This EMN study Illegal employment of third-country nationals in the European Union is based on contributions from EMN National Contact Points in 23 Member States, collected via a common template to ensure comparability.
- Illegal employment of third-country nationals (TCNs) – defined as employment contravening migration and/or labour law – is a source of concern in the EU for economic, migration-related and social and fundamental rights reasons. It is also linked to trafficking in human beings for labour exploitation.
- Due to its covert nature, illegal employment is a ‘hidden’ phenomenon linked to the ‘grey’ or informal economy of the Member States. Although there is no shared and clear definition of the term ‘grey’ economy, definitions commonly include both legal and illegal activities. Schneider and Boockmann define it as “economic activities to obtain income whilst avoiding state regulation, taxation, or detection”.
- Statistics provided by a limited number of Member States in the context of this Study shows that the number of identified illegally employed TCNs and the number of convictions and sanctions for employers differ significantly across Member States. It should be noted that available statistics on identification of illegally employed TCNs and convictions of employers reflect law enforcement practices and thus does not provide a complete picture. In the period 2014-2016, the highest number of cases of identified irregularly staying and illegally employed TCNs, in Member States that record data on this phenomenon, was in France (2,311 identified TCNs in 2014 and 1,774 in 2015), followed by the Netherlands and Belgium, while the lowest number of cases were recorded in Latvia (two identified in 2014 and one in 2015) and Bulgaria (two in 2014; zero in 2015 and one in 2016 respectively), based on statistics provided by fifteen Member States. As for regularly staying TCNs, from the eight Member States which provided data, the highest numbers of illegal employment were recorded in the Czech Republic (1,128 in 2016) and Greece (832 in 2016), while the lowest number of cases were again recorded in Bulgaria (thirty-two in 2016).
- Agriculture, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and food services are the sectors in which the illegal employment of TCNs is most prevalent. The types of businesses considered at high risk of illegal employment are in the labour-intensive and low-skilled sectors, particularly those with a high turnover of staff and low wages.
- Fighting illegal employment is a policy objective and priority for the EU as a whole and in the Member States participating in this Study. The EU has been mandated to adopt measures to prevent and tackle illegal employment of TCNs, most notably through the Employers’ Sanctions Directive 2009/52/EC, which tackles irregularly staying TCNs. At Member State level, the majority of Member States have recently adopted or are in the process of implementing new measures. These include introduction or increase of sanctions for illegally employed TCNs and employers; establishing lists of trusted or unreliable employers; addressing malpractice of employment intermediaries (e.g. employment agencies); setting up specific offices; running communication campaigns and stepping up and improving inspections.