ICMPD: Ten migration issues to look out for in 2023

The International Centre for Migration Policy & Development provide an insight into the 10 migration issues to look out for in 2023.

2023 will again be a challenging year for EU migration policy. Below is a non-exhaustive list of trends and developments that will be high on the agenda of decision makers and analysts alike.

  1. High migration pressures in times of global polycrisis
    The world faces a number of crises that interact with increasing velocity and impact, a situation that is described as a state of “global polycrisis”. It also marks a turning point in global and European migration history. A new migration environment is shaped by the continued effects of long-term trends and drivers, increasing economic and demographic imbalances, climate change, growing geopolitical competition and the instrumentalisation of migration as a means of hybrid aggression. It is characterised by growing levels of mobility, both voluntary and forced, both legal and irregular. The EU member states recorded a 64% increase in detections of irregular border crossings in 2022 and a 46% increase in asylum applications in 2022. The EU was not alone in this; other regions of destination observed similar developments. The United States recorded an increase of 41% of cases at its southern border and almost seven times more attempted arrivals by boat than in 2021. There is little to suggest a trend reversal in 2023. Migration pressures will stay high and destination countries will have to deal with flows of refugees and irregular migrants.
  2. A focus on the Western Balkans and Central Mediterranean migratory routes
    In 2022, the Western Balkans Route and the Central Mediterranean Route recorded 75% of all detections of irregular border crossings into the EU. This was caused by increasing migratory pressures in important origin and transit regions due to growing instability and conflict, the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine, the increasing significance of Tunisia as a point of departure alongside Libya, and visa-free access for important nationalities of origin to neighbouring countries and the subsequent attempts to cross into the Schengen Zone. A tightening of visa regimes and route-specific EU action plans in the second half of the year have the potential to reduce the numbers in 2023 but will not fully outweigh the impact of other powerful drivers shaping migration along the two routes.
  3. A possible second wave of refugees from Ukraine
    Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on 24 February, 7.9 million Ukrainians have fled to Europe and 4.9 million have registered for Temporary Protection or similar schemes in the EU and other European countries. The attacks on critical infrastructure as of October destroyed 50% of the energy system and put immense strains on Ukrainian society but did not result in significant numbers of people leaving. 18 million Ukrainians, however, are considered in urgent need of humanitarian support inside the country. Host countries have to anticipate scenarios of increasing and perhaps sudden inflows of Ukrainian refugees in 2023. The different scenarios range from 500,000 to 4 million persons and contingency plans must prepare for such high numbers.
  4. The labour market integration of Ukrainians and exit strategies from temporary protection
    The Ukrainian refugees who arrived last year will start to enter into employment more strongly in 2023. Positive labour market outcomes require more targeted support in the areas of language training, childcare, skills acknowledgement and on-the-job training. This challenges host countries’ systems with a shorter immigration tradition and less experience in integration policies. At present there is little hope for an early end to hostilities. This should, however, not prevent a discussion on the necessary steps to exit from temporary protection in a well-prepared way. Temporary protection will be extended until March 2024. This will give sufficient time to consider what is necessary in developing post-temporary-protection strategies and to develop an approach that is thoroughly coordinated between the member states but also with the Ukrainian authorities who have a strong interest in the return of their citizens as soon as hostilities end.
  5. The work on instruments to address the instrumentalisation of migration
    The EU will have to deal with attempts to instrumentalise migrants as a means of hybrid aggression in 2023 too, as confirmed by the Russian government announcing that flights will be launched from North Africa and the Middle East to the exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders the member state Poland and easily serves as a springboard for irregular movements towards the EU. The EU’s draft Instrumentalisation Regulation, initiated in 2021 and intended to serve as a main instrument addressing instrumentalisation, did not find a majority at the Interior Ministers Council in December, also driven by concerns about a weakening of the Common European Asylum System standards. It will be important to revisit the regulation and continue the work on commonly agreeable instruments in 2023, keeping in mind that instrumentalisation is likely to continue, requiring coherent responses from the EU together with its partners in regions of origin and transit.
  6. The debate over visa regimes in the EU and beyond
    In 2022, irregular arrivals and new asylum applications in the EU (other than Ukrainians) comprised, in their majority, applicants from war- and conflict-ridden countries. But they also included a considerable share of nationalities with very low prospects for a positive decision on their claims who at the same time benefited from visa-free or facilitated access to EU member states or neighbouring countries. Meanwhile, Serbia has committed to tightening its visa regulations, the recently launched European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) should help to identify irregular migration risks linked to specific origin countries, and the newly concluded migration and mobility partnerships will facilitate legal migration but also enhance the cooperation on preventing irregular migration. In view of the high attention paid to irregular migration and asylum in the political debate, the review of existing visa regimes will, however, stay high on the political agenda also in 2023.
  7. The effects of the global supply and cost-of-living crisis on migration
    It is difficult to identify soaring living costs or food insecurity as single factors stimulating migration flows but, when seen in conjunction with other factors, their relevance is not contested either. The increase in irregular migration flows observed in Europe and other world regions in 2022 is at least partly attributed to factors related to living costs, food insecurity and climate events. Against this backdrop, the extent to which the international community pays attention to related developments and the degree to which the countries of the global north provide support to the countries most affected by higher food prices, boosting food production and making agricultural sectors more resilient will be an important factor in controlling irregular migration flows in 2023.
  8. Economic downturn, labour shortages and the discussion on legal migration channels in Europe
    The debate over shortages on European labour markets continued throughout 2022 despite the economic uncertainties resulting from the war in Ukraine. Almost all European countries reported a lack of skilled workers and labour shortages across most sectors. Around six million jobs were waiting to be filled throughout the year. As fallout from the war in Ukraine, the EU economy will be weak in 2023. GDP growth is forecast to reach only 0.3% and inflation will remain high at 7.0%. The outlook on labour markets, however, is less pessimistic. Unemployment rates should rise moderately from 6.2% in 2022 to 6.5% and employment growth is expected to increase again in 2024. It is therefore quite likely that the reduced labour market demands due to the economic downturn will not outweigh the structural labour force losses due to demographic change. Labour migration issues will stay on the European agenda in 2023.
  9. A growing number of migration partnerships between EU member states and non-European partners
    Not least because of growing labour supply needs, European governments have stepped up their efforts to actively recruit workers in countries of origin or to enter into comprehensive migration and mobility partnerships in 2022. Portugal concluded agreements on employment and residence of workers with India and Morocco, while Germany and India signed an Agreement on Migration and Mobility, intended as a model for further agreements in this field. India has concluded similar agreements with Finland, France and the United Kingdom and will sign one with Austria as well. A main benefit of these agreements is that they do not solely focus on the labour market needs of destination countries, but ensure a broad political basis for cooperation on training issues, migrants’ rights, combating illegal migration and ensuring the return and reintegration of illegally staying migrants. In 2023, it will be interesting to see how much the numbers of such agreements will grow and how quickly they will move to the level of practical implementation.
  10. The last opportunity to finalise the Pact on Migration and Asylum
    In September 2020, the European Commission presented the so-called New Pact on Migration and Asylum, supposed to initiate a fresh start in the reform of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The pact included a number of legislative proposals that were contested from the beginning due to long-standing disagreement among Member States over fundamental directions of the CEAS. There has been considerable progress since then but divisions persist. Next year will provide the final opportunity to complete the work and to agree the pact or at least some of its legislative proposals before the next European elections in 2024. It remains to be seen whether the extraordinary European summit in February, devoted to important migration issues and the approval of the pact, will achieve a final breakthrough.