human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Demystifying the regularisation

of undocumented migrants

Download full policy paper

Caritas Europa’s policy paper “Demystifying the regularisation of undocumented migrants” not only highlights the challenges that undocumented migrants face, but also the contributions they make to our societies. It outlines key recommendations to uphold people’s rights and to grant regular status. Caritas believes that regardless of status, every person’s human rights must be respected.

The lives of many undocumented migrants, including families and children, are deeply anchored in Europe despite the many hardships and worse that they face, such as restricted access to public services, poor accommodation or labour exploitation. This limbo situation keeps people living under continuous stress and anxiety, and prevents them from fully engaging in the life of the community despite their readiness to do so.

Key economic sectors (agriculture, domestic work, home care, construction and hospitality, among others) would not function without the hard work of undocumented workers who fill a need in the workforce in a context of scarce regular opportunities. Nevertheless, many policymakers focus on stemming migration while turning a blind eye to the contributions of migrants and their families, and to the high risk of labour exploitation they face.

While regularisation is considered taboo for some, it has been – and continues to be – used as a standard policy option to bring people fully into the economy, increase tax revenues and redress failures in immigration and asylum law and procedures. Experience shows that well-designed regularisation can provide social rights to migrants and foster integration. Between 1996 and 2008, 3.5 million people were regularised in Europe. Over the last year, regularisation measures were implemented in Italy, Portugal and Luxembourg, to minimise the informal economy and to widen social safety nets as COVID-19’s impacts hit.

COVID-19 has created additional challenges for migrants and highlighted the need to include everyone under the public health and socio-economic response. Calls for regularisation schemes have been renewed in several countries, and even the UN is calling on countries to explore “various models of regularisation pathways for migrants in irregular situations”.

Key messages of this policy paper:

  • Regularisation of undocumented migrants should be seen in the broader context of expanding regular migration pathways and addressing informal economies and exploitation.
  • Governments should facilitate the issuance of stable residence permits, and amend deficient migration and asylum policies that can push migrants into irregularity.
  • The European Commission can play an important role in coordinating Member States’ actions and promoting good practices.
  • Policy makers must de-escalate the heated debate around regularisation, and instead consider it as a bona fide policy option, among a menu of options.
  • Ultimately, governments must always respect the human rights and dignity of every person, regardless of their residence status. Governments should put an end to the criminalisation of migration and show solidarity towards people on the move.