Sliding doors: strategic ambiguity in study visas to South Africa

Jenny J. Lee, Kopgang Paulidor, Yann Axel Mpaga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This study sought to investigate international students’ experiences with the study visa immigration policy in South Africa. The theoretical framework utilized to investigate international students’ experiences with the study visa process is ‘strategic ambiguity,’ defined as deliberate ambiguous statements and positions for the accomplishment of goals. In the case of study visas, a country provides written immigration requirements, but there is considerable discretion by its many actors, conceptualized in this study as ‘street-level bureaucrats,’ in regard to how the application components are interpreted and processed. The international students’ reported experiences were uneven and varied, without clear patterns by country of origin, university, or students’ backgrounds, suggesting the metaphor of sliding doors to indicate that not all encountered major obstacles in the same way, but rather largely attributable to unforeseeable luck. The study has implications on how strategic ambiguity occurs in immigration policies and procedures with varied experiences and outcomes for those who apply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1979-1992
Number of pages14
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2 2018



  • International staff
  • international students
  • role of higher education
  • student experience
  • student migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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