This article addresses the role of immigration regulations as a frame of reference for migrant employment before obtaining permanent residency status. Drawing on interviews with non-EU migrants and service sector employers in the Helsinki area, the article examines how immigration regulations inform migrant employment and contribute to the hierarchisation of labour markets. The analysis focuses on the legal significance of employment for migrants during the immigration process, which is related to the financial requirements for residence permits and manifested in the work permit process in particular. Immigration regulations increase migrants’ dependency on paid employment, consequently decreasing their bargaining power in the labour market. The findings demonstrate the changing dynamics of the supply and demand of labour in the low-paid service sector, where employers prefer to recruit migrants in temporary legal positions over local workers and ‘labour migrants’, resulting in what the author calls the juridical division of labour.
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