Migration and Home Affairs

Return & readmission

Every year, between 400.000 and 500.000 foreign nationals are ordered to leave the EU because they have entered or they are staying irregularly. However, only 40 % of them are sent back to their home country or to the country from which they travelled to the EU. An effective and humane return policy is a necessary part of a comprehensive migration policy and does not contradict a more open migration policy. Ensuring the return of irregular migrants is in fact absolutely essential in order to enhance the credibility of policies in the field of international protection and legal migration.

Common rules for managing the return of irregular migrants

At the end of 2010, the common rules on return (the so-called "Return Directive"), agreed by EU States in 2008, entered into force. They provide for clear, transparent and fair common rules for the return and removal of the irregularly staying migrant, the use of coercive measures, detention and re-entry, while fully respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned. The Directive has been transposed into national law by all States bound by it (all EU States except UK and Ireland; plus the 4 Schengen associated countries: Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).

The Return Directive confers rights on migrants that may be invoked in proceedings before national courts. The key features of the Directive include:

  • the requirement for a fair and transparent procedure for decisions on the return of irregular migrants
  • an obligation on EU States to either return irregular migrants or to grant them legal status, thus avoiding situations of “legal limbo”
  • promotion of the principle of voluntary departure by establishing a general rule that a "period for voluntary departure" should normally be granted
  • provision for persons residing irregularly of a minimum set of basic rights pending their removal, including access to basic health care and education for children
  • a limit on the use of coercive measures in connection with the removal of persons, and ensuring that such measures are not excessive or disproportionate
  • providing for an entry ban valid throughout the EU for migrants returned by an EU State
  • limiting the use of detention, binding it to the principle of proportionality and establishing minimum safeguards for detainees.

In its first assessment on the application of the Return Directive, of March 2014 (Communication on EU Return Policy COM 2014(199)), the Commission reported that this legislation has enabled determined action to return irregularly staying migrants, while improving their protection. It positively influenced the situation regarding voluntary departure and forced return monitoring. It contributed to achieving more convergence — and overall a reduction — of detention periods for irregular migrants and to a wider implementation of alternatives to detention across the EU. It also limited Member States’ ability to criminalise mere irregular stay and increased legal security for returnees. The main reasons why so many irregularly staying migrants cannot be returned relate to practical problems in the identification of returnees and in obtaining the necessary documentation from non-EU authorities.

Operational cooperation between EU-States

The EU's return policy would not be effective without operational cooperation between EU States. This allows them to avoid duplicating work. Such operational cooperation includes assistance in cases of transit for the purposes of removal by air, organisation of joint flights for removals, mutual recognition of decisions on expulsion, and implementation of guidelines on forced return. The Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders (FRONTEX) plays a key role in operational cooperation on return. One of its tasks is to provide assistance for joint return operations and identify best practices on the acquisition of travel documents and removal of non-EU nationals irregularly present in the territory of an EU State. The Commission's priorities for operational cooperation for the next years are set out in the March 2014 Communication on EU Return Policy.

Cooperation with non-EU countries on readmission of irregular migrants

One of the reasons for the low rate of effective return among migrants who have been ordered to leave the EU is the lack of cooperation from some third countries in identifying and readmitting their nationals. This is the reason why the EU co-operates very actively with the home countries of irregular migrants, in particular through 'readmission agreements'. These set out clear obligations and procedures for the authorities of the non-EU country and of EU Member States as to when and how to take back people who are irregularly residing. They aim at improving cooperation between administrations and can only be used after a return decision has been made in accordance with the procedural guarantees set by the Return Directive and the relevant EU asylum rules (Asylum Procedures Directive).

In February 2011, on the basis of an evaluation of the EU readmission agreements already in force and an assessment of ongoing readmission negotiations, the Commission made several recommendations for a renewed EU readmission policy.
So far, the EU has concluded readmission agreements with the following third countries .

Country   Entry into force of the agreement
Hong Kong Agreement between the European Community and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 March 2004
Macao Agreement between the European Community and the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 June 2004
Sri Lanka Agreement between the European Community and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 May 2005
Albania Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Albania on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 May 2006
Russia Agreement between the European Community and the Russian Federation on readmission 1 June 2007
Ukraine Agreement between the European Community and Ukraine on the readmission of persons 1 January 2008
fYROM Agreement between the European Community and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Bosnia & Herzegovina Agreement between the European Community and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Montenegro Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Montenegro on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Serbia Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Serbia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Moldova Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Moldova on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Pakistan Agreement between the European Community and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 December 2010
Georgia Agreement between the European Community and the Democratic Republic of Georgia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 March 2011
Armenia Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Armenia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2014
Azerbaijan Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 September 2014
Turkey Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Turkey on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 October 2014
Cape Verde Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Cape Verde on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 December 2014