Providing services

Providing services 

Municipal authorities may have an interest in providing appropriate access to different kinds of services for migrants with irregular status. This section provides general information on the reasons why cities may feel the need to provide services to migrants regardeless of status, and how they do so across different areas of service provision. The C-MISE Guidance was designed to provide extensive information on municipal policies and practices across a range of service areas, and on governance and administration, as an evidence base upon which municipalities may develop their own approach. These practices may offer a blueprint for other local authorities invested in making sure that everyone on their territory can access basic services, regardless of migration status.

Cities may be invested in providing certain services as a consequence of a legal duty. Municipalities may be required to provide some services to people regardless of migration status as a matter of national law (e.g. education for children of school age). As public authorities, they are also expected to respect the state’s obligations under European human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Council of Europe’s European Social Charter, which includes an obligation to provide basic shelter and care to the vulnerable. Municipalities may also feel the need to take initiatives to reduce the number of people with irregular status in their area through, for instance, the provision of counselling on regularisations or voluntary returns (see "Addressing irregularity").  Cities may provide services to irregular migrants in order to achieve their social policy objectives (e.g. ensuring community safety, public health, child protection and welfare, fighting homelessness and squatting), to ensure the efficient administration of public services, to respect professional ethics, to reassure the public or safeguard their public image. More information on the reasons why cities may feel prompted to provide services to migrants with irregular status are presented in the C-MISE Guidance (p. 11-15). 

Municipal approaches towards irregular migrants are evolving across Europe. Some municipalities have formal policies and a specific budget allocation for services geared toward irregular migrants. Others are making informal adaptations based on short term needs. While service provision is generally intended to address the immediate effects of exclusion, in some cases the municipality also seeks to address the underlying problem of irregular status by facilitating access to legal advice.

Access is often more extensive for children and vulnerable adults, reflecting national legal frameworks as well as the priorities of the municipality. Municipalities may facilitate access to mainstream services such as school, or for instance extend the services of social workers dealing with homelessness to migrants with irregular status. A municipality may allow irregular migrants to access mainstream services from which they would otherwise be excluded, paying the provider if required. This avoids the development of parallel services and ensures a constant standard of service provision. As such, they may offer services such as education, legal advice, assistance to return, shelter, etc. In order to ensure that those requiring services feel able to come forward, there are a number of procedural steps that municipalities can take. First, municipalities may lift the requirement on individuals to provide their immigration status when accessing services. If information on immigration status needs to be recorded for this service, municipalities may set up “firewalls” to ensure that personal information will not be disclosed to immigration enforcement agencies.

Alternatively, if national law requires evidence on immigration status before a service is used, municipalities may partner with NGOs or provide funding to NGOs to provide the service. Indeed, NGOs may either not ask for information on immigration status or, if that information is needed to provide the service, have no duty to disclose it. These NGOs may also be better suited to provide the service, as they may have closer proximity with irregular migrants, who tend to be wary of approaching official services due to fears of detection and deportation. Providing certain services through NGOs may also represent a most suitable alternative if provision of services is a sensitive issue or when municipalities are looking to reduce their direct costs.

The C-MISE Guidance provides extensive information on general principles on providing access to services, applying to any area of service provision. If you want to learn more about local initiatives in this area, follow the link below and access the C-MISE Guidance (pages 24-30).

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic posed unprecedented challenges to European cities in their responses to new and old social needs. On the one hand, it exacerbated sanitary, social and economic vulnerabilities and exposed the risks of having groups of informal residents at the margins of society with limited or no contacts with the authorities. On the other, the new context revamped the policy debate over the opportunity of formally including certain irregular migrants into European societies, as a consequence of both public health considerations, but also reflections on the essential contribution to local economies and societies made by migrants, including those with irregular status, and particularly in the agricultural and care sectors. During the pandemic, additional reasons in support of inclusive service provision (including, for instance, the need to provide facilities for self-isolation) led national and local authorities to revisit their policies and provide additional services to all, regardless of migration status. 

More information on service provision during the pandemic can be found in the C-MISE briefing on COVID-19.

For more information on the practices presented in the guidance, you can also contact the C-MISE team at: