Artificial intelligence and automation in the migration governance of international students

An accidental ethnography


  • Lisa Ruth Brunner University of British Columbia
  • Wei William Tao Heron Law Offices in Canada



accidental ethnography, artificial intelligence, border imperialism, economic immigration, edugration, international student mobility, international students, migration governance


Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are newly impacting the governance of international students, a temporary resident category significant for both direct economic contributions and the formation of a ‘pool’ of potential future immigrants in many immigrant-dependent countries. This paper focuses on tensions within Canada’s education-migration (‘edugration’) system as new technologies intersect with migration regimes, which in turn relate to broader issues of security, administrative burdens, migration governance, and border imperialism. Using an Accidental Ethnography (AccE) approach drawing from practitioner-based legal research, we discuss three themes: (1) ‘bots at the gate’ and the guise of AI’s objectivity; (2) a murky international edu-tech industry; and (3) the administrative burdens of digitalized application systems. We suggest that researchers, particularly in education, can benefit from the insights of immigration practitioners who often become aware of potential trends before those less embedded in the everyday negotiation of migration governance.

Author Biographies

Lisa Ruth Brunner, University of British Columbia

LISA RUTH BRUNNER, PhD, is an International Student Advisor and Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant in the International Student Development Department, a Sessional Lecturer in the Educational Studies Department, and an incoming Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Migration Studies, all at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Her research interests include adult and higher education, international student mobility, immigration policy, and (im)migrant ‘integration’ and settlement from a critical perspective. Email: ORCiD:

Wei William Tao, Heron Law Offices in Canada

WEI WILLIAM TAO, JD, is a Barrister and Solicitor at Heron Law Offices in Canada. His immigration law practice focuses on international students, families, and temporary foreign workers. He is currently taking a Masters of Law (LLM) and exploring (through his proposed thesis) the automated administrative state, through the case study of immigration decision-making. Email:


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How to Cite

Brunner, L. R., & Tao, W. W. (2023). Artificial intelligence and automation in the migration governance of international students: An accidental ethnography. Journal of International Students, 14(1), 269–288.