Statistics on enforcement of immigration legislation

Data extracted in October 2015. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article presents the European Union (EU) indicators on the enforcement of immigration legislation (EIL). It provides statistics on non-EU citizens who were refused entry at the external borders of the EU, apprehended as being illegally present or subject to an obligation to leave the territory of an EU Member State.[1][2] The indicators in this article can be regarded as an official record of persons subject to the enforcement of immigration legislation, providing a general overview of the outcomes of territorial surveillance and control procedures.

Following the need for more information on enforcement of immigration legislation resulted from the recent evolution of the immigration flows, several EU Member States[3] provided on a voluntary basis more variables related to the return of non-EU citizens based on Eurostat methodology.

According to the available data, irregular migration to the EU decreased significantly between 2008 and 2011, then stabilised over the next two years. In 2014 there was an increase in both the number non-EU citizens apprehended due to illegal stay and the number of persons issued with an order to leave. The situation for individual EU Member States however varies in trend and level due to specific national factors such as national wealth, history and culture, geographical position, type and length of borders, border infrastructure, border control, judicial procedures, national policy and the legal framework related to irregular migration.

Figure 1: Non-EU citizens subject to the enforcement of immigration legislation in EU, 2008 – 14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs); (migr_eipre); (migr_eiord); (migr_eirtn)
Map 1: Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28 and EFTA, 2014
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs); (migr_eipre); (migr_eiord); (migr_eirtn)
Figure 2: Number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the most affected EU Member States, 2008–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)
Figure 3: Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28, by sex and age, 2008 and 2014
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)
Figure 4: Main citizenships of persons found to be illegally present in the EU-28, 2013–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)
Table 1: Top citizenships of non-EU citizens apprehended in the EU, with more than 30 000 apprehensions from 2008–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)
Table 2: Non-EU citizens ordered to leave EU Member States' territories, 2008–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eiord)
Figure 5: Main citizenships of persons ordered to leave an EU-28 Member State, 2013–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eiord)
Figure 6: Main citizenships of persons in fact returned to their country of origin, 2013–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirtn)
Figure 7: Third-country nationals who have left the EU-28 territory, by type of return, 2014 (%) (¹)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirt_vol)
Figure 8: Non-EU citizens refused entry at the external borders of the EU-28, 2014
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)
Table 3: Non-EU citizens refused entry at external borders, 2008–14
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)
Table 4: Persons refused entry by border type , 2014
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)
Figure 9: Top citizenships of persons refused entry in EU-28 by type of border, 2014
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)
Figure 10: Grounds for entry refusal at the external borders of the EU-28, 2012–14 (¹)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)

Main statistical findings

Number of apprehensions in the EU has increased by almost 50% between 2013 and 2014

Following a period of decrease (from 2008 to 2013), in 2014 the number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28, peaked at around 626 000 (see Figure 1). This represents an increase of about 46 % compared with 2013, and about 8 % compared with 2008. However, the situation recorded does not necessarily reflect a growth in the numbers of non-EU citizens staying in EU territory illegally, since some Member States may have changed their policy on the checks they perform, thereby influencing the number of apprehensions[4].

The most affected Member States in 2014 with over 50 000 illegally present persons apprehended were Germany (128 000), France (96 000), Greece (74 000), Sweden (73 000) and United Kingdom (65 000). These five Member States accounted for 70 % of all apprehensions recorded in the EU. Figure 2 lists the 10 Member States with the highest number of apprehensions in which Spain (48 000), Austria (33 000), Italy (25 000), Belgium (16 000) and Bulgaria (13 000) count together for about 22 % of all apprehensions. Therefore, most of the apprehensions (over 90 %) were recorded in these 10 countries while in Malta, Ireland, Estonia, Denmark, Luxembourg and Latvia the number of apprehensions were considerable lower in 2014 with less than one thousand cases (see Map 1).

Most of the non-EU citizens apprehended were young males aged between 18 and 34 (41 % of the total number of apprehensions).

Citizenship and other characteristics of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU

Over a seven-year period (2008–14), Albania ranked first as the source country of non-EU citizens found to be illegally in the EU (see Table 1). However this overall ranking masks a significant decrease from 2008 to 2012, due to a drop in Albanian migration to Greece, a trend which reversed in 2013 and 2014. Over the 2008–14 period, Afghanistan came second, with over 40 000 apprehensions annually from 2008 to 2011, a figure that decreased considerably in 2012 and 2013 (34 105 and 23 750 respectively) and increased to 39 690 in 2014 (see Table 1).

