Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, February 2023
Abstract: In 2021, there were 4.6 million asylum claims pending globally. How does the state determine that someone qualifies for refugee status? To understand refugee status determination, scholarship has focused on the characteristics of asylum seekers, their applications, and adjudicating officials. Relatively less is known about how officials make sense of asylum seekers and their claims. Building from a cognitive sociological approach, this article details frames of perception and evaluation at work in refugee status determination, cognitive prisms through which asylum officials make legible those seeking safe haven before the state. In doing so, it turns analytical focus from ‘what’ to ‘how’ officials interpret. It is based on an ethnography of the asylum-screening process in Brazil, including fieldwork, official interviews, and case files. It delineates four cognitive frames: credibility, gravity, affinity, and novelty. Such frames coexist, and they can also interact through frame configuration or competition. This article contributes to asylum scholarship by turning to the operative cognitive structures through which officials process information and evaluate asylum claims, and their variable development and operations in situated context.