Enforcement of immigration legislation statistics
Data extracted in July 2020.
Planned update: July 2021.
10 % more non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU-27 in 2019 compared with 2018.
142 000 non-EU citizens were returned outside of the EU-27 in 2019, 2 % fewer than in 2018.
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-27 ; 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 developments in enforcement statistics
In 2019, 627 900 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU-27; this was up 9.7 % compared with one year earlier, but 69.9 % lower than the value of 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-27 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-27 showed an untypical movement from 2013 to 2016 (see Figure 1). The flow of irregular migrants entering the EU-27 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 a slight growth. 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 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-27 fell for four consecutive years between 2009 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-27 fell in 2016 before increasing for three consecutive years to reach 491 200 persons in 2019. Following the receipt of an order to leave the territory of an EU Member State, some 164 600 non-EU citizens were returned to another country in 2019: of these 142 300 were returned to non-member countries.
The number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU-27 stood at 717 600 in 2019; this was the highest figure recorded (since the time series started in 2008) and was 17.4 % higher than the next largest number (which was recorded in 2008 and accounted for 611 300).
Non-EU citizens found to be illegally present
In 2019, 627 900 non-EU citizens were found to be illegally present in the EU-27. This was up 9.7 % compared with one year before (572 200), but down 69.9 % when compared with the record level of 2015 when the total number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present stood at 2 085 500.
The EU Member State which reported the largest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in 2019 was Germany (133 500), followed by Greece (123 000), France (120 500) and Spain (62 900); these four Member States together accounted for 70.1 % of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27. At the other end of the range, four Member States —Bulgaria, Malta, Luxembourg and Latvia — each recorded less than 1 000 non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in 2019 (see Map 1).
Figure 2 looks in more detail at the five EU Member States (Greece, Germany, France, Spain and Hungary) those countries — during the period 2009-2019 — reported the highest (cumulative) 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 2018, before rising again to 93 400 in 2018 and 123 000 in 2019. 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 information available for 2019 reveals that the number of such persons in Germany had fallen to 133 500. 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 2019.
The developments in Spain were different from the other EU Member States mentioned here, as the number of persons found to be illegally present remained relatively stable between 2013 and 2017. Equally, while most of the other Member States reported a rise in 2019 compared with 2018 (there was a slight fall in Germany), the number of persons found to be illegally present in Spain decreased by 19.7 %.
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-27 indicates that four fifths (80.3 %) of the total recorded number in 2019 concerned men. This proportion was nevertheless lower than the corresponding share recorded in 2009, when men accounted for 83.5 % of all illegally present persons found; note the data for the EU-27 aggregate in 2009 exclude information for Croatia.
In 2019, young men aged 18-34 years accounted for more than half of all non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27
In 2019, most non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-27 were young males aged between 18 and 34 years (52.3 % of the total recorded number). They were followed by men aged 35 years and more, with this age group accounting for 19.7 % of the total number of illegally staying persons found; all other age groups for one or other of the sexes recorded shares below one tenth, the next highest being 9.4 % for women aged 18-34 years.
A simple analysis by age (for both sexes combined) of the situation in 2019 reveals that persons aged 18-34 years accounted for 61.7 % of the total number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-27, while over one quarter (27.0 %) of the total were aged 35 years or over. Just under one tenth (9.2 %) were children aged 17 years or under; in absolute numbers, there were 57 700 children aged 17 years or under who were non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27 in 2019.
In 2019 Afghan citizens accounted for the highest number of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27
In 2014, Syrian citizens accounted for the highest number of persons found to be illegally present in the EU-27 and this pattern was repeated in each of the next three years (2015-2017), with a notable peak of 856 500 persons in 2015 (see Table 1). Eritrean citizens were the second largest group of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27 during 2014, Afghan citizens in 2015 and 2016, Moroccans in 2017. In 2018, the number of Moroccan citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27 increased slightly (up 1.8 %) while the number of Syrians decreased (down 20.4 %), resulting in Moroccans having the highest number (38 500 persons) of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27, followed by Ukrainians (37 100), Iraqis (35 900), Albanians (31 200) and Syrians (31 000). Despite the number of Moroccan citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27 increasing further in 2019 (up 7.8 %), the highest number was observed among Afghan citizens, as an 85.4 % increase took their number to 56 200 in 2019. The third and fourth highest numbers of non-EU citizens found to be illegally present in the EU-27 in 2019 — both above 40 000 — were recorded for Ukrainian and Syrian citizens.
