PRIME – Protecting Irregular Migrants in Europe:

Variations in vulnerability, host country needs, and policy effectiveness

Responses to irregular migration in Europe commonly take immigration status as the only or primary cause of migrants’ vulnerability and exploitation and share ‘best practices’ between countries to protect rights of irregular migrants and communities’ needs. However, approaches that focus narrowly on irregular status and/or draw on ‘best-practices’ often fail due to national institutional factors and dynamic migration processes. These shape the economic and social conditions of irregular migrants, the causes and consequences of irregularity for migrants and host communities, and the attitudes, politics and policies toward irregular migrants in host countries. PRIME offers a new approach to understanding the conditions and vulnerabilities of irregular migrants in Europe through attending to these factors and processes.

PRIME provides new knowledge and understandings about three inter-related sets of questions critical to overcoming the limits of prevailing approaches and to establishing more effective policy-making that benefits both migrants and host communities across Europe:

  • How and why do the conditions of irregular migrants vary across institutional contexts in Europe? How do national labour market regulations, welfare systems as well as immigration and integration policies – what we collectively call institutional contexts – shape the types and forms irregularity takes, its multi-faceted causes and consequences, and host country attitudes and responses?
  • How and why does the sector of employment matter for the conditions and effects of irregular migrants, and for the host community’s attitudes and policy responses? Specifically, are there variations in experiences, effects, and attitudes across sectors with different degrees of perceived strategic importance for the host country (such as sectors providing essential services during major external shocks such as the Covid19 pandemic)?
  • How does mobility across European countries shape the conditions of irregular migrant workers? How and why do irregular migrants move across European countries over time, and what are the consequences for their access to work, rights, and legal status? What opportunities and vulnerabilities does intra-EU mobility bring for irregular migrant workers and host communities?

PRIME will generate new data, analysis and understandings of these central yet under-researched questions to reveal the specific role of irregular status in shaping conditions and vulnerabilities of migrants compared to other factors including institutional contexts, sector of employment, and mobility practices. We will study how different types of irregularity interact with institutional and sectoral factors as well as migrants’ mobility practices in influencing outcomes for migrants and host communities and what types of issues related to the protection of irregular migrants lend themselves to a common European approach.


This project is funded by the European Commission, Horizon Action Grant. It will start in March 2023 and run until the end of Feb 2026.


PRIME is coordinated by Martin Ruhs (Lead, Migration Policy Centre (MPC), European University Institute (EUI) and Bridget Anderson (MMB).

This project is associated with the MMB Challenge on Bordering, control, justice