Immigration- Latest developments

Towards a common European Union immigration policy

All Member States of the European Union (EU) are affected by the flow of international migration. They have agreed to develop a common immigration policy at EU level. The European Commission has made proposals for developing this policy, most of which have now become EU legislation. The main objective is to better manage migration flows by a coordinated approach which takes into account the economic and demographic situation of the EU.
In spite of the restrictive immigration policies which have been in place since the 1970s in most Member States, large numbers of legal and illegal migrants have continued to come to the EU together with asylum-seekers. Taking advantage of persons seeking a better life, smuggling and trafficking networks have taken hold across the EU. This situation meant that considerable resources have had to be mobilised to fight illegal migration especially to target traffickers and smugglers. Furthermore, it is recognised that the EU needs migrants in certain sectors and regions in order to deal with its economic and demographic needs.
Realising that a new approach to managing migration was necessary, the leaders of the EU set out at the October 1999 European Council in Tampere (Finland) the elements for a common EU immigration policy. The approach agreed in Tampere in 1999 was confirmed in 2004 with the adoption of The Hague programme, which sets the objectives for strengthening freedom, security and justice in the EU for the period 2005-2010.

I) Latest developments

Economic migration

  • The European Commission put forward in July 2001 a proposal for a Directive on the conditions of admission and stay of third country workers. However, due to Member States’ diverging views on this issue, the negotiations did not lead to the adoption of legislation. The Commission re-launched in 2005 the debate on the need of common rules for the admission of economic migrants with a Green Paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration (COM (2004) 811). This consultation led to the adoption in December 2005 of a ‘Policy Plan on Legal Migration’ (COM (2005) 669) which lists the actions and legislative initiatives that the Commission intends to take, so as to pursue the consistent development of the EU legal migration policy.


  • In June 2006 the Commission presented the Second Annual Report on Migration and Integration (SEC (2006) 892) which provides an overview of migration trends in the European Union, analysing the changes and describing actions taken regarding the admission and integration of immigrants at national and EU level in the calendar year 2004.
  • In September 2005 the Commission adopted the communication “A Common Agenda for Integration - Framework for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals in the European Union” (COM (2005) 389).ThisCommunication provides new suggestions for action both at EU and national level. Member States are encouraged to strengthen their efforts with a perspective to developing comprehensive national integration strategies, while new ways of ensuring consistency between actions taken at EU and national level are proposed.

Illegal immigration and return

  • In July 2006 the Commission adopted a Communication on policy priorities in the fight against illegal immigration of third-country nationals (COM (2006) 402) which builds on the guiding principles and EU achievements and further develops new priorities. It follows a comprehensive approach, striking a balance between security and basic rights of individuals and thus addresses measures at all stages of the illegal immigration process.
  • In order to fully implement the Return Action Programme agreed in 2002, the Commission adopted in September 2005 a proposal for a Directive on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. The objective of this proposal is to provide for clear, transparent and fair common rules concerning return, removal, use of coercive measures, temporary custody and re-entry while taking into full account the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned.  

Migration and development

  •  In September 2005 the Commission adopted the communication “Migration and development: some concrete orientations” (COM (2005) 390). This Communication constitutes the response of the European Union to the invitations made by the Council in March 2003 and the European Council in November 2004 to submit concrete orientations to improve the impact of migration on the development of countries of origin in a number of fields. It constitutes therefore a contribution by EU immigration policy to the objectives of development policy. The Communication highlights measures and initiatives which are likely to lead to concrete progress.

The Communication identifies a number of concrete orientations in the following areas: Remittances; Facilitating the involvement of willing diaspora members in the development of countries of origin; Facilitating brain circulation; and Limiting the impact of brain drain.

II) General Context

a. Tampere agenda

The European Council agreed in Tampere ( Finland) in October 1999 on the elements required for a EU immigration policy namely that:

  • it be based on a comprehensive approach to the management of migratory flows so as to find a balance between humanitarian and economic admission;
  • it include fair treatment for third-country nationals aiming as far as possible to give them comparable rights and obligations to those of nationals of the Member State in which they live;
  • a key element in management strategies must be the development of partnerships with countries of origin including policies of co-development;

As the first step in creating a common EU immigration policy, the European Commission presented in November 2000 a communication to the Council and the European Parliament in order to launch a debate with the other EU institutions and with Member States and civil society. The communication recommended a common approach to migration management which should take into account the following:

  • the economic and demographic development of the Union;
  • the capacity of reception of each Member State along with their historical and cultural links with the countries of origin;
  • the situation in the countries of origin and the impact of migration policy on them (brain drain);
  • the need to develop specific integration policies (based on fair treatment of third-country nationals residing legally in the Union, the prevention of social exclusion, racism and xenophobia and the respect for diversity).

This was followed in July 2001 by another communication which proposed the adoption of an open method of coordination for the Community immigration policy, to encourage the exchange of information between the Member States on the implementation of the common policy. The procedure comprises reaching agreement on a number of European objectives or guidelines which Member States would then incorporate into national action plans which would be reviewed on a regular basis.

b. The main achievements during the period of implementation of the Tampere programme (1999-2004) have been the following:

Legal immigration

  • Family reunification – The Council Directive 2003/86/EC of 22 September 2003 on the right to family reunification entered into force on 3 October 2003. Member States’ legislation had to comply with this Directive not later than 3 October 2005.
  • EU long-term resident status - The Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 on a long-term resident status for third country nationals who have legally resided for five years in the territory of a Member State entered into force on 23 January 2004. Member States legislation had to comply with this Directive by 23 January 2006 at the latest.
  • Students - A Directive on the conditions of admission of third-country nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service was adopted by the Council on 13 December 2004 (Directive 2004/114). It entered into force on 12 January 2005. Member States’ legislation must comply with the Directive by 12 January 2007.
  • Researchers – A Directive for the facilitation of the admission of researchers into the EU was adopted by the Council on 12 October 2005 (Directive 2005/71). Its provisions will have to be implemented by Member States by 12 October 2007.


  • Integration and employment - In June 2003, the European Commission adopted a policy paper on immigration, integration and employment in which it called on the EU member states to step up their efforts to integrate immigrants (COM (2003) 336) .
  • A network of National Contacts Points on Integration has been set up and meets regularly to exchange and discuss best practices. The Network provided valuable input for the preparation of the Handbook on Integration, published in November 2004

Illegal immigration

  • Action plan on illegal immigration - On 28 February 2002, the EU Council of ministers adopted a comprehensive plan to combat illegal immigration and trafficking of human beings in the European Union.
  • Return - On 28 November 2002, the Council adopted a Return action programme which suggested developing a number of short, medium and long term measures, including common EU-wide minimum standards or guidelines, in the field of return of illegal residents.

Relations with third countries

  • Readmission agreements have been concluded with a number of countries ( Hong Kong, Macao, Sri Lanka, Albania) and negotiations with several others are ongoing
  • Assisting third countries – On 10 March 2004 the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Regulation establishing a programme for financial and technical assistance to third countries in the area of migration and asylum (AENEAS). It contains a multiannual programme for 2004 to 2008, with an overall expenditure of 250 million euro.

Finally, it is important to note that the common EU immigration policy does not apply to Denmark which has decided to opt out of Title IV of the Treaty establishing the European Community. The UK and Ireland decide on their involvement on a case-by-case basis (possibility of an 'opt-in').