By / June 23, 2021

How does the European Union regulate migration?

In recent years, the European Union (EU) responded to serious migratory challenges as it became a destination for people migrating for security, demographic, human rights, poverty and climate change reasons.

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People often turn to the European Parliament to ask how the European Union manages migration. In recent years, the European Union (EU) responded to serious migratory challenges as it became a destination for people migrating for security, demographic, human rights, poverty and climate change reasons. In 2015, at the peak of the migratory crisis, 1.25 million first-time asylum applicants were registered in the EU and more than 1 million people reached the EU by sea.

EU migration policies

The Treaty of Lisbon introduced the ordinary legislative procedure to policies on both irregular and regular immigration, and stressed the principle of solidarity between EU countries.

The EU shares competence on migration and asylum policies with EU countries, in particular on managing regular immigration, promoting integration, combating irregular immigration and concluding readmission agreements with third countries.

A 2011 European Commission communication, Global approach to migration and mobility, establishes a general framework for the EU’s relations with third countries in the field of migration.

Legal migration

The EU measures on legal immigration cover the conditions of entry and residence for certain categories of immigrants, such as labour immigrantsstudents and researchersfamily members and long-term residents. The EU Immigration Portal provides information for foreign nationals interested in moving to the EU and for migrants who are already in the EU and who would like to move to another EU country. While highly-skilled workers benefit from a blue card scheme, EU rules do not yet include non-seasonal low- and medium-skilled workers, job seekers, investors and self-employed third-country nationals.

In May 2021, the European Parliament called for more avenues for legal migration for workers, noting that both sending and receiving countries benefit from orderly migration, which reduces irregular migration and undermines human traffickers. In its resolution, the European Parliament suggested promoting circular migration, in order to combat the ‘brain drain’ as well as address labour shortages in the EU.

Integration of migrants

In the field of integration, the EU supports EU countries and develops guidance, while national governments are primarily responsible for creating and implementing social policies. In November 2020, the European Commission published an action plan on integration and inclusion, setting out efforts to integrate migrants in the EU and foster migrants’ participation in society.

Irregular migration

Irregular migrants are more vulnerable to labour exploitation and other forms of exploitation. The EU is tackling irregular migration through specific measures against human trafficking networks and smugglers, setting up a humane and effective return policy and targeting employers who hire undeclared migrant workers.

Smuggling of migrants by sea is one of the most dangerous forms of migrant smuggling and often requires serious humanitarian assistance. The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) supports EU countries in controlling the EU’s external borders and in their return-related activities.

The European Parliament has expressed concern about human rights violations, in particular in the context of informal bilateral agreements on the return and readmission of irregular migrants. In a May 2021 resolution, the European Parliament urged the European Commission to sign formal agreements with third countries, in order to ensure adequate monitoring and evaluation as well as accountability mechanisms in irregular migrant return procedures.

Reform of the Dublin system

Under the current Dublin Regulation, the country where an asylum seeker first entered the EU has the responsibility for examining his or her asylum application. The migration crisis highlighted the weakness of the system, however, which does not provide harmonised conditions of reception. This means a high pressure is placed on a small number of EU countries and imbalances exist in the distribution of asylum seekers.

As a reform of the common asylum policy stalled in September 2020, the European Commission presented a new proposal (New Pact on Migration and Asylum) to replace the 2013 Dublin Regulation. The proposal aims at integrating asylum procedures and border management, implementing a robust crisis preparedness and response system. It also aims at reinforcing the fight against migrant smuggling, working with international partners, attracting skills and talent, and supporting integration. In particular, the European Commission proposes a structured and flexible solidarity mechanism between EU countries and the development of legal pathways for migration to Europe.

This proposal is being put forward for adoption under the ordinary legislative procedure, in which the European Parliament and Ministers of EU countries take decisions on an equal footing. Updates on the legislative procedure are available here.

In December 2020, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for a solidarity-based mechanism to ensure the respect of the right to asylum in the EU and a distributed responsibility among EU countries. Moreover, the European Parliament adopted a second resolution stressing the need to allocate more funds to building an effective and sustainable EU return policy.

Further information

Keep sending your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.


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