Annual Policy Initiative 2021: Virtual senior expert roundtable discussion on legal pathways as a means to reduce irregular migration

29 November 2021

On 24 November 2021, ICMPD organised the senior expert roundtable “More, better or it does not matter? The promise of legal pathways as a means to reduce irregular migration” to discuss linkages between regular and irregular migration and implications for migration policy. The meeting brought together senior experts and practitioners from EU and ICMPD Member States, public institutions, academia and think tanks.

Participants engaged in a fruitful exchange of experiences and views on how different aspects of migration dynamics affect the interplay between legal pathways and irregular migration, examining the research base as well as policy arguments. Specifically, the focus was on whether expanding legal pathways leads to a decrease in irregular migration, and if yes, in what ways.

The conclusion of the discussion was that expanding or closing specific corridors affects the number of migrants opting for irregular routes, although a clear-cut assessment of outcomes remains challenging. Migration partnerships and bilateral agreements may effectively reduce unauthorised migration only in combination with other measures (e.g. border enforcement). At the same time, participants acknowledged the importance of the context, e.g. country-specific labour market demands, histories of established corridors, and that such differences have to be central policy rationale for establishing new or altering the existing legal pathways. In this regard, some speakers emphasised the role of the political agenda and public opinion in influencing the direction of migration policy, while also stressing the complexities of migrants’ decision-making. It was noted that choices about destination country are not stable and that migrants’ motivations to select particular pathways adjust according to circumstances, including changes in migration policy, available information and options for regularisation.

This meeting was organised within the framework of ICMPD’s Annual Policy Initiative (API), which addresses a different key issue in the current migration debate each year in order to identify pragmatic ways forward at both the policy and operational levels. Now in its third year, the API 2021 focuses on addressing irregular migration – what works and what does not, including whole-of-route approaches. To this end, the API is holding a series of discussions and consultations throughout the year to identify policy options for addressing irregular arrivals along key migration routes.