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Guidelines on EU migration policy

These pages provide information on the policies that guide the EU in managing irregular migration while protecting the rights of non-EU citizens and taking care of victims of human trafficking.

The term irregular migration refers to the entry, and/or residence and/or employment of non-EU migrants in an EU country without the necessary documents, permits or registration.
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Policy Framework for Managing Irregular Migration

Guidelines on EU migration policy The EU strives to prevent irregular migration and protect victims of human trafficking and exploitation as part of the overall policy of managing migration.

This policy objective was established in 1999 when EU leaders met in Tampere, Finland, to create an area of freedom, security and justice without internal borders for the EU.

The EU’s roadmap for preventing irregular migration, establishing more legal ways to the EU, and reaching agreement on a common European asylum and migration policy is the Stockholm Programme, which runs from 2009 to 2014 and includes the following priorities:
  • Effectively managing and controlling the EU’s external borders;
  • Combating human trafficking and smuggling;
  • Encouraging non-EU citizens who are not authorised to be in an EU country to leave voluntarily;
  • Cooperating with migrants’ home countries and the non-EU countries they pass through on their way to the EU.
The Stockholm Programme builds on many of the priority policy areas identified in the EU’s 2006 Report on the fight against irregular immigration. It will be implemented according to the Action Plan Implementing the Stockholm Programme (2010).

In order to manage migration effectively, the EU works in close partnership with non-EU countries to develop policies on promoting legal migration while addressing irregular migration. This approach is known as the 'global approach to migration'.

More on cooperating with non-EU countries

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EU protections for victims of human trafficking

The Stockholm Programme also calls for measures to combat the crime of trafficking in human beings. Human trafficking is the illegal trade in human beings for purposes including commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is often referred to as modern slavery.

The EU recognises that vulnerable victims of human trafficking, who are often children, are in need of special support and protection. It therefore fights trafficking by ensuring that its victims have a chance to recover and re-integrate into society.

The EU recently adopted rules on protecting and supporting victims of human trafficking, prosecuting traffickers and better preventing human trafficking.

Cooperating with non-EU countries in fighting this crime is crucial. The EU has adopted an Action-Oriented Paper to strengthen this cooperation.

More on protecting victims of human trafficking

EU Rules on Irregular Migration

How to legally enter the EU

Non-EU citizens who want to come to the EU must make sure they have the necessary documents. EU rules aim to make it easier to come to the EU legally while preventing irregular migration.

EU countries have also adopted common rules to prosecute human traffickers and smugglers, as well as an Action Plan on how to take care of children travelling alone.

More on entering the EU legally

Risks and rights of an irregular stay

Non-EU citizens who are found to be staying in an EU country without permission will generally be required to leave. EU rules set minimum standards and procedures for returning people from an EU country where they have been staying illegally. Returns must be carried out with dignity and in full respect of fundamental rights.

EU rules also set a minimum level for criminal sanctions for employers who hire unauthorised migrant workers. The rights of such workers should always be respected and they should receive full salaries, even if they have already left their EU host country.

More on the risks and rights of an irregular stay

Further Information

More on avoiding the risks of irregular migration

More on entering the EU legally

EU policies on irregular migration

Reference documents