E.g., 07/24/2014
E.g., 07/24/2014

The 'Regularization' Option in Managing Illegal Migration More Effectively: A Comparative Perspective

Policy Briefs
September 2005

The 'Regularization' Option in Managing Illegal Migration More Effectively: A Comparative Perspective

This policy brief explores the often neglected migration management potential of “regularization” or “legalization” programs that offer legal status to large portions of the unauthorized immigrant population. In the brief, the author argues that properly conceived and carefully executed “earned” regularization programs, when used in concert with other policy initiatives, can not only prevent the number and flow of unauthorized migrants from building to unacceptable levels, but can also set the stage for smarter use of enforcement resources and improvements in labor market and social policy development.

According to the brief, regularization programs in European Union Member States, as well as most other advanced industrial democracies, are remedial stop-gap measures at best, doing nothing to alter the fundamental dynamics or realities that drive unauthorized immigration. Some critics charge that regularization programs tend to create incentives for more unauthorized immigrants to seek entry into countries that implement them. Others draw attention to the disconcerting relationship between expulsions and regularizations, suggesting that programs in which not all applicants qualify creates incentives for fraud on one hand and disincentives for participation on the other.

Despite its limited value as a self-standing policy tool, the author believes that regularization programs can play a significant role in managing international migration under the right conditions. First, they must capture the behavior and needs of both migrants and employers. Second, he suggests that such programs should embody the concept of “earned” regularization—an incremental path to legal permanent status in which applicants gradually accrue various rights, privileges, and responsibilities through a tiered qualification process. Finally, regularization programs must be coordinated alongside expanded labor migration channels, efforts to combat irregular employment, and systematic enforcement of the rule of law.