Working for Legality: Employment and Migrant Regularization in Europe



Recent programs to regularize undocumented migrants suggest the increasing role of employment as a requirement for foreigners to legally reside in Europe. Taking as illustrations the cases of Spain, France, Austria, Belgium and Germany, this article examines how regularization policies frame work. Employment provisions follow a civic-performance frame that breaks with the criterion of vulnerability. While secure forms of employment paying standard wages are privileged, the crisis has made such jobs even less accessible to migrants seeking to regularize or maintain their status. Residence permits granted through legalization have become increasingly temporary and conditional, often involving repeated transitions in and out of illegality. A vicious circle of “disintegration” thus threatens to set in where employment precariousness becomes both the source and the consequence of legal precariousness.

Policy Implications

  • The article shows how employment provisions are tightly linked to policies of “earned legalization”.
  • The article shows that employment can be part of a broader regularization policy emphasizing ties to the host country.
  • The article brings attention to potential conflicts between access requirements based on migrant vulnerability, and those based on migrant integration.
  • The article warns against the exclusionary workings of employment-based regularization in times of economic downturn.