Focusing on the last two years, the highest increase in 2014 compared with 2013 concerned Syrians (111 345 vs 32 025), an obvious consequence of the conflict taking place there (see Figure 4). A similar trend was observed for Eritreans, with apprehensions rising by 140 % (from 10 080 in 2013 to 50 585 in 2014).

The data disaggregated by sex for the number of apprehended non-EU citizens illegally present in the EU-28 indicate that irregular migration is predominantly a male issue (see Figure 3). However, the share of female third country citizens apprehended has increased from 9 % in 2008 to 19 % in 2014. As regards the age characteristics of these citizens, 77 150 children (aged 0–17) were apprehended on grounds of illegal stay in the EU-28 in 2014, which is over 12 % of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU. Close to 62 % of those apprehended were aged 18–34 and almost 26 % were aged 35 or over (see Figure 3).

Number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave has decreased between 2008 and 2014

In 2014 over 470 000[5] non-EU citizens were issued with an order to leave an EU Member State, 36 % of which were recorded as being returned to a non-EU country (168 925 persons) (see Figure 1). The gap between the decisions to leave and the effective returns represents the unknown cases (e.g. voluntary returns without the authorities being informed, disappearances of persons after issuance of the leave order or cases not properly recorded or not confirmed by the border authorities).

The total number of orders to leave EU countries decreased by 22.1 %, from 603 000 in 2008 to 470 000 in 2014, while the number of non-EU citizens returned to a non-EU country decreased by 20.1 %, from about 211 000 in 2008 to about 169 000 in 2014.

Disparities in migration policies, as well as administrative, statistical and legal (legal acts, judicial procedure, etc.) systems contribute to differences among EU Member States. Any changes in these factors can influence the resulting statistics.

Of the 470 000 persons ordered to leave an EU Member State in 2014, 18.5 % were in France, 15.7 % in Greece, 13.9 % in the United Kingdom and 9.0 % in Spain. These figures represent a decrease from 2008 for each of these countries. In the case of Greece and Spain the figures in 2014 were less than half of the 2008 values. In Greece, the orders to leave the country fell from 146 335 orders in 2008 to 73 670 in 2014 and in Spain from 82 940 in 2008 to 42 150 in 2014 (see Table 2). Other countries that also recorded significant numbers in 2014 were Belgium (35 245), Germany (34 255), the Netherlands (33 735), Italy (25 300), Sweden (14 280) and Bulgaria (12 870).

In terms of the country of citizenship of individuals most frequently issued with an order to leave EU Member States (more than 10 000 orders) in 2014 (see Figure 5), Syria accounted for 44 470 orders, followed by Morocco (32 825) and Albania (about 29 665). High numbers were also reported for Afghanistan (23 445), Pakistan (21 210), Algeria (16 820), India (15 930), Nigeria (13 830), Tunisia (13 500) and Ukraine (12 475). China, Serbia, Bangladesh, Russia and Turkey were also among the top 15 countries with orders to leave ranging from around 12 000 to 10 000 each. Compared with 2013, the highest increases were in the four top countries, on the other hand, there was a significant decrease in Russia (from 17 615 in 2013 to 10 055 in 2014).

About 169 000 non-EU citizens returned to their country of origin in 2014

In 2014 around 27 % of the non-EU citizens apprehended in an EU Member State returned to their country of origin. From 2008 to 2014, the number of returns to third countries decreased by 20 % from 211 350 to 168 925. The trends in the last seven years did not register big fluctuations, and ranged from the peak of 211 800 returns in 2009, to the low of 167 150 in 2011.

In 2014 Albanians (24 005) topped the list of non-EU citizens effectively returned to a non-EU country after an order to leave (see Figure 6), followed by Pakistanis (10 455), Ukrainians (9 475), Moroccans (9 405), Indians (9 075) and Serbians (8 600). Albania has also seen by far the largest increase of year-on-year returns compared with 2013. Other countries with high number of returns after an order to leave were Russia, China, Nigeria and Algeria.

