Enforcement of immigration legislation statistics
Data extracted in June 2019.
Planned update: July 2020.
471 000 non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU in 2018, the highest number since 2009.
3 % fewer non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU in 2018 compared with 2017.
158 000 non-EU citizens were returned outside of the EU in 2018, 17 % fewer than in 2017.
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-28 ; 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 . 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.
Latest trends in enforcement statistics
In 2018, just over 600 000 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU-28; this was down by 2.8 % compared with one year before and by 72.1 % when compared with the value of 2015 - the highest number ever recorded
Figure 1 provides an overview of the information available for the EU-28 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-28 showed an untypical movement from 2014 to 2016. The flow of irregular migrants entering the EU-28 reached record levels in 2015, peaking at 2 154 700 persons found to be illegally present, before falling to 983 900 (rounded to the nearest 100) in 2016 and to 601 500 in 2018 (see Figure 1). These declines reflect not only a reduction in the number of persons found to be illegally present following the exceptional migration flows of recent 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 the EU-28 fell for five consecutive years between 2008 and 2013, but then increased in successive years to reach a relative high of 533 400 by 2015. The most recent reference periods for which data are available revealed that the number of non-EU citizens who were issued with an order to leave the EU-28 fluctuated, reaching 478 200 persons in 2018. Following the receipt of an order to leave the territory of an EU Member State, some 198 400 non-EU citizens were returned to another country in 2018: of these 157 900 were returned to non-member countries.
The number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU-28 stood at 471 200 in 2018; this was the highest figure recorded since 2009.
Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present
In 2018, 601 500 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU-28. This was down by 2.8 % compared with one year before (618 800) and by 72.1 % when compared with the record level of 2015 when the total number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present stood at 2 154 700.
The EU Member State which reported the largest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in 2018 was Germany (134 100), followed by France (105 900), Greece (93 400) and Spain (78 300); these four Member States together accounted for 68.4 % of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28. At the other end of the range, three Member States —Estonia, Latvia and Luxembourg — each recorded less than 1 000 non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in 2018 (see Map 1).
Figure 2 looks in more detail at the five EU Member States (Greece, Germany, France, Spain and Hungary) which — during the period 2008-2018 — reported the highest number of persons who were found to be illegally present.
In Greece, Hungary and Germany, there was a marked peak in the number of illegally present non-EU citizens in 2015. The 2015 peak in Greece was 911 500 persons, but the number fell rapidly to 204 800 persons in 2016 and to 68 100 persons in 2017, before rising again to 93 400 in 2018. By contrast, the number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in Germany rose to a high of 376 400 persons in 2015, a level that was almost maintained in 2016 when there were 370 600 illegally present persons found; the latest information available for 2017 and 2018 reveals that the number of such persons in Germany fell by more than half compared with 2016, down to 156 700 and 134 100 persons respectively. The developments in Hungary were similar to those in Greece, with a peak of 424 100 citizens who were found to be illegally present in 2015 quickly falling back to 41 600 in 2016. In France, the number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present followed a pattern that was similar to the overall figures of the other EU Member States, initially falling, before rising in 2014 (note that there is a break in series) and 2015, and then fluctuating through to 2018.
The developments in Spain were different from the other EU Member States mentioned here, as the number of persons found to be illegally present continued to fall in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Equally, while the other Member States reported a fall in 2017, the number of persons found to be illegally present in Spain increased for the first time during the period shown, as it did again in 2018 when it reached a level (78 300) that was higher than any year since 2009.
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-28 indicates that almost four fifths (79.6 %) of the total recorded number in 2018 concerned men. This proportion was nevertheless lower than the corresponding share recorded in 2008 (the first reference year for which data are available), when men accounted for 87.4 % of all illegally present persons found; note the data for the EU-28 aggregate in 2008 exclude information for Bulgaria, Germany, Spain, Croatia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Sweden.
