Among EU member states, migration policy is increasingly framed by guidelines at the European level. However, before addressing current European initiatives on migration control, it is necessary to clarify the different ways in which individual member states currently deal with illegal residence. We shall concentrate on areas where conditions differ strongly between individual countries.
Registration and inspection of all citizens
Only people who can be identified and assigned to a country of origin can be deported.
Illegal residence is conditional upon, and influenced by, the nature and extent of previous immigration. In northern and western Europe, many states experienced high levels of immigration in the second half of the 20th century, due to colonial immigration or recruitment programmes for migrant workers. They thus have large numbers of residents with an immigrant background who can offer a foothold to irregular migrants. By contrast, countries like the Baltic states have hardly any established immigrant groups whose experience and support new immigrants could rely on.
Current admission policy
Current admission policy determines the legal options for immigration. Anyone who can enter a country legally, for example as a migrant worker or family member with a view to gaining permanent residency status, has no need to consider an illegal route. Thus the United Kingdom is in this sense more open to labour migration than Germany and offers more legal alternatives. Temporary programmes, such as for seasonal employment, which exist in many countries, have a twofold effect. Opportunities to take up temporary employment lead to more people working legally in sectors such as agriculture and tourism. However, there is a shift towards illegality when immigrants continue to work after the limited visa has expired. Infringement of legal conditions under which a person may work with a valid visa creates a grey zone in which the migrants can indeed move about in public in the same way as other regular migrants but are threatened with deportation should the circumstances of their employment be exposed.
Due to their geographical location, the EU member states are confronted to differing degrees by illegal border crossings. EU member states in the south and east, such as Spain or Poland, share borders with poorer countries that do not belong to the European Union. They are responsible for guarding their long land and sea borders. EU countries lying at the heart of Europe only have internal borders in the Schengen area, which are principally open.
Labour market and police inspections
The possibility of exposing illegal residence through internal labour and police inspections varies greatly from one member country to another. In many EU countries the police have the authority to carry out random checks
When an irregular migrant is able to make the transition to regular residence status this is termed "regularisation" or legalisation. There are forms of more or less restrictive individual regularisation in all EU member states. Particularly in the southern European – Italy, Spain and Greece – there have repeatedly been collective regularisation programmes, in which irregular migrants who register up to a certain closing date can obtain a residence permit if they satisfy certain conditions. France, Belgium and the Netherlands have also offered regularisation programmes for aliens without residence status who have been living in the country for a long time.
Social rights for irregular migrants
Human rights apply universally and are not dependent on residence status. Claims to fundamental human rights include the right of children to a school education, access to basic medical services and legal protection. These rights also apply de jure in all member states of the European Union. The extent to which existing rights can actually be exercised varies sharply from country to country. If schools, doctors and courts check residence and cooperate – or are forced to cooperate – with the authorities responsible for detecting and deporting irregular migrants, these migrants will be deterred from exercising their rights. Germany has the most far-reaching regulations on data forwarding and cooperation with the authorities in charge of migration control (see box). In the Netherlands, access to state services for aliens without status was severely restricted in the 1990s, although schooling, medical treatment and legal protection were expressly excluded. Irrespective of residence status, inhabitants of Spain can register with the communal authorities and thereby receive access to basic medical treatment. In Greece, Sweden and Italy, too, access to medical treatment in acute emergencies is assured regardless of residence status. Hospitals need only pass on information to police if requested in the course of an investigation to do so.