Addressing Irregularity

Addressing Irregularity

The C-MISE Guidance provides extensive information on practices that municipalities across Europe have adopted to facilitate either their regularisation or voluntary return. These practices may offer a blueprint for other local authorities invested in reducing situations of irregularity among their population.

An irregular immigration status implies a variety of challenges for both migrants and the communities they live in. Irregularity is a situation that can be addressed by facilitating either the regularisation or the departure of migrants with irregular status. Municipalities have no direct power to grant residence permits to third country nationals but can play a crucial role as intermediaries between migrants and national authorities in charge of immigration procedures. Providing legal advice, case management and counselling aimed at facilitating the regularisation of migrants with irregular status or encouraging and supporting their voluntary return can prove highly successful measures to reduce situations of irregularity in a city and, as a consequence, the social challenges related to the presence of migrants with irregular status. Some municipalities providing such services have embraced a “problem-solving” approach, where the provision of services is accompanied by case-management and counselling aimed at addressing irregular status through facilitating regularisation or returns. They may also offer material support for the return of irregular migrants.

Supporting migrants in transitioning from irregularity through the provision of legal advice and counselling allows for a reduction in the number of individuals living in an irregular condition, which in turn fosters more regular conditions in the city and provides reassurance to the population. Counselling and professional support exploring avenues for regularisation also increases migrants’ trust in officials, encourages them to interact with authorities, and ultimately makes them more likely to accept advice on voluntary return in case regularisation seem unlikely. Voluntary return is a more humane and cost effective return practice than detaining and forcibly deporting a person.

There are several ways in which municipalities can provide information, counselling and support in this area. They can set up municipal information or counselling centres on immigration matters, provide funding to local NGOs offering such services, and act as intermediaries to facilitate interaction between immigration authorities and individuals who otherwise would not approach authorities. They can also combine the provision of any service (e.g. a shelter) with legal counselling on immigration matters, and develop guidance and outreach activities to inform residents with irregular or insecure immigration status regarding the possibility of regularising their status, and on the steps to follow.

If you want to learn more about local initiatives in this area, follow the link below and access the C-MISE Guidance (pages P31-38).

The outbtreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe is having a significant impact on irregularity and regularisation policies in Europe. On the one hand, the economic fallouts of the pandemic may lead previously regular migrants to lose their residence permits causing an increase in irregularity, while the contraction of the informal economy has led many informal workers into destitution. On the other, after about a decade during which most countries in Europe had not implemented any large-scale regularisation programmes for their migrant populations, in 2020 a number of countries have reintroduced temporary avenues for regularisation (or measures preventing "befallen irregularities") with a view at mitigating certain negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures were inspired by humanitarian concerns, public health reasons and the need to fight back the spreading of COVID-19 through improved interactions with all residents (e.g. through trusted contact-tracing), addressing some unintended consequences of confinement measures, and concerns over the continuity of food provision and other essential services and as well as the negative impacts on local economies, particularly in sectors where informal migrant workers play a key role (e.g. the agricultural and care sector). This has opened new possibilities for local authorities to facilitate access to regularisation processes. Conversely, although local authorities report an increasing number of migrants with irregular status resorting to public authorities asking for support to return voluntarily to their countries of origin, the various travel bans imposed by governments across the globe have made these increasingly difficult to achieve. 

The C-MISE COVID-19 briefing offers more information on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on irregularity, regularisation and voluntary returns in Europe (P. 5-14), and on local initiatives adopted to facilitate the regularisation of migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic (P. 16-17).

For more information on the practices presented in the guidance or the COVID-19 briefing, you can also contact the C-MISE team at: