Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

59 Illegal immigration



COM(06) 402

+ ADD 1

+ ADD 2

+ ADD 3

Commission Communication on policy priorities in the fight against illegal immigration of third-country nationals

Commission staff working document — impact assessment of the proposed policy priorities

Commission staff working document — summary of the impact assessment

Commission staff working document — second annual report on the development of a common policy on illegal immigration

Legal base
Document originated19 July 2006
Deposited in Parliament24 July 2006
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 17 August 2006
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussed in Council24 July 2006
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


59.1 In 2001, the Commission presented a Communication about common EC policies on illegal immigration.[149] The Council adopted an Action Plan on illegal immigration in 2002. This was followed in 2003 by a progress report from the Commission on the development of a common policy on illegal immigration.[150] In 2004, the Commission issued its first annual report on illegal immigration, smuggling and trafficking of human beings, external borders and the return of illegal immigrants.[151]

59.2 Towards the end of 2004, the European Council approved the Hague Programme.[152] It sets out a five-year programme of action on justice and home affairs, including illegal immigration. The Hague Action Plan lists the measures that are to be taken to give effect to the Programme; they include action on border security, illegal employment, return of illegal immigrants and cooperation with countries from which illegal immigrants originate or cross to get to the EU.[153]

The document

59.3 The Commission considers that, five years after the issue of its first Communication on illegal immigration and in the light of the mounting migratory pressures on the EU's external borders, the time has come to review the progress that has been made so far and propose new policy priorities and action. That is the purpose of the Communication.

59.4 The document is supported by a paper (ADD 1) by the Commission's staff which gives more information about the options the Commission has considered, the reasons for its preferred options and the expected impact of the proposals. ADD 2 is a summary of the impact assessment. ADD 3 is the Commission's second annual report on illegal immigration, smuggling and trafficking of human beings, external border control and the return of illegal residents.

59.5 The Commission explains that, for the purposes of the Communication, "illegal immigration" includes third-country nationals who:

  • enter the territory of a Member States illegally by land, sea or air;
  • enter with a lawful visa but over-stay or change the purpose of their stay without approval; and
  • asylum seekers who do not leave when their applications are unsuccessful.

59.6 The Communication says that the EC's policies on illegal immigration need to be under-pinned by:

  • solidarity, mutual trust and shared responsibility between Member States;
  • recognition and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to seek asylum;
  • partnership with the third countries from which illegal immigrants come; and
  • clear rules on legal migration.

59.7 In the Commission's view, action is needed to deal with illegal migration at every stage of the process. The Communication identifies nine policy priorities. It examines the current position on each of them and makes proposals for action.

59.8 The Council had a preliminary discussion of the Communication on 24 July. A further discussion of it is expected before the end of the Finnish Presidency.

The Commission's proposals and the Government's views on them

59.9 Set out below is a summary of each of the Commission's proposals, followed by the Government's views (which are shown in italics).

59.10 Co-operation with third countries. The Communication says:

"The EU will continue to address the push-factors for illegal immigration, such as poverty, unemployment, conflict, environmental degradation, bad governance, lack of access to education, health, etc. Migration aspects will continue to be integrated into the EU's strategies for assisting developing countries, in close partnership with the countries concerned. Where appropriate and with mutual agreement, the EU will help partners in the developing world to enhance their capacity to better manage migration flows and fight against human trafficking. … the Commission will [also] take steps to expand the sources of information available in countries of origin on the possibilities and conditions of legal immigration to the EU."[154]

59.11 The Minister of State at the Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal) tells us that the Government supports what the Communication says about co-operation with third countries, in general, and, in particular, the Commission's the current focus on Africa.

59.12 Secure borders — integrated management of external borders. The Commission proposes:

  • work to identify best practice for "an integrated border management model";
  • a Regulation to provide rapid reaction teams to help a Member State when it faces unforeseen and acute pressure at its external border;[155]
  • an evaluation in 2007 of the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders (FRONTEX), including an assessment of whether the Agency's remit should be enlarged;
  • an additional mechanism to supervise the application of the Schengen arrangements;
  • full exploitation of the potential benefits of using biometric information for border control;
  • extending to other modes the existing requirements for the transmission by certain carriers of advance information about passengers; and
  • a feasibility study of a new computerised EC database to facilitate checks on the immigration and residence status of third-country nationals entering and leaving the EU (among other things, such a system might, for instance, enable those who have over-stayed their visas to be identified).

59.13 The Minister tells us that, in the Government's view, "FRONTEX should be given time to develop its operational role before consideration is given to broadening its remit". But the Government welcomes the Commission's suggested approach to the use of new technology.

