Undocumented migrants are those without a residence permit authorising them to regularly stay in their country of destination. They may have been unsuccessful in the asylum procedure, have overstayed their visa or have entered irregularly.

The routes to becoming an undocumented migrant are complex and often the result of arbitrary policies and procedures over which the migrant has little or no control. It is PICUM’s experience that the majority of undocumented migrants entered Europe legally but after a period of time, experienced difficulties and found themselves without the relevant permit for residence or employment. Irregularity is caused by an administrative infringement and not a criminal offence – it is a process fueled by exploitation, redundancy, misinformation and administrative delays.

Once in an unregulated status, migrants are systematically denied those elements which constitute a basic standard of living and face a de facto violation of their fundamental rights. They lack health care, are denied education, deprived of labour protections and occupy the worst housing conditions in Europe.

While it has been estimated by the OECD that there may be from 5 to 8 million undocumented migrants in Europe, they remain invisible in the eyes of policy makers. This situation puts enormous strain on local actors such as NGOs, health care and educational professionals, and local authorities, who often work with limited resources to defend undocumented migrants’ fundamental rights and guarantee them a basic standard of living.

These local actors are confronted on a daily basis with situations in which they witness that irregular legal status is an obstacle for a sizable part of the population in accessing basic social services. Professional groups, such as doctors and teachers, experience clashes between what their professional ethics tell them to do and the incriminatory discourse regarding undocumented migrants.