As in northwest Europe, the establishment of visa requirements has led to an increasing reliance on undocumented migration. The long coastlines of Spain and Italy make it relatively easy to enter those countries illegally. There is a persistent demand for unskilled labour in Europe, especially in the relatively large informal sectors of southern European countries and of Italy, in particular.
On several occasions since the late 1980s, Italian and Spanish governments were compelled to grant legal status to almost two hundred thousand undocumented Moroccan migrants, through successive legalisation campaigns.
While large numbers of Moroccans have migrated irregularly to Europe over the past decades, regular and irregular migration of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to and through Morocco has been increasing since the late 1990s. Most irregular migrants enter Morocco from Algeria, at the border east of Oujda, after they have crossed the Sahara overland, usually through Niger. Once in Morocco, they attempt to cross to Europe by sea or try to enter the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast by scaling the tall border fences separating these enclaves from Morocco. In September 2005, at least five people died and more than 40 were injured in just such a massive border-crossing attempt in Ceuta. A substantial proportion of migrants failing or not trying to enter Europe prefer to settle in Morocco on a more long-term basis, rather than returning to their more unstable and substantially poorer home countries. Although lacking residency status and, therefore, vulnerable to exploitation, they sometimes manage to find jobs in specific niches in the informal service sector, tourism, petty trade, construction and agriculture.
Although this is a new phenomenon, it is important to counter images of a huge flood of African immigrants threatening to swamp the Maghreb and Europe. The number of sub-Saharan migrants is still relatively limited compared to the sizeable Moroccan emigrant population. Each year, not more than some tens of thousands of sub-Saharan migrants are believed to attempt to migrate to Europe illegally, while the number of sub-Saharan irregular migrants and refugees living in Morocco is currently estimated to be much higher.
Since the 1990s, Morocco has been put under increasing pressure by EU countries to introduce more restrictive immigration policies and to increase border controls. In 2003, Morocco passed new immigration laws that institute severe punishments for participation in or assisting irregular immigration and human smuggling. According to critics, these new laws, which criminalize irregular migration, show that Morocco and Tunisia are bowing to pressure from the EU to play the role of Europe's "police".
To reduce immigration flows from Morocco, the EU is also seeking to boost Morocco's development. In 1996, Morocco signed the European Mediterranean Association Agreement (EMAA) with the EU, Morocco's most important trading partner. This should lead to the establishment of a free trade area in 2010. The EU's support for Morocco's economic transition is mainly implemented through the MEDA (Mésures d'Accompagnement or Accompanying Measures) program, which aims to increase competitiveness by developing the private sector and promoting good governance. Significant funds from the MEDA program target the stated goal of immigration reduction. The EU is putting increasing emphasis on collaboration with Maghreb states on border control and readmission.
However, all of these policies have done little to decrease migration. Instead of reducing migration, intensified border controls have led to a rise in irregular migration, diverted migration routes, and increased the risks, costs, and suffering on the part of the migrants involved. In brief, policies to "fight illegal migration" seem bound to fail because they are among the very causes of the phenomenon they presume to combat.