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Legal channels of migration

How can migrants enter the EU legally?

In the European Union, there are procedures that allow migrants seeking a better life to benefit from legal entry into the European territory.

The UE measures on legal immigration cover the conditions of entry and residence for certain categories of immigrants, such as highly qualified workers subject to the “European Blue Card Directive”, students, researchers and seasonal workers. Resettlement, intra-corporate transfers and family reunification are also provided for.

Source : European Commission

Legal migration flows:


Resettlement is a procedure that allows refugees in need of international protection to enter the EU legally and safety without having to risk their lives on dangerous journeys.

For this purpose, the refugees are transferred from an asylum country to a third country that has agreed to grant them permanent settlement.

Resettlement States provide the refugee with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights on an equal basis with nationals.

To be eligible for resettlement, UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency) recommends that individuals or families must:

  • Meet the pre-requisites for the resettlement examination (The applicant is determined to be a refugee ; the prospects for all durable solutions were assessed, and resettlement is identified as the most appropriate solution) and ;

  • Meet the requirements for submission under one or more of the resettlement submission categories:

- Legal and/or physical protection needs

- Survivors of torture and/or Violence

- Medical needs

- Women and Girls at risk

- Family reunification

- Children and adolescents at risk

- Lack of foreseeable alternative durable solutions

In 2014 = 6 550 resettled refugees; in 2016 = 14 206 resettled refugees

Today, there are two ad hoc resettlement schemes in the EU:

  • the 2015 EU resettlement scheme

  • the 2016 resettlement scheme for Syrian refugees in Turkey

1) The European resettlement scheme which was launched in July 2015 following the EU leaders’ agreement aimed to resettle 22,504 refugees in two years.

Over 24,000 people have been resettled as of March 2019.

2) The resettled scheme for Syrian refugees in Turkey was established at the EU-Turkey summit in March 2016.

It provides that for every Syrian being returned from Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.

As of March 2019, close to 21,000 Syrians have been resettled so far through this scheme.

In addition, in 2017, the Commission recommended that Member States offer resettlement places for 50,000 people, to be admitted by 31 October 2019. Furthermore, in July 2016, a permanent EU framework for resettlement was proposed by the Commission. This would aim to establish common rules across the EU and would then replace the two current ad hoc resettlement schemes. In 2017, the European Council agreed on a mandate to start negotiations with the Parliament on the draft of this new framework for resettlement. Currently, negotiations are at an advanced stage.

Highly skilled workers

In the field of professional immigration, common European rules apply to the entry and stay of certain categories of migrant workers.

This concerns highly qualified workers, and more specifically holders of the "European Blue Card" which has been issued since 2009 to workers with a certain level of pay, company directors and employees of multinationals transferred within the European Union.

In 2017, a reform of the Blue Card Directive was adopted in order to attract more of the talent that the European economy needs.

The changes brought about by this reform are as follows:

- the introduction of lower salary thresholds for admission

- faster procedures

- shorter contracts

- the possibility for refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a Blue Card

EU Blue Card Eligibility Criteria:

  • You must be a national from a country outside the European Union

  • You must prove that you have 'higher professional qualifications', by showing a higher education qualification (such as a university degree). Some Member States may also accept at least five years of relevant professional experience.

  • You must work as a paid employee - the EU Blue Card does not apply to self-employed work or entrepreneurs;

  • Your annual gross salary must be high, at least one and a half times the average national salary - except when the lower salary threshold applies;

  • You must present a work contract or binding job offer in an EU country for at least one year;

  • You must have the necessary travel documents. You must have health insurance for yourself and any relatives who come to the EU with you.

  • You must prove that you fulfil the legal requirements to practice your profession, where this profession is regulated

Students and researchers

The EU Blue Card can also be issued to academics (students and researchers) who are also highly qualified and who can generally claim high wages.

In 2016, the Council and the Parliament adopted a directive laying down the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of research, studies, training, voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes or educational projects and au pair.

Furthermore, at a summit held in Valetta in November 2015, European and African leaders decided to promote the mobility of students, researchers and entrepreneurs between the two continents. The leaders then agreed to double the number of scholarships for students and academic staff through the Erasmus+ programme.

Seasonal workers

Due to the growing labour shortages, the EU’s economy relies on a high number of seasonal workers from outside the EU.

In 2014, the Council and Parliament adopted the directive on seasonal workers. It outlines the conditions under which third-country nationals may enter or stay in the EU as seasonal workers.

The purpose of this directive is to:

  • harmonise and simplify admission rules across member states

  • protect non-EU seasonal workers from exploitation and poor working conditions

  • tackle the problem of non-EU seasonal workers staying irregularly in the EU

Intra-corporate transfers

In 2014, the Council and the Parliament adopted a directive laying down the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer.

This directive is aimed to make it easier and quicker for multinational companies to temporarily assign highly skilled employees to subsidiaries situated in the EU.

This therefore concerns non-EU citizens who may apply for admission to the EU as managers, specialists or trainee employees in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer.

The Commission stated that every year 15,000 to 20,000 intra-corporate transferees will be admitted in the framework of this directive.

Family reunification

A directive lays down common rules on right to family reunification.

Family reunification allows those residing legally in the EU to be joined by their family members.

Non-EU nationals who hold a residence permit valid for at least one year in one of the EU countries and who have the legal option of long-term residence can apply for family reunification.

This directive does not apply in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark.

All of these procedures allowing migrants to reside legally in Europe benefit not only the EU but also the countries of origin of refugees receiving funds or investments from them. Moreover, many of them decide to return to their home country, thereby contributing (with newly acquired knowledge) to the economic growth of their nation.

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