Statistics Explained

Enforcement of immigration legislation statistics


Data extracted 16 May 2022.

Planned update: May 2023.

Highlights

139 000 non-EU citizens were refused entry into the EU at one of its external borders in 2021, up 1% compared with 2020.

681 200 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU in 2021, up 22% compared with 2020.

342 100 non-EU citizens were ordered to leave the territory of the EU Member States in 2021, down 14% compared with 2020.

Non-EU citizens subject to immigration law enforcement in 2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs), (migr_eipre), (migr_eiord1) and (migr_eirtn1)

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

Full article

Latest developments in enforcement statistics

In 2021, 681 200 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU; this was up 22 % compared with one year earlier, but down 67 % compared with the value for 2015 when the highest number since the beginning of the time series was recorded

Figure 1 provides an overview of the information available for the EU pertaining to non-EU citizens who were subject to the enforcement of immigration legislation. Note that the situation for individual EU Member States varied, reflecting specific national characteristics, such as national wealth, history and culture, geographical position, type and length of borders, border infrastructure, border control, judicial procedures, national policies and the legal context of irregular migration.

Among the five main indicators for statistics on the enforcement of immigration legislation, the data on non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU showed an atypical movement from 2013 to 2016 (see Figure 1). The flow of irregular migrants entering the EU reached record levels in 2015, peaking at 2 085 500 (rounded to the nearest 100) persons found to be illegally present, before falling to 924 000 in 2016 and to 563 800 in 2017; in 2018 and 2019 there was modest growth. In 2020 the number fell and grew again in 2021. The declines in 2016 and 2017 reflected not only a reduction in the number of persons found to be illegally present following the exceptional migration flows of earlier years, but also changes in national policies among the EU Member States in reaction to these events; the latter may have impacted on how checks on illegally present non-EU citizens were performed/enforced. Note also that double-counting of the same person by different Member States cannot be excluded.

The number of non-EU citizens who were issued with an order to leave one of the EU countries fell for three consecutive years between 2010 and 2013, but then increased in successive years to reach a relative high of 458 600 by 2015. Thereafter, the number of non-EU citizens who were issued with an order to leave the EU fell in 2016 before increasing for three consecutive years to reach 491 200 persons in 2019. In 2021 the number fell to 342 100, the lowest level since the beginning of the time series in 2008. Following the receipt of an order to leave the territory of an EU Member State, some 82 700 non-EU citizens were returned to another country in 2021.[3]

The number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU stood at 139 000 in 2021; this was up 1 % compared with the number recorded in 2020 when a sharp drop was observed.

Figure 1: Non-EU citizens subject to the enforcement of immigration legislation in EU Member States, 2010-2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs), (migr_eipre), (migr_eiord), (migr_eirtn), (migr_eiord1) and (migr_eirtn1)

Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present

In 2021, 681 200 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU.

France reported the largest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in 2021 (215 200), followed by Hungary (134 100) and Germany (120 300); these three Member States together accounted for 69 % of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU. At the other end of the range, five Member States — Estonia, Malta, Ireland, Denmark and Latvia — each recorded less than 1 000 non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in 2021 (see Map 1).

Map 1: Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU Member States or EFTA countries, 2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)

Figure 2 looks in more detail at the five EU Member States (Greece, Germany, France, Hungary and Spain) which — during the period 2010-2021 — reported the highest (cumulative) number of persons who were found to be illegally present.

A comparison with 2020 reveals that the largest increase in 2021 in the number of persons who were found to be illegally present in the EU was observed for France (up 107 %), followed by Hungary (50 %) and Germany (2 %). Spain and Greece recorded falls of 58 % and 20 % respectively.

Figure 2: Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the five most affected EU Member States, 2010-2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)

Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present — by sex and age

Irregular migration was predominantly a male issue, as shown by the information presented in Figure 3. An analysis by sex of the number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU indicates that 87 % of the total recorded number in 2021 concerned men. This proportion is higher than the corresponding share recorded in 2010, when men accounted for 82 % of all illegally present persons; note the data for the EU aggregate in 2010 exclude information for Croatia.

In 2021, young men aged 18-34 years accounted for more than half of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU

In 2021, most non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU were young males aged between 18 and 34 years (54 % of the total recorded number). They were followed by men aged 35 years and over, with this age group accounting for 19 % of the total number of persons found to be staying illegally; all other age groups for one or other of the sexes recorded shares below one tenth.

A simple analysis by age (for both sexes combined) of the situation in 2021 reveals that persons aged 18-34 years accounted for 60 % of the total number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU, while one quarter (25 %) of the total were aged 35 years or over. Around 6 % were children aged 17 years or under; in absolute numbers, there were 40 600 children aged 17 years or under who were non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU in 2021.