In 2018, young men aged 18-34 years accounted for more than half of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28
In 2018, most non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-28 were young males aged between 18 and 34 years (53.2 % of the total recorded number). Note that the calculations in this paragraph do not include age and sex categories 'unknown'. They were followed by men aged 35 years and more, with this age group accounting for 19.8 % of the total number of all illegally staying persons found; the only other age group to record a double-digit share of the total was young women aged 18-34 years (10.1 %).
A simple analysis by age of the situation in 2018 reveals that persons aged 18-34 years accounted for 63.2 % of the total number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-28, while over one quarter (27.2 %) of the total were aged 35 years or over. Just under one tenth (9.6 %) were children aged 17 or under; in absolute numbers, there were 57 200 children aged less than 18 years who were non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28 in 2018.
Moroccans accounted for the highest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28 in 2018
In 2013, Syrian citizens accounted for the highest number of persons found to be illegally present in the EU-28 and this pattern was repeated in each of the next three years (2014-2016), with a notable peak of 859 000 persons in 2015 (see Table 1). Pakistani citizens were the second largest group of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28 during 2013, Eritrean citizens during 2014, and Afghan citizens in both 2015 and 2016.
Looking at the three most recent years, the number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-28 generally declined from its peak in 2015, falling in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The total number of persons found to be illegally present across the EU-28 fell by 54.3 % in 2016 (compared with the year before), by 37.1 % in 2017 and by a further 2.8 % in 2018. The largest reduction — in absolute and relative terms — was recorded for Syrian citizens, their numbers falling to 31 100 in 2018 (down 827 900; -96.4 % comparing with 2015). A similar pattern was observed for Afghan citizens who were found to be illegally present, as their number fell from 409 300 in 2015 to 31 000 in 2018.
The fall in the number of citizens from Syria and Afghanistan who were found to be illegally present in the EU-28 in recent years combined with an increase between 2016 and 2017 in the number of Albanian citizens who were found to be illegally present, such that in 2017 Albanian citizens accounted for the highest number (40 000 persons) of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28, slightly more than the numbers from Syria, Morocco, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Pakistan (all in the range of 33 600 to 39 300). In 2018, most of these countries (the exception being Pakistan) again figured at the top of the list, all having at least 30 000 citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-28; Morocco (38 700) and Ukraine (38 200) topped the list.
Non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU-28
The number of non-EU citizens presented with orders to leave increased at a relatively rapid pace between 2013 and 2015 (see Figure 1). This was followed by alternating decreases and increases through to 2018, when the total number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU-28 stood at 478 200.
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 potentially influencing the resulting statistics. That said, on the basis of information available for all 28 Member States in both 2013 and 2018, the number of citizens ordered to leave the EU-28 rose overall by 11.1 %.
Of the 478 200 persons ordered to leave EU Member States in 2018, 22.1 % were ordered to leave France, far more than from any other Member State. The next highest shares were recorded for Spain (12.4 %), Greece (12.2 %) and Germany (11.1 %); none of the other Member States recorded double-digit shares (see Table 2). The number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave Germany fell by 44 200 between 2017 and 2018, while the United Kingdom (down 33 400) and the Netherlands (down 13 600) also reported declines of more than 10 000 persons in their respective numbers of non-EU citizens that were ordered to leave. In 16 Member States, the number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave increased between 2017 and 2018. Particularly large increases were observed in Spain (an increase of 31 900 persons), France (up 20 900) and Greece (up 12 600).
Figure 4 presents information on non-EU citizens who, in 2017 and 2018, were issued with an order to leave an EU Member State. In 2018, these were predominantly citizens of Morocco (33 500), Ukraine (33 000), Albania (31 600), Afghanistan (26 900), Algeria (25 200) and Iraq (24 600), while citizens of Pakistan (22 100) were the only other group that numbered more than 20 000.
A comparison with 2017 reveals that the largest absolute increases in the number of citizens being ordered to leave the EU-28 were recorded for citizens of Mali (9 300 more), Guinea (6 800 more), Georgia (2 400 more) and Algeria (1 600 more), while the largest absolute decreases in non-EU citizens being ordered to leave were recorded for citizens of Pakistan (7 200 fewer), India (6 000 fewer), Iraq (5 000 fewer), Syria (4 800 fewer) and Nigeria (4 700 fewer).
