The EU and the US are affected and respond to irregular migration in different ways generating different trends:
- In the EU, there are 700 million international arrivals, including 13 million Schengen and UK visa holders (2010); each year, (detected) irregular immigrants represent around 100,000 (2010) to 150,000 (2011) or 0.021-0.031 percent of all international arrivals.
In the US, there are 400 million arrivals, including 36 million visa holders (2009); in addition 556,000 (2009) irregular immigrants are detected representing 0.14 percent.
- In the EU, it is assumed that 10 percent of all irregular migrants arrive clandestinely, half by boat, and many are actually asylum seekers, all others arrive legally and then overstay.
In the US around 60-70 percent of all IMs arrive clandestinely, usually over-land, and most are labour migrants; only 30-40 percent are visa overstayers.
- In the EU, irregular immigration flows fluctuate around 100-140,000 apprehensions annually, had been decreased after 2008 but increased after the Arab spring in 2011.
In the US the inflows seem to be rather stable, 556,000 in 2009.
- In the EU, the stock of irregular immigrants is 0.39-0.77 percent of the total population (1.9-3.8 mio. of 499 mio.).
In the US, the stock of IMs is 3.6 percent of the total population (11 mio. of 305 mio.) (all 2008).
- In the EU, the stock of irregular immigrants has been decreasing, from 5.3 in 2002 to 3.8 million maximum in 2008.
In the US, the stock has been increasing from 9 million in 2000 to 11 million in 2009.
- In the EU, from 1996 to 2008, 3-4 million irregular migrants plus another 500,000 or so were since regularised, with further amnesties ongoing or being prepared in Poland and Ireland.
In the US, no large-scale regularisation was implemented between 1986 and 2012.
- In the EU around 230,000 irregular immigrants were returned/removed.
In the US around 280,000 were returned/removed (both 2010).
Table 1: Irregular migration EU-US compared, 2009/10
Graphic 1: Irregular immigrants in Graphic 2: Clandestine entrants compared
the EU and US, maximum estimates to regular entrants in the EU and the US
This comparison shows that (a) in the US over six times more irregular immigrants try to enter and six times more irregular immigrants stay than in the EU (in relative terms); (b) the US requires visa from seven times more people than the EU (relatively), nevertheless irregular migration is higher than in the EU; (c) the prevalence of overstaying in the EU implies that irregular migration is less a border control but more an internal control issue, in the US illegal border crossing prevails implying that irregular immigration is primarily a border and secondly an internal control issue; (d) the EU's (sea) borders are more deadly than the US's (land) borders; and (e) the EU has relatively and comparably significantly lower levels of irregular migration than the US.
From this data, four conclusions can be drawn. First, the phenomenon, except maybe the IM population in the US, is comparably miniscule. It can hardly be graphically presented, whilst public and political attention appears disproportionally high. Second, strict visa requirements and border controls as in the US tend to result in higher levels of irregular entry and in irregular immigrants staying longer, who then accumulate and thus rise in numbers. In contrast, in the EU there are more legal migration channels and easier access to visa or visa free entry, which leads to more legal, more mobile and less sedentary migrant and irregular immigrant populations.
Third, regularizations, as in the EU, significantly decreases the irregular immigrant population, whilst rejecting such politics, as the US does, results in a protracted large irregular immigrant population. Fourth, stricter internal immigration and labor market controls, as enforced in several EU countries (random passport checks, visa checks at public services, raids etc) limit irregular immigrants' opportunities to stay, though they come as a cost as they tend to drive irregular immigrants deeper into the shadow economy, deprive them of their access to fundamental rights and increase their vulnerability. In the US internal and labor market controls are weak and thus enable irregular immigrants to stay, with fewer negative consequences for their human rights situation. In sum, preventing irregularity, i.e. through more legal migration channels, including return incentives, and reversing irregularity, i.e. through regularization seems the most efficient and humane way of addressing the issue.
This contribution is mainly based on two sources, Düvell, Franck & Bastian Vollmer (2011), "European Security Challenges. Improving US and EU Immigration Systems," Florence: Robert-Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute, and Koslowski, Rey (2011), "The evolution of border controls as a mechanism to prevent illegal immigration. Improving US and EU Immigration Systems," Florence: Robert-Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute.
Franck Duvell, PhD is a senior researcher at the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, UK. He has researched and published extensively on European and international migration and migration policy matters.
This article is published as part of the "Border Policies: Lessons for Improvement" theme week.