Defending borders does not require closed doors but corridors

The reopening of legal entry corridors for work in Europe and greater freedom of movement for foreign workers would help EU economies and provide an alternative to the illegal people-trafficking markets


The legality of immigration and markets is not achieved through rigid policies but by offering sufficient channels of legal entry as an alternative to the criminal market of people-trafficking; by recognising the freedom of movement of immigrants already legally residing in an EU member state; and by adopting selective policies of regularisation.

Day after day, European public opinion is stirred to be afraid of at the spectacle of the migrant landings in Greece, Spain, Italy, Malta and Cyprus. The number is decreasing, but it could grow again: Turkey is not a sure foothold, despite the need for “its” Syrians to fight the Kurds; Ukraine is enduring a bloody war, which is both a civil and border conflict; Libya is burning; Tunisia is wavering; and in West Africa all the young people want to leave.

We are talking about 141,000 landings in 2018 (compared to 373,000 in 2016). A multitude if we look at the victims of the traffickers and the terrible images from the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos –but in reality it is a potentially manageable flow and also of limited size compared to the overall flow of migrants destined for an irregular stay, including those who arrive as tourists and then decide to stop, and those who cross the borders with the Western Balkans by land.

Legal corridors to combat irregular immigration

The fact is that channels of irregular immigration always grow as a result of the closure of legal channels: today coming to Europe legally from countries with visa requirements is almost impossible, so your only hope is to rely on traffickers and prepare to seek asylum.

Many people believe there is now a widespread abuse of the right to asylum. It would perhaps be more realistic to speak of a situation where people are forced to seek asylum because of the lack of alternatives for legal entry and residence in Europe. And this effect of being forced to seek asylum does not only affect the nationalities with the highest refusal rates, because many of those who obtain a positive response for international protection would not have asked if they had legal alternatives, being able to count on the help of their communities in the countries of destination.

More legal immigration, but also more freedom of movement

But today, those who arrive in Malta or Greece, even if they obtain a residence permit, will not legally be able to reunite with their relatives in Germany. This lack of freedom increases the number of irregular stays, reduces the possibilities for people to enter the labour market and society, and is also irrational from the point of view of companies. One wonders why, if there are no bakers in France, a bakery cannot hire a Tunisian baker who is already legally resident in Spain but does not yet have a permanent residence permit (the only permit that allows movement for work purposes).

The reopening of legal entry corridors for work in Europe, as well as greater freedom of movement for foreign workers within the Union, would certainly help European economies and provide an alternative to the illegal people-trafficking markets.

A more effective policy on legal entry flows for work purposes

Today, in particular, there is a lack of migration policies for low-skilled workers. Instead, a mixed system of regularisation for those who have already arrived and of annual quotas for new entries should be restored in the various member states, with the two elements offsetting each other. The numbers for each element would be determined on the basis of market demand, but also on the need to offer an alternative to irregular flows. However, a significant proportion of new entries should be expressed in job-seeker visas. In fact, very few employers recruit without first meeting the candidate.

Yet entry for job-seekers, unlike for those who already have an employment contract, should be linked to certain conditions: a) at least some basic knowledge of the language of the host country; b) the existence of a guarantor (presumably a relative) for the support of the newcomer during the first year of stay; c) the existence of an effectively functioning readmission agreement with the country of origin or of permanent residence.

This balanced policy of regularisation and flows should be accompanied by a serious labour inspection policy, with dishonest companies being excluded from the market: we cannot think of responding to the low production costs of Asia by continuing to maintain in Europe, alongside the legal market, a largely tolerated market based on exploitation.

Find all related publications

Youth support for democracy in Spain

Democracy in the face of disadvantage

Stronger resilience through cooperation in the Sahel

'12 years of crises in the Sahel' series

Social Europe: From vision to vigour

FEPS Primer series - Björn Hacker

The macro-economic impact of the cost crisis

Lessons for Europe
Find all related news

Call for Tender – Research on Migration

Research on the implementation of the New Pact on Migration after its adoption, or on the consequences of non-adoption 

Economic Democracy

FEPS has launched an initiative on Economic Democracy

Ann Linde is FEPS’ new Foreign Affairs Special Advisor


Tax the rich

A European Citizens' Initiative
Find all related in the media
In the media

Durchhalten ist nicht unmöglich

by Frankfurter Hefte 06/12/2023
'Persevering is not impossible' Article by Ania Skrzypek, FEPS Director for Research and Training, on the future of social democracy in Europe

Γιατί χρειαζόμαστε την Ευρωπαϊκή Πολιτική Κοινότητα;

by News 24/7 05/12/2023
'Why do we need the European Political Community?' Hedwig Giusto, Senior Research Fellow and Editor-in-Chief of the Progressive Post, writes in News 24/7 about the importance of the European Political Community and the difficulties the project might encounter in the future.

Total honesty and far-right lies

by IPS Journal 04/12/2023
Dive into the insightful analysis published in IPS Journal by Tom Theuns, Assist. Prof at Leiden University, and László Andor, FEPS Secretary General, examining the Dutch election results and the conclusions that need to be drawn for a successful EU Integration

Ukrainas och Europas framtid diskuterades i Helsingfors

by Demokraatti 01/12/2023
'Future of Ukraine and Europe discussed in Helsinki' Demokraatti article about FEPS and Kalevi Sorsa Foundation event 'From Russia’s aggression to progressive recovery of Ukraine' held in Helsinki.