EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life



There is no official definition of migration in the European Union. The term describes the process of persons moving across borders to live and work and generally implies non-EU citizens moving into or within the EU. Inward migration into the EU is an important issue, given Eurostat projections that population growth in the EU up to 2025 will be mainly dependent on migration. Without positive net migration, the population would already have declined in some EU States, with the working age population predicted to decline by some 20 million between 2010 and 2030.


The EU recognises the importance of migration to the EU, noting that a balanced, comprehensive and common migration policy will help the EU to seize opportunities while tackling the challenges head-on. The EU’s migration policy is currently under development and built upon solidarity and responsibility.

The total number of third-country nationals living in EU Member States as at 1 January 2010 was estimated by Eurostat to be 20.2 million. Economic and political forecasts predict that immigration will continue to grow in the future and this has lead to the adoption of policies favouring the development of a common approach to migration. Two factors have led to pressure for a more effective EU strategy to promote the economic, social, cultural, and political integration of migrants and the next generation: recognition of the failure to integrate past migrants effectively, and concern about rising support for the far right.

Since 1999, the Commission has put forward several Directives with a view to establishing a level playing field between Member States and progressing towards a common migration policy. These include:

  • Council Directive 2003/109/EC concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents. This created a single status for long-term resident, third-country nationals who are legally and continuously resident in an EU state for five years, ensuring equal treatment throughout the EU, whatever the Member State of residence
  • Directive 2004/38/EC on family reunification
  • Council Directive 2004/81/EC on residence permits for victims of trafficking and smuggling
  • Council Directive 2004/114/EC on the conditions of admission of non-EU nationals for the purposes of studies, pupil exchange, unremunerated training or voluntary service
  • Council Directive 2005/71/EC, under which the EU provides for a fast track procedure for the admission of non-EU researchers for stays of more than three months if the researcher has a ’hosting agreement‘ with a research organisation
  • Council Directive 2009/50/EC, which facilitates access to the labour market for highly qualified migrants, entitling Blue Card holders to socio-economic rights and favourable conditions for family reunification and movement around the EU.

In addition, the EU is currently discussing Commission proposals for further Directives on the conditions of entry and residence for seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees, as well as a single permit. The aim is to simplify migration procedures and give migrants clear employment-related rights.

The EU’s immigration portal, launched in November 2011, provides information for foreign nationals interested in moving to the EU. The site is also directed at migrants who are already in the EU and would like to move from one EU State to another. It provides specific practical information about procedures in all 27 EU States for each category of migrants.

Eurofound has carried out several studies on migrant workers. The most relevant recent study, carried out in 2007, examines the employment and working conditions of migrant workers. This study documents an increasing trend in immigration in EU Member States, albeit with significant differences between countries. Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK have experienced a marked growth of inflow both in absolute and in relative terms. In other countries, the upward trend is less pronounced, and in the case of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands a declining trend can be detected, which is likely to be related to the restrictive migration policies of these countries in recent years. It also notes that in most countries, migrant workers face higher unemployment rates and, when in employment, they tend to be segregated in unskilled occupations and exposed to higher risks of over-qualification.

See also: immigration; free movement of workers; mobility of workers; third-country nationals.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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