E.g., 12/19/2014
E.g., 12/19/2014

Immigrant Legalization in the United States and European Union: Policy Goals and Program Design

Policy Briefs
December 2010

Immigrant Legalization in the United States and European Union: Policy Goals and Program Design

While highly controversial on both sides of the Atlantic, legalization (regularization in the European context) is a critical and widely used tool for managing illegal immigration—with the primary purpose of legalization being to reduce the size of a country’s unauthorized population. But while politics may favor restrictive legalization parameters, more inclusive systems are easier to implement and, in the long run, more cost effective. Policymakers, however, must find a balance that achieves a high level of compliance without admitting ineligible immigrants and encouraging future illegal immigration.

Since the 1980s, about 3.5 million immigrants in the United States and 5 million in Europe have gained legal status through these mechanisms. And in that time virtually every major migrant-receiving state has enacted some form of immigrant legalization. At the same time, how legalization regimes are designed may have important implications for addressing concerns about any legalization policies.

This policy brief examines the legalization debate and discusses policy parameters that characterize legalization programs, such as qualifications, requirements, benefits, and program design and implementation.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. The Legalization Debate

III. Policy Parameters

A. Qualifications

B. Requirements

C. Benefits

D. Program Design and Implementation

IV. Conclusions