Figure 3: Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU, by sex and age, 2010 and 2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)

In 2021, Syrian citizens accounted for the highest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU

Syrians accounted for the highest number of people found to be illegally present in the EU in 2021 (79 800). The next highest numbers were recorded for citizens of Algeria (56 800) and Afghanistan (52 800). The number of Syrians increased by 75 % compared with 2020 leading the rankings for the first time since 2016.

Table 1: Top 20 countries of citizenship of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU, 2015-2021
Source: Eurostat (migr_eipre)

Non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU

The number of non-EU citizens presented with orders to leave the territory of an EU Member State decreased between 2015 and 2016, increased until 2019 and then fell sharply in 2020 and continued to drop in 2021 (see Figure 1). In 2021, the total number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU stood at 342 100. Disparities in migration policies, administrative, statistical and legal acts, as well as judicial procedures contribute to some of the differences observed between EU Member States, with any changes in these factors potentially influencing the resulting statistics. That said, based on information available for 2015 and for 2021 for all 27 of the EU Member States, the number of citizens ordered to leave the EU fell overall between these years by 116 500, down 25 %.

Of the 342 100 persons ordered to leave EU Member States in 2021, 37 % were ordered to leave France, far more than from any other Member State. The next highest shares were recorded for Germany (9 %) and Greece (8 %) — see Table 2. Spain reported the largest decline in the number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave (42 500 fewer between 2020 and 2021), while France and Cyprus reported the largest increases (respectively 17 100 and 12 700 more between 2020 and 2021).

Table 2: Non-EU citizens ordered to leave the territory of an EU Member State or an EFTA country, 2015-2021
Source: Eurostat (migr_eiord) and (migr_eiord1)

Figure 4 presents information on non-EU citizens who, in 2020 and 2021, were issued with an order to leave an EU Member State. In 2021, the highest number of people ordered to leave an EU Member State territory was observed among Algerians (26 400), Albanians (22 000) and Moroccans (21 800).

A comparison with 2020 reveals that the largest absolute decrease in 2021 in non-EU citizens being ordered to leave were recorded for citizens of Morocco (11 800 fewer), while the largest absolute increase in the number of citizens being ordered to leave the EU were recorded for citizens of Bangladesh (4 100 more).

Figure 4: Top 20 countries of citizenship of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU, 2020 and 2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eiord) and (migr_eiord1)

Returns of non-EU citizens

In 2021, 82 700 non-EU citizens were returned to another country

In 2021, 82 700 non-EU citizens who received an order to leave an EU Member State were returned to another country.

Ukrainians and Albanians (9 400 each) topped the list of non-EU citizens returned to another country in 2021, followed by Georgians (5 400) and Pakistanis (3 200).

A comparison between 2020 and 2021 shows the largest absolute decrease in the total number of citizens returned (among the selected countries) was for citizens of Ukraine (2 700 fewer) and Morocco (2 500 fewer). The increases were much smaller in magnitude - the largest increase was for citizens of Turkey (400 more) — see Figure 5.

Figure 5: Top 20 countries of citizenship of non-EU citizens returned, 2020 and 2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirtn) and (migr_eirtn1)

Types of returns and assistance received

In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for more detailed information on the enforcement of immigration legislation. This has resulted from increased interest/awareness concerning developments of new statistics on returns (including the collection of statistics on returns by type of return and assistance received). Mandatory data collection on additional statistics in the area was launched since 2021 reference year. See the methodological note on derogations that were granted to EU Member States in the 'Data sources' chapter of this article.

Figure 6 provides information on the type of return. Based on the information that is available for 24 Member States, 47 % of returns concerned people who left the territory voluntarily, while 53 % were enforced returns.

In 2021, there was much variation in the proportion of returns accounted for by voluntary and enforced returns in each of the EU Member States, as voluntary returns accounted for less than 20 % of all returns from Hungary, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Slovakia, but for more than 85 % of all returns from Estonia, Poland, Malta, Ireland, Denmark and Latvia. In Germany all the returns were enforced.

Figure 6: Non-EU citizens returned outside the EU or EFTA country, by type of return, 2021
(%)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirtn1)

Figure 7 shows information on types of assistance received by non-EU citizens to facilitate their return. Some return programmes funded by the EU, national or international organisations provide reintegration support for returnees. This may include administrative, logistical and/or financial support to migrants who return to their country of origin.

In 2021, across the 24 EU Member States for which data are available, 76 % were assisted returns and 24 % were non-assisted returns.

