Book Chapter

Managing Irregular Migrants within the EU

Published 18 April 2016 / By Sarah Spencer

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Among the residents of the European Union we know that there will always be some who have an irregular immigration status, notwithstanding prevention measures and those to enforce returns. In 2010 the European Commission accepted an estimate of this population as between 1.9 and 3.8 million, just 0.4-0.8% of the population of the then EU-27 (in 2008) but concentrated in some of our larger urban areas.

Many irregular migrants thrive without coming to the attention of the authorities; others can find themselves in need of a public service for themselves or their children. In practice, member states, at national, regional and municipal level, find those needs cannot always be ignored because the cost of exclusion – for the public as well as for the individuals concerned – is too high. As a result, across the EU, member states grant some legal entitlements to irregular migrants to access public services, not least to health care and, for children, to education. They have done so, we found in a recent study, in part for humanitarian reasons – but also, significantly, because the social and economic cost of not doing so threatens states’ ability to deliver on other policy priorities.


Spencer, S. (2016) 'Managing Irregular Migrants within the EU', in Carrera, S., & Guild, E. (eds) Irregular migration, Trafficking and Smuggling of Human Beings: Policy dilemmas in the EU, Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), pp. 41 - 46