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Brussels, 19 July 2006

EU policy to fight illegal immigration

Today the Commission adopted a Communication taking stock of the progress made in fighting illegal immigration and identifying the EU´s policy priorities in this important area.

Addressing illegal immigration has been a central part of the EU's common immigration policy since its inception in 1999. The Treaty of Amsterdam created Community competences in this field in its Title IV, with Art. 62 TEC as the legal basis for regulations relating to border controls and visa policy, and Art. 63 (3) TEC as an explicit basis for measures on illegal immigration and illegal residence, including the repatriation of illegal residents.

This Communication forms an integral part of the EU´s comprehensive approach towards effective migration management. It complements the policy plan adopted by the Commission in December 2005, which set out a range of initiatives that the Commission intends to take in the field of legal migration. The policy plan stated that the admission of economic immigrants is inseparable from further measures to combat illegal immigration, in order to ensure the integrity and credibility of such a policy.

Quantifying the phenomenon

The term ‘illegal immigration’ is used to describe a variety of phenomena. This includes third-country nationals who enter the territory of a Member State illegally by land, sea and air, including airport transit zones. This is often done by using false or forged documents, or with the help of organised criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers. In addition, there is a considerable number of persons who enter legally with a valid visa or under a visa-free regime, but “overstay” or change the purpose of stay without the approval of the authorities. Lastly there are unsuccessful asylum seekers who do not leave after a final negative decision.

Estimates of illegal migration flows can only be derived from relevant indicators, such as the numbers of refused entries, of illegal immigrants apprehended at the border or in a Member State, of applications for national regularisation procedures and of removals. A further useful indicator is given by the considerable number of those who enter legally and then “overstay”. From these indicators, estimates of annual inflows of illegal immigration into the EU-25 are thought to reach over six figures (see annex).

Increased migration pressure during the next decades seems very likely in view of the economic and political situation in many countries of origin and with regard to demographic forecasts. Illegal migratory movements are likely to continue at a significant rate as long as ‘push’ factors in third countries and ‘pull’ factors in the EU remain important.

Policy context

The importance of measures to combat illegal immigration has been repeatedly emphasised by all the institutions of the EU. In particular, in its 2001 Communication on a common policy on illegal immigration, the Commission announced its intention to "address the issue of illegal immigration with a comprehensive approach" that targets measures encompassing the different stages of the migration process. The three 2002 Council Action Plans on illegal immigration, border controls and return listed such a comprehensive set of measures and actions. The Commission’s 2003 Communication (IP/03/794) contributed to an assessment of progress made under these Action Plans and announced an annual stocktaking, to which the 2004 report responded. Such an annual report is also annexed to this Communication, covering progress made in 2005.

The Hague Programme – the multi-annual work programme in the area of justice, freedom and security, adopted by the European Council of 4/5 November 2004 – sets out the agenda to step up the fight against illegal immigration in a number of broad policy areas: border security, illegal employment, return and cooperation with third countries. The European Council of 15/16 December 2005, responding to recent and ongoing illegal immigration in the Mediterranean region, underlined the need for a broad approach and agreed on a set of concrete priority actions, to be implemented in the short and mid-term.

Content of the Communication – Policy Priorities

The Communication adopted today builds on the guiding principles and EU achievements until today and further develops new priorities. It follows a comprehensive approach, striking a balance between security and basic rights of individuals and thus addresses measures at all stages of the illegal immigration process, in particular

- Cooperation with third countries

Dialogue and cooperation on migration between the EU and countries of origin and transit is crucial. In particular, concrete short and mid-term measures are currently implemented in response to recent (events in Ceuta and Melilla) and ongoing illegal immigration in the Mediterranenan region. These include joint patrols, surveillance and einforced response capacity. In the longer perspective, push-factors for illegal immigration will continue to be addressed through development policies.