As was the case for voluntary and enforced returns, there was a wide degree of variation between the EU Member States concerning whether assistance was given or not to non-EU citizens leaving the EU Member States in 2021. In Germany, Italy and Hungary all non-EU citizens were assisted in their return, while the majority of non-EU citizens leaving Poland, Latvia, Estonia, the Netherlands and Ireland were not assisted.

Figure 7: Non-EU citizens who left the EU or EFTA country, by type of assistance received, 2021
(%)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirtn1)

Non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU

In 2021, a quarter of the total number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU were recorded in Hungary

In 2021, some 139 000 non-EU citizens were refused entry into the EU at one of its external borders. A quarter of the total number of refusals were recorded in Hungary (34 700; 25 %) and almost one fifth (26 200; 19 %) were recorded in Poland (see Table 3).

Altogether, the seven EU Member States that recorded the highest numbers of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU — as shown in Figure 8 — accounted for more than three quarters (76 %) of the total number refused entry into the EU in 2021.

Figure 8: Share of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU, 2021
(%)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)


Table 3: Non-EU citizens refused entry into an EU Member State or an EFTA country, 2015-2021
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)

In 2021, the vast majority (73 %) of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU were stopped at external land borders; the share of refusals at air borders was 24 %, while only a small proportion (3 %) of total refusals for entry into the EU were at sea borders. Note that some of the EU Member States are landlocked and hence, by definition, do not have any sea borders, while others have just internal land borders within the Schengen area. The compilation of statistics on refused entry by countries within the Schengen area generally only concerns external borders of the Schengen area, although internal borders may be considered in exceptional cases, such as when a temporary border control is introduced between Schengen members.

These differences in the data analysed by type of border were largely influenced by the high shares of refusals recorded at external land borders — all over 90.0 % — in the five EU Member States with the largest numbers of refusals, namely Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Poland and Bulgaria.

As regards air borders, Germany had the highest number of refusals (4 600) in 2021, followed by Italy (3 600), Ireland (3 400) and France (3 100).

Italy (2 200) reported the highest numbers of refusals at sea borders for 2021; none of the other Member States recorded in excess of 1 000 refusals at sea borders.

Table 4: Non-EU citizens refused entry into an EU Member State or an EFTA country, by type of border, 2021
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)

The highest number of citizens refused entry into the EU in 2021 was for Ukrainians

Figure 9 shows the most common origins of citizens refused entry into the EU in 2021, with the data analysed according to the type of border that they were trying to cross. The information presented is dominated by the high number of Ukrainian citizens being refused entry into the EU at land borders (47 100), while the total number of Ukrainians refused entry into the EU (by any means) was 50 200. The next highest numbers of refusals were recorded for citizens of Albania (18 600) and Moldova (9 100). Ukrainian citizens who were refused entry into the EU mainly tried to cross land borders with Hungary and Poland and to a lesser extent with Romania. The majority of the Albanian citizens were refused entry at Croatian, Hungarian or Greek land borders, or at Italian sea and air borders. The majority of Moldovans were refused entry at Romanian, Hungarian or Polish land borders.

Figure 9: Top 20 countries of citizenship of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU, by type of border, 2021
(number)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)

Looking at the reasons for entry refusal — which are based on the Schengen Borders Code — the highest number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU in 2021 was recorded for those whose purpose and conditions of stay were not justified (43 100; 31 % of the total) — see Figure 10. The next most common ground for refusing entry of non-EU citizens into the EU was that the person was considered to be a public threat (29 % of the total).

Figure 10: Grounds of entry refusal for non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU, 2021
(%)
Source: Eurostat (migr_eirfs)

Data sources

Statistics on the enforcement of immigration legislation are based on administrative data provided by national authorities in line with the requirements of Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 concerning statistics on migration and international protection. The compilation of these statistics draws on the terms used by the Schengen Borders Code, an EU code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Regulation (EU) No 2016/399); for more information on the Schengen area, see here.

Statistics on the enforcement of immigration legislation exclude outgoing asylum seekers who are transferred from one EU Member State to another under the mechanism established by the Dublin Regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1560/2003 and Regulation (EU) No 604/2013); these cases are covered by Dublin statistics.

Note that the data for the number of non-EU citizens presented in the text of this article have been rounded to the nearest one hundred, for ease of reading and comprehension: more precise values (rounded to the nearest five) are shown in the tables and figures. Due to the rounding, various totals (such as for the EU) may not necessarily match the sum of the values for their components (such as the sum of values for the EU Member States).


