The paper aims at reviewing the recent literature on irregular migration, highlighting both the new theoretical and empirical challenges that arise when dealing with the issue at various levels of governance in current times, when Europe is addressed by a manageable but unprecedented high number of new mixed migration inflows that also include asylum-seekers. In doing so, the paper employs the most commonly-used definitions to present the important connection between irregular migration and irregular work, which is considered both a pull factor and perpetrator of irregular migration. Although there is a dearth of reliable estimates on the current size of irregular migration in Europe, the available data on enforcement of immigration regulations – including returns and their ineffectiveness in reducing irregularity – are used to obtain a comparable picture of trends in Europe as a whole on third-country nationals found to be irregularly present and on rejected asylum seekers who might stay into irregularity. Frames of irregular migration in local and regional discourses open the discussion on the new challenges for the multilevel governance of irregular migration, where multiple tensions arise between the local, national and European levels. The paper concludes by discussing the political economy of migrant/asylum-seeker control, reception, processing, support, and re-localisation (within or outside Europe), where spaces for discrepancies across various governance levels widens. In the current situation of constant policy changes at multiple levels, new social and economic actors (or the mobilisation of old ones with new roles) play a role in unveiling inconsistencies and gaps in the multilevel irregular migration governance and in providing assistance and advocacy for solidarity mechanisms and human rights’ protection, which should be among core values of European policy.
This background paper was produced for the Autumn Academy 2017.
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