Reforming the world of excess A field study of the state compensation unit in the Swedish Migration Agency
Abstract: This study sets out to demonstrate how the migration crisis has been translated within the Swedish Migration Agency and how this translation creates frames that generate overflows. The case study was conducted in the state compensation department which has witnessed several reforms like other sectors in the Migration Agency. The study aimed at answering the following question: “How is the crisis of migration translated at the Swedish Migration Agency?” mainly based on Callon’s framework on translation (Callon, 1986) and on framing and overflows (Callon, 1998). As an answer to the research question the following findings can be demonstrated. First, I find that all actors translated the crisis differently. They used their own frame trying to contain what is considered as overflows for them. This finding was confirmed as the actors perceived what overflows are in a different way. Overflows were perceived as qualitative in the sense of unclear work routines and work practices, and as quantitative in the sense of huge balances that should be processed. For the municipalities, overflows were perceived as delayed compensations and difficulties in economy planning. Second, I find that the actors, as they perceive the overflows differently, they try to manage the crisis according to their understanding. Starting from the top of the hierarchy, the government starts to impose its own requirements. These are for example three-months processing time for complete application as well as the requirement of paying as much money as possible to the municipalities. This generates two different types of overflow that should all be managed under the main frame of “quantity”. Moving to the next level, the middle management the priority of which applications should be processed first (applications with small amount of money, old applications, new applications, or applications that generate bigger amount of payments). The management then tries to transfer these requirements in its own language to the case officers, and other involved actors. The latter as they are the first point of contact with the municipalities, fail to provide the required information or services as the priority is for application processing. When the municipalities send incomplete applications, or applications for costs that they lack the right to, overflow will increase as these applications should be processed anyway. The statement of the unit manager that said “the municipalities think that they send an invoice to the Migration Agency and expect that it will be paid with no time” shows how the municipalities perceive the frames differently. Because of the lack of communication, the work of the state compensation unit is translated to the municipalities in a complete false way. The municipalities thus, use another frame in order to include or manage their overflow which are non-received payments and bad economic planning. They react to this overflow in requiring more services and information from the state compensation case officers to better plan their economy. They even went to the media and claimed having debts that the Migration Agency did not yet pay. The media transfers this to the higher management who in their turn transfer it into requirements to provide more services to the municipalities. As the case officers are required to offer these services to the municipalities, it will add more to the existing overflow. Third, I find that the management diffuse their vision of the crisis and adopt one frame to contain the overflows. It doesn’t need so much observation to notice how both the middle and higher management during the studied phases used the approach of “only solve what is emergent”. The act of the management can be described as responsive to the potential controversies that bring more overflows. This can be generalized on the public sector organizations as they function in relatively same hierarchy. There are pre-determined rules and regulations that restrict the main entities who drive the change from providing quick and effective management solutions. The identities of the actors are not freely negotiated and their roles are pre-determined by the job descriptions and decision authority. The principle of free association, thus, is difficult to meet in this context. However, and due to the clear job descriptions and divided authorities, the principle of generalized symmetry can be considered more realistic to achieve in this context, as it is possible to explain the conflicting viewpoints of different actors in the same language. These conflicting viewpoints can be inferred from the previous phases of analysis as different ways to perceive the crisis throughout the reform phases.
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