59.14 Fight against trafficking in human beings: the Commission emphasises the importance of the Action Plan on trafficking which was adopted during the UK's Presidency of the Council last year.[156] The Commission's says that its current priorities are "the development of coordination and cooperation mechanisms needed at EU level, promotion of best practices in the identification of and support for victims, networking, involving international and non-governmental organisations, as well as the development of guidelines for data collection".[157]

59.15 The Government welcomes the Commission's commitment to the Action Plan.

59.16 Secure travel and ID documents: the Communication proposes the development of common guidelines for minimum security standards for travel documents and, in particular, for the issue procedures, and continued co-operation with third countries to incorporate biometric identifiers.

59.17 The Government welcomes the Commission's "focus on issuing procedures and the work with third countries on the security of their travel documents."

59.18 "Regularisation" (that is, a Member State's discretionary decision to grant an illegal immigrant the right to stay legally in its territory) — the Commission will commission a study in 2007 of current regularisation practices and of their effects not only in the "regularising" Member State but also on other States. If it were found that regularisation acts as a pull factor for illegal immigration, common EC rules might be proposed.

59.19 The Government has no plans to regularise the status of economic migrants working illegally in the UK because it is concerned that regularisation would act as a pull factor to the UK.

59.20 Tackling a key pull factor — illegal employment: the Commission notes that illegal employment in the Member States is a magnet for illegal immigration. It notes that some Member States have already introduced penalties on employers for illegal employment and encourages other Member States to take similar action. Meanwhile, the Commision will evaluate whether additional EC measures are required to harmonise sanctions on employers.

59.21 The Minister tells us that the Government considers that the existing measures against illegal employment in the UK, together with those due to come into force, are appropriate and proportionate. It will consider ay proposals from the Commission for Community legislation.

59.22 Return policy — the Commission:

  • will complete existing negotiations for readmission agreements with third countries and calls for mandates to negotiate further agreements, starting with the Western Balkan countries;
  • notes that the Returns Directive is being considered by the Council and the European Parliament (it proposes common rules for making and implementing decisions on the return of illegal immigrants);[158]
  • notes that FRONTEX is to identify best practice on the acquisition of travel documents and the return of third-country nationals; and
  • says that common standards should be established for the training of staff responsible for returns.

59.23 The Minister says that the Government supports readmission agreements where appropriate. The Government has not opted into the proposed Returns Directive. It takes part in joint return flights where appropriate and practical.

59.24 Improving exchange of information through existing instruments — the Commission emphasises the benefits and importance of the timely exchange of information between immigration authorities and outlines ways in which the existing arrangements might be improved.

59.25 The Government participates fully in the existing arrangements and welcomes any proposal for the exchange of information which offers practical benefits.

59.26 Carriers' liability — the Commission will commission an assessment of the existing Community law on the obligations of carriers to prevent illegal immigration. Moreover, a forum of representatives of Member States, the transport industry and humanitarian organisations will be asked to identify best practice for co-operation between migration authorities and carriers.

59.27 The Minister says that the UK participates in the existing Community law on carriers' liabilities and is an active member of the forum.


59.28 In our view, this Communication and its annexes provide a useful overview of the progress so far in the development of co-operation within the EC to deal with illegal immigration. The Commission's proposals for nine priorities for the future appear to be consistent with the terms of the Action Plan on Illegal Immigration and to lend support to its implementation.

59.29 Because of the clarity and helpfulness of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum, there are no questions we need put to her about the Communication. We shall scrutinise with great care any proposals the Commission makes for new legislation on illegal immigration not only because of its potential implications for national sovereignty but also because practical co-operation between Member States and third countries is vital to effective action against illegal immigration.

59.30 We draw the Communication to the attention of the House and clear it from scrutiny.

149   (22998) COM(01) 672: See HC 152-xviii (2001-02), para 11 (6 February 2002).  Back

150   (24603) 10289/03: See HC 62-xxxii (2002-03), para 16 (17 September 2003). Back

151   (26069) 13908/04: See HC 38-i (2004-05), para 29 (1 December 2004). Back

152   (25730) 10249/04: See HC 38-iv (2004-05), para 17 (19 January 2005). Back

153   (26566) 8922/05: See HC 34-iv (2005-06), para 22 (20 July 2005). Back

154   Commission Communication, paragraphs 16 and 17. Back

155   See (27721) 11880/06: para 22 above. Back

156   (26985) 12402/2/06: See HC 34-x (2005-06), para 24 (16 November 2005). Back

157   Commission Communication, paragraph 30. Back

158   (26837) 12125/05: See HC 34-x (2005-06), para 2 (16 November 2005). Back

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