In relation to the statistics presented in this article the following derogations were granted to Member States based on Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2021/431 of 10 March 2021:
1) For data on Persons found to be illegally present:

  • Transmission of the disaggregations by grounds for apprehension and by place of apprehension:
Belgium, Lithuania and Portugal for the reference year 2021
Czechia, Spain, France, Cyprus, Romania and Sweden for the reference years 2021-2023

2) For the data on Persons returned following an order to leave:

  • Transmission of the disaggregations by the assistance received
Czechia for the reference years 2021-2023
  • Transmission of the disaggregations by the country of destination
The Netherlands for the reference years 2021-2022
  • Transmission of the disaggregations by the type of return and assistance received and by the country of destination
Lithuania for the reference year 2021
Spain, Cyprus and Sweden for the reference years 2021-2023

3) For the data on Persons ordered to leave and Persons returned following an order to leave:

  • Transmission of the disaggregation by unaccompanied minors
Belgium, Lithuania and Portugal for the reference year 2021
Czechia, Spain, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Romania for the reference years 2021-2023


Tables in this article use the following notation:

Value in italics     data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is therefore likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value;
not applicable.

Context

The enforcement of migration law refers to two main issues: controlling the EU’s external borders and the management of unauthorised non-EU citizens found on the territory of an EU Member State. Coordination between EU Member States regarding border controls has increased significantly over the last decade. The most noteworthy developments concern Regulation (EU) No 2016/399 establishing a Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (the Schengen Borders Code); and Regulation (EU) No 2016/1624 on the European Border and Coast Guard, which also amended Regulation (EU) No 2016/399 and repealed Regulation (EC) No 2007/2004.

Regarding the management of irregular migrant populations, the so-called Return Directive (2008/115/EC) came into force at the end of 2010 establishing common standards for returning non-EU citizens illegally staying in the EU. The directive provides for clear, transparent, common and fair rules for return and removal, the use of coercive measures, detention and re-entry, while respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned.

In addition, Regulation (EU) No 1052/2013 established the European border surveillance system (EUROSUR). This provides ‘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 situational awareness and to increase reaction capabilities at external borders of the EU for the purpose of detecting, preventing and combating illegal immigration and cross-border crime, while contributing to ensuring the protection and saving of migrant lives.

As regards measuring the enforcement of immigration legislation, the progress made so far on collecting harmonised data results from the adoption of Regulation (EC) No 862/2007, in particular Articles 5 and 7. This regulation aims to support evidence-based decision-making, providing specifications concerning the data that should be submitted by EU Member States on the number of non-EU citizens refused entry at the EU’s external borders, the number of non-EU citizens apprehended for being illegally present in the EU, and the number of non-EU citizens who were removed from the EU as a result of their presence being unauthorised. Irregular migration remains a phenomenon difficult to quantify, especially during times when an effective and humane ‘returns policy’ is considered by many to form an essential part of migration policy.

Notes

  1. EU aggregates are computed as the sum of the national statistics available for the EU Member States. It is possible that the statistics for the EU involve some double counting of individuals if they are found to be illegally present in more than one Member State.
  2. Statistics on the enforcement of immigration legislation refer to the concept of external borders for all EU Member States and EFTA countries, even if some of these are not in the Schengen area. The external borders of the Schengen area do not coincide with the external borders of the EU Member States due to: opt-outs for Ireland from the Schengen area; Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are not yet members of the Schengen area; Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are part of the Schengen area but are not members of the EU.
  3. The difference between persons found to be illegally present and persons ordered to leave can be explained either because persons left the territory, or because their situation was regularised by grant of an asylum status or a residence permit. Furthermore, a gap can be noted between the number of persons ordered to leave and the number of persons effectively returned, which can be explained mainly by an appeal of the decision, the procurement of a residence permit or the escape of the persons ordered to leave. More generally, some differences are also explained for administrative reasons, for example if a person is ordered to leave in December of year N, but returned in February of year N+1, or apprehended to be illegally present in year N, but granted asylum in year N+1. Due to differences in national administrative procedures in migration law enforcement and methodological aspects related to compilation of data in this area, the number of persons ordered to leave in a year shall not be directly related with the number of persons found to be illegally present in the same year, and similarly for the number of persons returned and the number of persons ordered to leave in the same reference period.

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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 ordered to leave by citizenship, age and sex - quarterly data (rounded) (migr_eiord1)
Third-country unaccompanied minors ordered to leave, by citizenship, age and sex of the minor – quarterly data (rounded) (migr_eiord2)
Third country nationals returned following an order to leave - annual data (rounded) (migr_eirtn)
Third-country nationals returned following an order to leave, by type of return, citizenship, country of destination, age and and sex – quarterly data (migr_eirtn1)
Third-country unaccompanied minors returned following an order to leave, by type of return, citizenship, country of destination, age and sex of the minor – quarterly data (rounded) (migr_eirtn2)
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)