Service Provision to Irregular Migrants in Europe 2012 – 2015


This study, under the auspices of an Open Society Fellowship and subsequent Action Grant, explores the extent of, and rationales for, entitlements to service provision for migrants with irregular immigration status in EU countries. It is investigating differing entitlements granted at national, regional and city level and, in particular, the reasoning behind those decisions and the ways in which they were taken. It is also exploring whether entitlements are affected by the absence of data protection safeguards on service users’ personal data.

Principal Investigator

Sarah Spencer


Vanessa Hughes


Open Society Fellowship Programme

News & Media

Norway’s not so cuddly welfare state
Blog | Sarah Spencer

City responses to irregular migrants
Blog | Sarah Spencer

The Sunshine and Shadow Politics of Irregular Migrants in Europe
COMPAS Anthology | Sarah Spencer | Feb 2014


European Union


CitiesEducationEuropean UnionHealthIllegalityPolicies




This project engages with theory on the trade-offs within migration policy-making that lead to apparently contradictory decisions and relates it to the ‘shadow politics’ of decisions on migrants’ rights. It draws on the literature on multi-level governance of intractable policy problems, focusing on the tensions between cities and national governments; explores the socio-economic implications of restricting or granting social rights; and engages with the literature on integration processes in exploring the implications of irregular immigration status. Theory relating to ‘deservingness’ offers insights in relation to the differing position of children in the policy responses to irregular migrants across the EU.


This project first mapped the entitlements in national law to health care and education for irregular migrants across the EU 28 and checked the findings for each country with a network of national experts. More than a hundred interviews relating to a wider range of service provision were conducted with government officials, lawyers, service professionals and NGOs at national, regional and local level, across 14 EU countries (analysed using NVivo); and a series of workshops held to explore city practices, and the policy framework at the European level. A particular focus on Italy related to a roundtable organised under the auspices of Italy’s Presidency of the EU during 2014.