Meanwhile, in Europe

Immigration and social policies

The last issue of the European Journal of Migration and Law (vol. 13, issue 3, 2011) challenges several arguments about irregular migration which are often spread by policy-makers and media.

As pointed out in the introduction (F. Düvell, The Pathways in and out of Irregular Migration in the EU: A Comparative Analysis), four beliefs seem to dominate public thinking: (1) that ever more ‘illegal immigrants’ come to the EU and that numbers are ever rising, (2) that where some migrants arrive there must be many more on their way, (3) that ‘illegal immigration’ is about people hiding in lorries or cramped in shaky boats clandestinely crossing borders and (4) that irregular immigration is the result of the actions of certain individuals, migrants and their smugglers, who are to blame for this.

Düvell reminds us that irregular entry and irregular immigrants only represent a very small minority of all migration and of all immigrants (Paths in Irregularity: The Legal and Political Construction of Irregular Migration). Yet, this small minority raises enormous, if not almost disproportionate policy concerns and one cannot help but wonder about the purpose of the related policy discourse (Bastian A. Vollmer, Policy Discourses on Irregular Migration in the EU – ‘Number Games’ and ‘Political Games’).

On the facts, until recently, the stock of irregular immigrants was commonly guessed at 4–8 million but recent academic research suggests significantly lower levels (see the Clandestino Project). Düvell continues saying that stocks and flows of irregular migrants actually progressively decline. This is due to a mix of legal, political and economic developments: (1) large scale regularisation in various countries (Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium), 3.5 million to over 4 million irregular immigrants were regularised in the EU between 1996 and 2008; (2) the accession of various major sending countries of irregular migrants to the EU; (3) improved enforcement measures and increased apprehension of irregular migrants, from 46.299 in 2005 to 85.554 in 2009; (4) the economic crisis that deters migrants from moving to Europe. In the EU the irregular immigrants populations represents between 0,38–0,76 percent of the total population of 498 million (2008).

Most importantly, amongst the conclusions reached within the framework of the Clandestino Project, summarised in the Clandestino policy brief ‘Pathways into irregularity: the social construction of irregular migration‘ (Düvell, 2009) and drawn on by Düvell, the main pathways into irregularity are by order of relevance:

  • Legal entry and stay whilst working or engaging in self-employment in breach of immigration regulations and legal entry and visa overstaying;
  • Refused asylum seekers who do not return;
  • Bureaucratic failure in processing residence and work permit applications, inefficient renewal and appeal procedures resulting in withdrawal or loss of status.
  • Clandestine entry is comparably low in numbers
  • Irregularity by birth, because a child is born to parents that are irregular immigrants and quasi inherits their non-status.

The problem though remains: will these arguments enter into the public sphere? Or will they remain within the boundaries of academic research?


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