EU Asylum and Immigration


EU member states have their own laws regulating immigration and asylum, but recognising that Europe faces a common challenge in this area, they have cooperated on migration issues since the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

Migration and asylum fall within the policy making area of Justice and Home Affairs and since 1999 these policies have been developed as one strand within the series of five year programmes. 

The aim has been to work towards the establishment of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) to bring about EU wide convergence in asylum matters. Immigration directives set a minimum level of common standards.

2000 – 2005. Tampere programme 

1st phase – instruments in place – Dublin 11 Regulation, directives on qualifications, asylum procedures and reception procedures, Eurodac

Obstacles to a common system: decisions on granting protection vary considerably across the EU. Asylum seekers are concentrated in a limited group of member states which are disproportionately affected.

2005 – 2010. The Hague programme

2nd phase – seeks to address the obstacles above through new, reshaped instruments.

Measures on successful integration on migrants, developing partnerships with third countries to tackle illegal immigration.

This programme followed the biggest enlargement of the EU when 10 countries joined May 1, 2004.

2008 Adoption of Directive 2008/115/EC

on common standards and procedures for returning illegal third country nationals (Third Country Directive)


24/12/2010 Final date for transposition of this directive within the member states.

2010 – 2014 The Stockholm programme

Witnessed the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

2009 – 2013 –the Asylum Package – difficult negotiations over the recast (revision) of the asylum directives dragged on for five years; the deadline was put back from 2010 to 2012. The Asylum Package was finally adopted in 2013, some progress having been made towards greater legislative harmonisation of member states asylum laws. The tragic events off the coast of Lampedusa in October 2013 re-ignited the debate on the efficiency of EU migration policy.

The European Asylum Support Office (EASO) in place and a broader mandate for FRONTEX

Dublin Regulations

The Dublin 11 Regulation replaces the 1990 Dublin Convention which set the criteria relating to a country responsible for processing an asylum application. It applies to all EU member states plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Came into force 17/3/2003


to identify as quickly as possible the member state responsible for examining an asylum application and to prevent abuse of the asylum procedures


Only one member state to be responsible, to avoid asylum seekers being sent from one country to another and from making multiple applications.

Principle of family unity to be upheld – for unaccompanied minors and for adults – that country where a family member is legally present to be responsible.

Criteria for identifying responsible member state:

  • The asylum seeker has a valid visa or resident document from the issuing member state;
  • Illegal entry into the member state - that member state is responsible. Migrants must register and seek asylum in the first member state they enter.
  • Legal entry where no visa required;
  • Application in the international transit area of an airport.

If none of the above criteria are met, the first member state with which the application was lodged must examine it;

At the request of a member state another member state may examine an application for humanitarian reasons, e.g. family or cultural considerations;

The member state designated as responsible must take charge of the applicant and process the application.

European Asylum Support Office (EASO)

Established 19 May 2010. Based in Malta.

An agency of the EU set up as a centre of expertise on asylum and to contribute to the development of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

It provides technical and operational support to member states, information on best practices and evidence-based input for EU policy-making and legislation.


tailor-made support – capacity building for specific situations

emergency support for Member States under particular pressure

information and analysis – including background information on countries of origin

third country support – partnerships with third countries

EASO Work Programmes and Activity Reports, including an Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum can be consulted online.


EU asylum fingerprint database, part of Common European Asylum System (CEAS)

Came into force July 2013

This biometric database contains fingerprints of asylum seekers and foreign nationals for comparison with Member State systems

It can be consulted by EU countries when an asylum applicant or foreign national has been found to be illegally present in an EU country.

It can determine whether an asylum seeker had previously applied for asylum in an EU country or had previously been apprehended when trying to unlawfully enter the EU

The recast added a second purpose:

This raises Right to Privacy issues for persons not presumed to have committed any such offence.

Fingerprint data should be erased immediately once third party nationals or stateless persons obtain citizenship of a Member State. All data stored for a time-limited period.

Recast in force July 2015