Foreign, criminal: a doubly damned modern British folk-devil

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An association of strangers with danger and criminality is one of the most enduring social myths. However, in the UK, it was only after a media outcry 10 years ago over the release of foreign nationals from British prisons, that the ‘Foreign Criminal’ exploded into political and popular consciousness. Despite the small numbers of people involved, the location of this folk devil at the intersection of legal and moral assessments of ‘wickedness’ and alterity imbues it with considerable potency and has ensured that its reverberations are still felt strongly a decade later. Drawing on qualitative research with immigration detainees, deportees and irregular migrants, the article considers some of the many faces of the Foreign Criminal and illuminates their racialised, classed and gendered natures. It argues that a twin set of developments – coalescing around Operation Nexus and curtailed Article 8 right protections – work together to taint a growing number of non-citizens with criminality, whilst simultaneously undermining their claim to belong. Case studies are presented to demonstrate the fault lines of this malleable and expanding category, and to argue that the Foreign Criminal is paradigmatic of both social disorder and national boundaries, and is fundamentally shifting the lines of citizenship and belonging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-546
Number of pages20
JournalCitizenship Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2017


  • Foreign criminal
  • Citizenship
  • Prison
  • deportation
  • Immigration Detention
  • Immigration


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