The number of non-EU citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-27 was 9.7 % higher in 2019 than in 2018, but one third (32.0 %) lower than the number in 2016 and two thirds (69.9 %) lower than the number in 2015. Between the peak in 2015 and the latest period for which data are available (2019), the largest reduction in absolute terms was recorded for Syrian citizens, their number falling to 40 200 in 2019 (down 816 300 compared with 2015). Large absolute falls were also observed for Afghan and Iraqi citizens who were found to be illegally present, as their numbers fell 349 800 and 150 600 respectively during this period. In relative terms, Syria also recorded the largest fall, down 95.3 %. During the same period (between the peak of 2015 and 2019), the number of Ukrainian citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-27 increased the most, up 18 000. Turkey, Moldova and Algeria were the only other non-EU countries for which the number of their citizens who were found to be illegally present in the EU-27 increased by more than 10 000 between 2015 and 2019.
Non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU-27
The number of non-EU citizens presented with orders to leave increased between 2014 and 2019, falling only in 2016 (see Figure 1). In 2019, the total number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave the EU-27 stood at 491 200. 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 factors potentially influencing the resulting statistics. That said, based on information available for all 27 Member States in both 2014 and 2019, the number of citizens ordered to leave the EU-27 rose overall by 86 500, up 21.4 %.
Of the 491 200 persons ordered to leave EU Member States in 2019, 25.2 % were ordered to leave France, far more than from any other Member State. The next highest shares were recorded for Greece (16.1 %), Germany (9.7 %) and Spain (7.7 %) — see Table 2. The number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave Spain fell by 21 400 between 2018 and 2019, while Hungary and Germany (both down 5 400) reported the next largest declines in their respective numbers of non-EU citizens that were ordered to leave. In 15 Member States, the number of non-EU citizens ordered to leave increased between 2018 and 2019. Particularly large increases were observed in Greece (an increase of 20 600 persons), France (up 18 300), Croatia (up 9 200) and the Netherlands (up 7 500).
Figure 4 presents information on non-EU citizens who, in 2018 and 2019, were issued with an order to leave an EU Member State. In 2019, these were predominantly citizens of Ukraine (37 100), Morocco (34 800), Albania (30 900), Afghanistan (29 600), Algeria (28 100) and Pakistan (22 100), while citizens of Iraq (21 000) were the only other group that numbered more than 20 000.
A comparison with 2018 reveals that the largest absolute increases in the number of citizens being ordered to leave the EU-27 were recorded for citizens of Syria (7 000 more), Georgia (6 800 more), Ukraine (4 800 more), Afghanistan (3 300 more) and Algeria (also 3 300 more), while the largest absolute decreases in non-EU citizens being ordered to leave were recorded for citizens of Mali (5 500 fewer), Guinea (5 300 fewer) and Iraq (3 100 fewer).
Returns of non-EU citizens
In 2019, 142 300 non-EU citizens were returned outside of the EU-27
In 2019, 142 300 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 decrease of 2.5 % compared with a year before when there had been 145 900 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 a low of 122 500 returns outside the EU in 2011 to a relative peak (for the time series presented) of 192 500 in 2016 (see Figure 1).
In 2019, Ukrainians (27 200) topped the list of non-EU citizens returned to a non-EU country (see Figure 5), with Albanians (15 400), Moroccans (10 200) and Georgians (8 600) some way behind in second, third and fourth places. The first three of these four had figured in the same place within the list in 2018, while Georgia moved up from fifth to fourth: the number of Georgians returned outside the EU increased strongly (up 35.0 %) while the number of Iraqis returned outside the EU fell 21.7 % (moving Iraq from fourth place in 2018 to seventh in 2019).
A comparison between 2018 and 2019 shows the largest absolute increase in the total number of citizens returned (among the selected countries) was for citizens of Georgia (2 200 more), while the largest decreases were for citizens of Albania (3 400 fewer) and Iraq (1 500 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. This 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 (on a voluntary basis) additional statistics to Eurostat 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: 2019 (or 2018) data are available for 22 of the EU Member States as data for Germany, Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Finland are not available. Based on the information that is available for these 22 Member States, there were 118 300 returns in 2019 (2018 data for Greece, Romania and Sweden), of which 47.4 % involved people who left the territory voluntarily, while 44.9 % were enforced returns; there was also a large number of non-classified returns from Slovenia — accounting for 7.7 % of the EU-27 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 Hungary, Slovenia (note that many returns are not classified), Denmark, Italy and Spain, but for 75 % or more of all returns from Romania (2018 data), Estonia, Slovakia, Sweden (2018 data), 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-27 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.