New statistics on returns for 2014

According to one of the new datasets for 2014, which contains data for 16 Member States , 37 % of the non-EU citizens left voluntarily the Member State's territories. This percentage varies considerably between Member States, presenting values from no voluntary returns in Hungary and 6 % in Denmark to 86 % in Romania and 94 % in Latvia (see Figure 7). However the difficulties in recording voluntary cases and the data availability limitations have significant impact on the resulting figures and therefore the comparability between countries is limited.

Over two thirds of all refusals to enter the EU were reported by Spain and Poland

In 2014, around 286 000 non-EU citizens were refused entry at the external borders of the EU-28. There was an overall 12.2 % reduction in the number of refusals that was due to the decrease of refusals in Spain and Poland (around 20 000 less refusals each). More than two thirds of refusals were recorded in Spain (172 185) and Poland (20 125). Over half of the total number of EU-28 entry refusals (about 60 %) were recorded by Spain, and mainly concerned Moroccan citizens (97 %) refused entry at Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish territories that share a physical border with Morocco). Figure 8 illustrates the ‘Spain effect’ on the entry refusal data.

The total number of EU-28 entry refusals has dropped by over 50 % (from 635 000 in 2008 to 286 000 in 2014) with different trends across EU-28 Member States. The total number of entry refusals for Spain in 2014 was three times less than in 2008 (172 185 vs 510 010), while Spanish entry refusals as a proportion of the total number of entry refusals in the EU-28 decreased from 80.3 % in 2008 to 60.1 % in 2014 (see Table 3). The trend was the opposite in Poland, where the total number of entry refusals has gradually increased from 16 850 in 2008 to 40 385 in 2013 and then to 20 125 in 2014.

Hungary also had a continuous increase in entry refusals (from 5 530 in 2008 to 13 325 in 2014), while Greece recorded an increase between 2008 and 2011 (2 055 vs 11 160). This trend was reversed over the following three years (9 415 in 2012; 6 995 in 2013 and 6 445 in 2014) (see Table 3).

Entry refusals by border type

In 2014 the largest number of refusals were recorded at the external land borders (81 %), followed by refusals at air borders (16 %). Only a small proportion of non-EU citizens were refused entry at sea borders (3 %). These shares were very stable over the years.

Besides Spain and Poland, Hungary and Croatia also recorded a high number of entry refusals at their land borders in 2014 (around 13 000 and 8 000 respectively) (see Table 4). Other countries with a high number of entry refusals at land borders, but with lower figures, are: Greece (5 500), Slovenia (3 800), Romania (3 500), Lithuania (3 200), Bulgaria (1 900) and Latvia (1 800). As regards air borders, the United Kingdom (11 700) and France (9 000) had the highest numbers of refusals, followed by Spain (4 600), Italy (4 500) and Germany (3 600). Refusal at air boarders were also high in the Netherlands, Ireland and Belgium.

The United Kingdom and Italy reported the highest numbers of refusals at sea borders (3 200 and 2 500 respectively) for 2014. France, Spain, Greece, Ireland and Romania were also among the EU Member States with the highest number of refusals at sea borders, but their reported figures were much lower (600, 500, 200, 100 and 100 cases respectively).

Citizenship of the persons refused entry to the EU-28

The top five countries of citizenship of persons refused entry at EU-28 external borders in 2014 were Morocco (168 735), Ukraine (16 150), Albania (14 275), Serbia (9 445) and Russia (9 375). Moroccans were refused entry mainly at the land border of Spain; Russians and Ukrainians at the land border of Poland; and Serbians at the land borders of Hungary and Croatia. Albanians were mainly refused entry at Greek, Italian, Croatian, Slovenian and Hungarian land borders as well as at Italian sea and air borders (see Figure 9).

Albanians made up the highest number of refusals at sea borders (2 510), mostly at Italian sea borders (1 975), followed by Moroccans arriving in Spain (655). Ukrainian citizens recorded the third highest number of entry refusals at sea borders in 2014, with most being refused in the United Kingdom.

In terms of entry refusals at EU-28 air borders in 2014, Albanians again made up the highest number (3 565), mainly at the air border of Italy (1 395). Algerians were second (2 595), mainly at the air borders of France (1 660). For these countries of citizenship there was a significant increase of refusals at air borders. In the case of Algeria, the rank changed from fourth in 2013 to second in 2014 (see Figure 9).

