineligible for a green card in the US, and speeding in a highway construction zone is a felony. As a [working] legal alien, I felt precarious all of the time, since I knew border guards that the power to ban any foreign nationals for up to five years, with no apparent reason and no right to appeal.

That strike action can be construed by the state-employer contract as an unauthorised absence from the workplace is silly but also serious: it undermines the security of those who willingly go to Britain to share their wares, knowledge, and lives, and such tactics will make Britain a less desirable destination for academics of all ranks and nationalities. By controlling freedom of association and expression, this gag tactic others foreign-born residents. Such limits on work life securitizes academic migrants. We are good enough to work, but not to share in the same rights as our citizen colleagues. We seem to be potential threats who cannot be trusted; we are the privileged migrants. Apparently the border has now moved from the Home Office to the university employment contract. Where will it go next?

Gulwali Passarlay @GulwaliP

Home Office policies impact the lives of people like me. I am a political refugee and educator. I do public speaking across the UK. I have been invited to many schools, literary festivals, conferences and universities to speak about my book The Lightless Sky wherein I document my experiences as a child refugee.  I don’t receive any state benefit. I do have rent and bills to pay. I rely on being paid – in a timely fashion – for my public talks.

Recently I was invited to give a guest-talk at a British University, which of course I greatly enjoyed. I shared my thoughts on sanctuary and the politics of welcome, and greatly learned from students. However, I have found the process of getting remunerated for my contributions less than welcoming. The process felt criminalising, as I was forced to provide legal documents simply to speak. The demand was from the university: provide your papers and prove yourself. The university told me it is their responsibility to comply with the Home Office regulations.

What is the university’s responsibility to me?

Putting aside the criminalising issues, I am frustrated with the protracted process of being paid for my labour. I am expected to provide my papers quickly, and according to strict rules set by the Home Office yet, I have waited to be paid for over 6-months. This is, in part, because the Home Office currently has my papers to review my settlement application. I find it curious that the Home Office is unable to share these vital documents with the university in order to prove my right to work, while the university is expected to share my data with the Home Office. In the era of data sharing we must ask why some are required to provide data, and others have the privilege to withhold information. I understand and appreciate that one must prove their right to work, but I wonder: why must it be so complicated and complex? For me the answer is that this process is intended to be discriminatory. It is designed to filter people. It is intended to filter out people like me.

Universities explicitly seek to enhance diversity. Increasingly universities aim to reach marginalized communities. Yet, creating these barriers to people with asylum experience to participate in the university directly undermines this goal for diversity. British academia will have to reckon with these tensions, lest they become (even more) homogenous, hostile places.

Professor Geraldine Pratt (University of British Columbia)

Jen's and Jon's narrative is both chilling and emboldening, and warrants close attention. We learn that their article published online in The Conversation (a presumed independent, not-for-profit media outlet, which has been portrayed by some as "a lavishly-funded leftist blog for academia" (Thomas, 2014)) was taken down and the University of Exeter was given the last word in rendering their analysis as "baloney." The influence of funding may or may not be a factor. We see that international university lecturers on work visas—like all temporary foreign workers—can be disciplined in the workplace through immigration regulation and enforcement. Their narrative punctures our presumption that, as high-status intellectual workers, we are immune from this kind of discipline. We saw this presumption in Canada when the Conservative government in 2014 responded to nativist sentiment that temporary foreign workers were stealing jobs from Canadians by limiting the numbers coming to Canada through temporary work programs (possibly the right policy response for the wrong reason). There was a certain incredulity in Canadian universities that non-Canadian university professors on work visas were to be subjected to the same treatment as low-skilled service workers. (Tenured faculty who had failed to secure permanent resident status found they possibly had tenure but no job.) What their narrative offers is a glimpse of the potential for solidarity and allyship across different forms of labour discipline through border control, of cultivating the university as sanctuary -- not from liberal humanitarian principles, but from our concrete material conditions as university workers.