Figure 7 shows that across the 18 EU Member States for which data are available (2018 data for Greece and Romania and 2017 data for Belgium; no (or incomplete) information for Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Cyprus, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden), there were 98 400 returns in 2019, of which 23.3 % were assisted returns and 76.7 % 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-27 in 2019. More than four fifths of non-EU citizens who left Austria, Hungary or Luxembourg in 2019 were assisted in their return, while a majorities of non-EU citizens leaving the other Member States were not assisted. Less than 5.0 % of the non-EU citizens leaving Italy or Poland received an assisted return, while the share of assistance from Slovenia was 0.1 % and none of the people returned from Croatia received assistance.
Non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU-27
In 2019, more than two thirds of the total number of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU-27 were recorded in Spain
In 2019, some 717 600 non-EU citizens were refused entry into the EU-27 at one of its external borders. More than two thirds of the total number of refusals were recorded in Spain (493 500; 68.8 %), with the next highest numbers in Poland (65 400) and France (56 600). Altogether, the six EU Member States that recorded the highest numbers of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU-27 — as shown in Figure 8 — accounted for more than nine tenths (90.9 %) of the total number refused entry into the EU-27 in 2019. Note that the overwhelming majority of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into Spain were Moroccan citizens (484 800; 98.3 % of all refusals in Spain) who largely 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-27 rose from 270 900 in 2014 to 454 600 in 2018, before accelerating to 717 600 in 2019 (see Table 3). There was an overall increase of 164.9 % in the total number of non-EU citizens refused entry into the EU-27 between 2014 and 2019, with an increase of 57.8 % between 2018 and 2019 alone.
In 2019, the total number of refusals made in Spain was higher (at 493 500) than in 2014 (when there had been 172 200 refusals). The share of Spanish refusals in the total number of refusals in the EU-27 decreased from 63.6 % in 2014 to 47.7 % in 2017, before increasing again in 2018 (50.7 %) and 2019 (68.8 %). Spain was one of nine EU Member States whose share of the EU-27 total increased between 2014 and 2019: in Spain, the share increased 5.2 percentage points, ahead of France (up 3.7 points), Poland (up 1.7 points), and Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovakia (whose shares rose by less than 1.0 points). Decreases in the share of the total number of refusals in the EU-27 were observed in the remaining 18 Member States. The largest decrease in the shares was in Hungary, where the share fell 2.9 points.
In absolute terms (rather than as a share of the EU-27 total), all except for three of the EU Member States recorded a higher number of entry refusals for non-EU citizens in 2019 than they had in 2014. In Luxembourg the number was the same in both years, while Latvia and Slovenia both recorded fewer refusals in 2019 than in 2014. The largest increase was in Spain (up 321 300 refusals), followed by Poland and France (both up 45 300), with all other increases below 5 000.
In 2019, the vast majority (90.5 %) of non-EU citizens who were refused entry into the EU-27 were stopped at external land borders; the share of refusals at air borders was 8.8 %, while only a small proportion (0.7 %) of total refusals for entry into the EU-27 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 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 2019 in Poland, France, Hungary and Croatia (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, France had the highest number of refusals (10 300), followed by Spain (8 500), Italy (7 900), Germany (6 700) and Ireland (6 700). Italy (1 800) and Spain (1 500) reported the highest numbers of refusals at sea borders for 2019; 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-27 in 2019 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-27 in 2019, with the data analysed according to the type of border, which they were trying to cross. As noted above, the information presented is dominated by the high number of non-EU citizens being refused entry into the EU-27 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-27 (by any means) was 489 900. The next highest numbers of refusals were recorded for citizens of Ukraine (66 500) and Albania (22 800). Ukrainian citizens who were refused entry into the EU-27 mainly tried to cross land borders with Poland and to a lesser extent with Hungary, Romania, Slovakia or Lithuania, while the majority of the Albanian citizens were refused entry at Greek, Croatian or Hungarian land borders, Italian sea borders, or Italian or Irish 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-27 in 2019 was recorded for those with no valid travel documents (491 500) — see Figure 10. This high number can be largely attributed to refusals at Spanish borders. The next most common grounds for refusing entry of non-EU citizens into the EU-27 in 2019 were not being able to justify the purpose and conditions of stay, not having a valid visa or residence permit and not having sufficient means of subsistence.
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-27) may not necessarily match the sum of the values for their components (such as the sum of values for the EU Member States).
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.|
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.
- 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)
- Communication COM(2004) 412 final of 4 June 2004: Study on the links between legal and illegal migration
- Communication (COM(2018) 250 final of 14 March 2018: Progress report on the Implementation of the European Agenda on Migration
- Directive2008/115/EC on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals
- Regulation (EC) No 862/2007 on Community statistics on migration and international protection (Articles 5 and 7)
- Regulation (EU) No 1052/2013 for the establishment of the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.