Returns of non-EU citizens
In 2018, 157 900 non-EU citizens were returned outside of the EU-28
In 2018, 157 900 non-EU citizens who had been issued with an order to leave an EU Member State were returned to non-member countries. As such, this marked a reduction of 16.8 % comparing with a year before when there had been 189 900 non-EU citizens returned to a non-EU Member State. However, there were generally modest changes observed over the last 10 years, as the number of non-EU citizens returned ranged from this low of 157 900 returns in 2018 to a relative peak (for the time series presented) of 229 000 in 2016 (see Figure 1).
In 2018, Ukrainians (28 300) topped the list of non-EU citizens returned to a non-EU country (see Figure 5), pushing into second place Albanians (14 100) that had the highest record the year before. Morocco (10 800) was the only other country for which more than 10 000 of their citizens were returned in 2018.
A comparison between 2017 and 2018 shows the largest absolute increases in the total number of citizens returned (among the selected countries) were for citizens of Ukraine (2 400 more) and Georgia (1 100 more), while the largest decrease by far was for citizens of Albania (17 100 fewer) — see Figure 5.
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, which has resulted from increased interest/awareness concerning developments of new statistics on returns (including collection of new statistics on returns by type of return and assistance received). A majority of EU Member States have provided additional statistics to Eurostat (on a voluntary basis) with more detailed indicators concerning returns of non-EU citizens; this information is based on a harmonised set of methodological guidelines.
One of these new data sets provides information on the type of returns: 2018 (or 2017) data are available for 22 of the EU Member States as data for Germany, Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Finland and the United Kingdom are not available. Based on the information that is available for these 22 Member States, there were 113 600 returns in 2018 (2017 data for Belgium), of which 50.6 % involved people who left the territory voluntarily, while 45.7 % were enforced returns; there was also a small number of non-classified returns from Italy and a larger number from Slovenia — accounting for 3.7 % of the EU-28 total.
Figure 6 shows that there was great 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 10 % of all returns from Slovenia (note that many returns are not classified), Hungary, Portugal, Denmark, Spain and Italy, but for 70 % or more of all returns from Luxembourg, Czechia, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Sweden, Latvia and Poland. It should however be noted that recording voluntary returns cases can be impacted by quality issues and comparability may therefore be limited.
Another new data set provides information on types of assistance received by non-EU citizens who left the EU-28 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 decide to return to their country of origin.
Figure 7 shows that across the 18 EU Member States for which data are available (2017 data for Belgium and Italy; no (or incomplete) information for Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom), there were 93 100 returns in 2018, of which 27.3 % were assisted returns and 72.7 % were non-assisted returns.
As with 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-28 in 2018. All (100.0 %) non-EU citizens who left Hungary in 2018 were assisted in their return, while a majority of non-EU citizens leaving Bulgaria (88.1 %), Austria (88.0 %) and Luxembourg (82.5 %) were also assisted in their return. By contrast, less than 5.0 % of the non-EU citizens leaving Latvia, Portugal and Poland benefited from an assisted return, nor did any of the people returned from Croatia or Slovenia.
Non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU-28
In 2018, nearly half of the total number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU-28 was recorded in SpainIn 2018, some 471 200 non-EU citizens were refused entry into the EU-28 at one of its external borders. Nearly half of the total number of refusals were recorded in Spain (230 500; 48.9 %), with the next highest numbers in France (70 400) and Poland (53 700); together these three EU Member States accounted for three quarters (75.3 %) of the total number of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU-28 in 2018 (see Figure 8 and Table 3). Note that the overwhelming majority of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into Spain were Moroccan citizens (223 500; 97.0 % of total refusals in Spain) who tried to enter one of the two Spanish territories on the African continent, namely, Ceuta and Melilla.