Thomas T (2014) A Rather One-Sided Conversation. Quadrant Online

Rishika Mukherjee (University of Exeter) @rishika_mukherj

I first became conscious about the administrative status of being a 4 Tier visa holder when I read of the impending deportation* of two academics in Durham University who were doing their field work abroad in Bagelman & Cinnamon’s article in The Conversation. An essential part of my doctoral research is fieldwork in India. Therefore immediately I started asking other South Asian students in different universities in UK about Home Office rule of the duration of staying outside UK as a 4 Tier visa holder student. I got mixed feedback: some people like me never knew of such rule; some said maximum six months. An official request to the University of Exeter ‘Immigration Compliance Administrator’ revealed that there is no set limit but beyond three months University is required to inform the Home Office a change of study location. Amidst all these rules I came across to another article documenting how thousands of students’ visas were revoked by some ‘error’ and they were asked to leave the UK during their study without a chance to appeal. Such alarming news and incidents have become the norm in the University life of an international student. This environment is particularly hostile to those who happen to have precarious status, like the countless asylum seekers in this country whose right to study is being compromised due to the ‘blanket study bans’ which have emerged due to recent changes to immigration bail. When our research work should take most of our mental commitment we are navigating these threats of deportation on a daily basis. When the whole process of applying to study abroad is humiliating enough, (medical tests and hugely expensive English language tests) we shouldn’t be constantly worried about our legality of stay even after securing a position in the University. Unfortunately we live in a time when enhanced border control has creeped into our student life and we know we are constantly living under surveillance in this foreign land.  Our universities are simultaneously our sponsor and enforcer.

*They have since been granted leave to remain.

Professor Alison Mountz (Wilfrid Laurier University) @AlisonMountz

Since I began directing Laurier University’s International Migration Research Centre last year, I have opened many events on human migration and displacement with this statement:

We acknowledge that this event is happening on the traditional territories of the Neutral, Anishnawbe, and Haudenosonee peoples. This is crucial to remember and discuss in the context of our topic today, which is contemporary human migration across what are relatively recently drawn borders that divide settler colonial states. We stand the on the ground of generations of resistance carried out by indigenous peoples, and it’s important to connect today’s struggles with longer histories of displacement, dispossession, migration, and resistance.

This is to say: there is little that is new in the arbitrary drawing and policing of boundaries, and we must learn from the past. But just how we actually go about this connection between past and present requires the daily work of truth and reconciliation, resistance and refusal (Simpson 2014, McGranahan 2016).

Border studies scholars have long argued that the border has been on the move. In settler colonial states such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States, this is especially the case. Settler states cut borders at their whimsy and will across the traditional territories of indigenous peoples, provoking generations of indigenous resistance. Now, these same states invest heavily in moving their borders at will once again, and this movement knows few limits. States place their own civil servants abroad to police and thwart human migration on foreign territory, and move these same civil servants into the interior to police the intimacies of daily life for immigrants, people with liminal status, and racialized communities. The ongoing violence of displacement and dispossession unfolds. In the United States, ICE officials police not only workplaces, but hospitals and medical clinics, schools and bus stations. They criminalize and collect people as “collateral” arrests, like collateral civilian deaths in war zones – these counts the cost of militarization.

Australia for years denied those seeking refuge on domestic territory a right to a work visa, which is to say the right to livelihood; or subjected asylum seekers to a bewildering array of paths to visas an equally bewildering array of conditions attached to them. The Australian state extended the border offshore, exercising its geopolitical and economic might in the broader region to contain people on remote islands where they are stuck in psychological, spatial, and legal limbo for years. Additionally, Australian authorities passed legislation to criminalize people by policing the language of illegality. People who work in detention centers must sign contracts that they will not discuss their work there. People who visit detention centers face a recent law that makes it illegal for them to discuss their visits. Law not only trumps rights, but literally erases people and their confinement from daily life and language.

Meanwhile, UK authorities and universities – acting on behalf of state authorities - police foreign workers from participating in picket lines. Border studies scholars who study border movements are also living this phenomenon as it shapes their daily paths to and from work, their gravitation to and away from the picket lines that recently bordered the campuses where they go about the work of researching and teaching about dispossession, displacement, and racialized and classed forms of exclusion carried out by border guards in the name of ‘protection.’ Scholars must contend with a long history of border movements – only briefly gestured to here – of settler colonial state manipulations of border lines, geographies, and laws that reproduce exclusions, police and contain.

Most pressing is how we respond to these exercises in border policing. My students of political geography and I have found inspiration in recent discussion of the politics of resistance and refusal, building on Audra Simpson’s (2014) scholarship on contemporary forms of resistance to settler colonial states’ imposed identities, and on subsequent discussions of the distinction between resistance and refusal. Carol McGranahan, in her in introduction to a special issue called “Theorizing Refusal,” writes the following: “To refuse can be generative and strategic, a deliberate move toward one thing, belief, practice, or community and away from another. Refusals illuminate limits and possibilities, especially but not only of the state and other institutions. And yet, refusal cannot be cast merely as a response to authority, or an updated version of resistance.” Building on Simpson’s work, McGranahan posits resistance as generative, creative, social and affiliative, hopeful and willful. The contemporary politics of policing university workers, joined with histories of resistance and refusal related to state bordering, requires continual creative collective thought, dialogue, and action. This work only begins in the movement from one line to the other: from border to picket, airport or detention center to campus.