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Law Enforcement through Political Campaigns: Taking the ‘Sanfei’ Campaigns as an Example in the Area of Immigration Law

Jasper Habicht

Research Associate (-2018), Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Cologne


Due to China’s rapid economic development, the country turned out to be a preferred destination for people from countries of the so-called ‘Global South’. This inflow of surplus low-skilled workers surging into the bigger cities is seen with big concern, especially since many of these migrants do not possess proper documents. In parallel to the revision of the Exit–Entry law that established a rigorous immigration examination and administration system, the police executed several actions against foreigners residing and working illegally in China, so-called ‘sanfei’ campaigns, in different major cities across the country. Campaigns are often considered critical because of their political nature that is likely to circumvent any legal basis. However, recent research has shown that in the last decades campaigns increasingly adhere to legal proceedings and more and more often are used as a means of enforcement of legal norms. In the field of immigration law, different interests clash: On the one hand, illegal activities pose a threat to public security and thus have to be curtailed by appropriate legal rules. Also, campaigns against foreigners are capable to satisfy public xenophobic resentments. On the other hand, foreign workers help to build up trade connections while stricter immigration rules have a chilling effect on foreign investment. This project aims to analyse the role of campaigns in law enforcement in the field of immigration law.