The total number of people refused entry into the EU-28 dropped from 326 300 in 2013 to 286 800 in 2014, before rising during four successive years over the period 2015-2018 (see Table 3). There was an overall increase of 44.4 % in the total number of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU-28 between 2013 and 2018.
In 2018, the total number of refusals made in Spain was higher (at 230 500) than in 2013 (when there had been 192 800 refusals); the share of Spanish refusals in the total number of refusals in the EU-28 decreased from 59.1 % in 2013 to 48.9 % in 2018. Spain was the only EU Member State whose share of the EU-28 total fell greatly between 2013 and 2018, with Italy, Slovenia, Poland and the United Kingdom recording falls in the range of 0.5 to 1.1 percentage points. Increases in the number of refusals were observed in 11 Member States. The largest increases in absolute terms was in France, up from 11 700 refusals in 2013 to 70 400 refusals in 2018, its share of the EU-28 total rose from 3.6 % to 15.0 %; Ireland, Portugal, Romania and Greece recorded increases in the range of 0.4 to 0.9 percentage points.
In 2018, the vast majority (84.4 %) of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU-28 were stopped at external land borders; the share of refusals at air borders was 13.5 %, while only a small proportion (2.1 %) of total refusals for entry into the EU-28 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 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 number of refusals recorded at external land borders in the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla. Besides Spain, there were relatively high numbers of refusals at land borders in France, Poland, Hungary, Greece and Croatia in 2018 (see Table 4); none of the other EU Member States for which data are available recorded in excess of 10 000 refusals at land borders. As regards air borders, the United Kingdom and France had the highest numbers of refusals (around 10 000 each), followed by Spain and Italy (both around 7 000). The United Kingdom (5 000), Spain (2 000) and Italy (1 300) reported the highest numbers of refusals at sea borders for 2018; none of the other Member States for which data are available recorded in excess of 1 000 refusals at sea borders.
The highest number of citizens refused entry into the EU-28 in 2018 were Moroccans, principally trying to cross the land border with the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla
Figure 9 shows the most common origins of citizens refused entry into the EU-28 in 2018, with the data analysed according to the type of border across which they were trying to gain access. As noted above, the information presented is dominated by the high number of non-EU citizens being refused entry into the EU-28 at land borders between the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla on one hand and Morocco on the other, while the total number of Moroccan citizens refused entry into the EU-28 (by any means) was 228 500. The next highest numbers of refusals were recorded for citizens of Ukraine (53 600) and Albania (23 400); Ukrainian citizens who were refused entry into the EU-28 mainly tried to cross land borders with Poland and to a lesser extent with Hungary, Romania or Slovakia, while the majority of the Albanian citizens were refused entry at Greek, Croatian or Hungarian land borders, or Italian air borders.
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-28 in 2018 was recorded for those with no valid travel documents (280 700) — see Figure 10. This high number can be largely attributed to refusals at Spanish and French borders. The next most common grounds for refusing entry of non-EU citizens into the EU-28 in 2018 were not being able to justify the purpose and conditions of stay and not having a valid visa or residence permit.
Source data for tables and graphs
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-28) may not necessarily match the sum of the values for their components (such as the sum of values for the EU Member States).
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.
- EU aggregates are computed as the sum of the statistics available for the EU Member States at a national level. 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.
- 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 and the United Kingdom 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 not members of the EU.
- 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 nationals returned following an order to leave - annual data (rounded) (migr_eirtn)
- Third country nationals returned following an order to leave by citizenship age and sex - quarterly data (rounded) (migr_eirtn1)
- 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)
- Enforcement of immigration legislation (ESMS metadata file — migr_eil_esms)
- Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 on Community statistics on migration and international protection (Articles 5 and 7)
- Communication (COM(2018) 250 final of 14 March 2018: Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration
- Regulation (EU) 2016/399 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2016 on a Union Code on the rules governing the movement of persons across borders (Schengen Borders Code)
- Regulation (EU) No 1052/2013 for the establishment of the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur)
- Directive 2008/115/EC on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals
- Communication COM(2004) 412 final of 4 June 2004: Study on the links between legal and illegal migration