Grounds for entry refusals

In terms of the reasons for entry refusal[6] in 2014, the highest number of non-EU citizens (around 42 000) were refused due to ‘no valid visa or residence permits’ (see Figure 10). Numbers were considerably lower compared with 2013 figures (42 310 vs 61 240). About 28 000 non-EU citizens were also refused entry due to ‘purpose and conditions of stay not justified’, an increase of almost 3 000 cases in the last three years (25 675 in 2012 vs 28 360 in 2014).

The most significant decrease over the last three years was recorded for ‘an alert has been issued’. Cases decreased from 15 370 in 2012, to 12 145 in 2013 and 12 200 in 2014. Refusals for five other reasons have remained stable and below 3 000 over the last three years.

Data sources and availability

The EIL statistics are based on administrative data provided by the national authorities in line with the requirements of Regulation 0862/2007 on the European statistics on migration and international protection. The compilation of these statistics draws on the terms used by the Schengen Borders Code, as in the case of the external borders concept (Council Regulation (EC) No 562/2006) and reasons for refusals of entry. Map 4 illustrates the external borders of the Schengen area.

The EIL statistics do not include asylum seekers who are transferred from one EU Member State to another under the mechanism established by the Dublin Regulation (Regulation 0343/2003 and Regulation 1560/2003), since these cases are related to Dublin statistics. Please see the Schengen area map here.


The enforcement of migration law refers to two main issues: control of EU external borders and management of unauthorised non-EU citizens found on the territory of an EU Member State.

In this respect, coordination between EU Member States regarding border controls has increased significantly over the last decade. The most noteworthy development concerns Regulation 2007/2004 which established the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX) as well as Regulation 0562/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Community Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code).

Regarding the management of irregular migrant populations, the so-called 'Return Directive' (0115/2008)’ came into force at the end of 2010 to establish common standards of return for irregular migrants. The directive provides for clear, transparent and fair common rules for return and removal, the use of coercive measures, detention and re-entry, while fully respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned.

In addition, Regulation 1052/2013 established the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR) has been established. This specifies ‘a common framework for the exchange of information and for the cooperation between EU Member States and FRONTEX. The aim of this system is to improve the situational awareness and to increase reaction, capability at the ‘external borders’ of the EU for the purpose of detecting, preventing and combating illegal immigration and cross-border crime and contributing to ensuring the protection and saving the lives of migrants (EUROSUR)’.

As regards measuring the enforcement of immigration legislation, the progress made so far on collecting harmonised data results from the adoption of Regulation 0862/2007, in particular its Articles 5 and 7.

The regulation facilitates the evidence-based decision-making of European migration policy[7], providing specifications on the data that should be submitted by EU Member States on the number of non-EU citizens refused entry at EU external borders, the number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present and the number of removals of non-EU citizens whose presence was unauthorised.

All in all, irregular migration remains a phenomenon difficult to quantify at a time when an effective and humane return policy is an essential part of an open migration policy. Some of the indicators presented here provide guidance to that effect.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Enforcement of Immigration Legislation (migr_eil)
Third country nationals refused entry at the external borders — annual data (rounded)(migr_eirfs)
Third country nationals found to be illegally present — annual data (rounded) (migr_eipre)
Third country nationals ordered to leave — annual data (rounded) (migr_eiord)
Third country nationals returned following an order to leave — annual data (rounded) (migr_eirtn)
Third-country nationals who have left the territory by type of return and citizenship (migr_eirt_vol)
Third-country nationals who have left the territory by type of assistance received and citizenship (migr_eirt_ass)
Third-country nationals who have left the territory to a third country by type of agreement procedure and citizenship (migr_eirt_agr)
Third-country nationals who have left the territory to a third country by destination country and citizenship (migr_eirt_des)

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

The EU legislative framework covering the enforcement of migration law and the operational cooperation between EU Member States is the following:

External links


  1. The EIL statistics refer to the concept of ‘external borders’ for all EU-28 Member States and EFTA countries even if some are not in the Schengen area. The ‘external borders’ of the Schengen area do not coincide with the ‘external borders’ of the EU-28 Member States due to the opt-out of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the inclusion in the Schengen area of the non-EU Member States Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland and the fact that Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not yet members of the Schengen area.
  2. See footnote 4
  3. Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, France, Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia.
  4. Apprehension of person means such person is found to be illegally present.
  5. Data for Austria not included.
  6. The classification of the grounds of entry refusal comes from the Schengen Borders Code.
  7. Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of the implementation of Regulation 0862/2007).