- Further strengthening the external borders

With the Borders Code and the FRONTEX Agency for the management of operational Cooperation at the External Borders a framework has already been set up through which border controls can be further developed to a high standard. In the future biometric technology, such as fingerprints and digital photographs, will have a significant impact on border control systems and should be exploited to enhance the effectiveness of border control operations. To that end, the Communication considers the creation of a generalised and automated entry-exit system for registration of third country nationals entering into or leaving EU territory. This would serve two purposes: first it would enable Member States to verify if a third-country national was "overstaying", for example after expiry of a visa, or had done so in the past. Second, such a system could be used to facilitate legal migration management. as a register of especially seasonal workers from third countries. A further approach would consist in an enhanced use of advance passenger data for border and illegal immigration control purposes ("e-borders"), in order to develop threat analyses and risk assessments.

Both these systems would have considerable impacts in technical, financial and data protection terms. With respect to the set up of an entry-exit system, it is therefore suggested to first carry out a study to assess feasibility and proportionality.

- Fight against human trafficking

This Communication also brings into focus EU measures to combat trafficking of human beings. The EU Plan on best practices, standards and procedures for combating and preventing trafficking in human beings, adopted by the Council on 1 December 2005 on the basis of a Commission proposal (IP/05/1298), sets the agenda in this field for the medium term. The Action Plan covers a range of issues such as measures to improve the understanding of the crime and its dimensions, prevent trafficking, reduce demand, more efficient investigation and prosecution, protection and support of victims, safe return and reintegration and also issues linked to anti-trafficking in third countries.

- Tackling illegal employment

The possibility for illegally staying immigrants of finding employment in the EU – mostly in construction,catering and textile industries and very often under exploitative conditions – remains a significant pull-factor for illegal immigration. It is, therefore, suggested to specifically target this issue. Member States are called upon to introduce sanctions for such rogue employers. Action at EU level with the aim of harmonising such sanctions could be an additional tool for preventing further illegal immigration.

- Regularisation of illegal immigrants

Action needs to be taken towards those illegally present third country nationals in the EU who are unlikely, for whatever reason, to be returned to their countries of origin. These persons are not targeted by integration measures due to their status as illegal migrants. Given the difficulties in tolerating the sustained presence of significant numbers of illegally residing third country nationals on their territories, some Member States have undertaken large-scale regularisation programmes in recent years. These national measures gave rise to expressions of concern and interest in the other Member States, not least because of possible repercussions in an area without internal borders.

In this context it should be mentioned that the Commission's proposal from October last year (IP/05/1251) for a Council decision establishing a mutual information procedure on national measures in the areas of asylum and immigration is at the final stages of deliberations in Council and European Parliament. It's formal adoption is expected for autumn this year, with the mutual information procedure ("early-warning mechanism") becoming applicable as of 2007.

Given the limited information available on practices, effects and impacts of regularisation measures, a study will be conducted which would constitute the basis for future discussions on this issue, including on whether there is a need for a common legal framework on regularisations at EU level.

- Return policy

Return remains a cornerstone of EU migration policy. An effective return policy is key in ensuring public support for elements such as legal migration and asylum. Priorities suggested in the Communication are the conclusion of further readmission agreements; progress on the proposed return Directive that is currently under negotiation in Council and Parliament; enhanced use of joint return flights by Member States; improved possibilities for documentation for return of third-country national who do not have travel documents; and the establishment of common taining standards for officers involved in return.

- Improved information exchange

Operational cooperation between Member States can only be successful if they are able to share information of a technical and strategic nature swiftly and easily. The Communcation therefore calls for enhanced use of existing instruments, such as ICONet (a web-based network for the exchange between Member States of strategic, tactical and operational information concerning illegal migratory movements - IP/06/57), networks of Immigration Liaison Officers of Member States posted in countries of origin and Europol support.

- Policy evaluation

The implementation of measures already agreed is an integral part of how the EU continues to address illegal immigration. It is suggested to evaluate legislation both on commercial carriers´obligations to prevent illegal immigration and measures against the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (smuggling), with a view to identifying and shortcomings or gaps. This evaluation will be carried out in close cooperation with both Member States and relevant stakeholders (transport industry, humanitarian organizations).


The Communication adopted today will be communicated to the Council and to European Parliament. It is expected that, before the end of this year, they will both render their official views on the measures and new priorities suggested therein.

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