The Regularity of Irregularity: Rethinking Migration Paradigms 

2025 IMISCOE Spring Conference 

17-19 March 2025 | University for Continuing Education Krems, Department for Migration and Globalisation

Migration is a complex and dynamic phenomenon that shapes societies and economies worldwide. While many migration movements take place under regular pathways established for work, family or other reasons, a considerable number of migrants embark on migration journeys outside of the regular legal framework. Some do so during parts of their journeys, or they become irregular after entering a country of residence. Migrant irregularity is not static. Migrants may have different legal statuses during their journeys, often becoming irregular only at a later stage of their journey, and they may also experience complex legal status trajectories over time during their stay in any single country. 

Furthermore, changing legal and policy frameworks constantly shape and reshape migrant irregularity. Policy changes can lead to irregularisation of certain forms of movement and stay while regularising others. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum, for instance, emphasizes return as a primary response to migrants in irregular situations and expands the scope for detaining irregular arrivals at the border, contributing to protracted limbo situation for those with a precarious legal status (migrants with some sort of temporal recognition of their stay or an obligation to leave). Policies are not necessarily uniform, and different regulatory domains – migration, residence, employment, welfare, and public health, to name but a few – intersect in complex and often contradictory ways. Externalised migration policies add another layer of complexity, addressing movements because of their potential to lead to irregular inflows into the EU, the US, and other “Northern” countries, introducing a teleological element into the understanding of migrant irregularity. The Global Compact for Migration’s emphasis on ‘safe, orderly and regular movements’ conceals the profound disagreements on dealing with ‘unorderly’ und ‘irregular’ movements, and often increases, rather than reduces, risk to migrants’ safety and security. 

Laws and policies are not the only factors that matter. For instance, public support for the employment of ‘essential workers’ may lead to policy changes in their favour and often involves widespread tolerance of the presence of irregular migrants working in sectors such as care or agriculture, rendering them largely invisible and relatively safe from law enforcement. Conversely, other migrant groups may be problematised by negative public discourses and targeted by law enforcement for raids or controls. In such ‘hostile environments’, even legally staying migrants may become stigmatised as ‘illegal migrants’. Gender, race, ethnicity, and religion play an important role here in shaping attitudes and societal practices towards irregular migrants, as well as in state practices. Lived experiences of irregularity may thus differ considerably according to these and other individual characteristics, such as age, education, family situation, or social capital. The implications of an irregular status thus affect different individuals differently, and while civic and social stratification often overlap and reinforce each other, legal status is not always the decisive factor. 

The 2025 IMISCOE Spring Conference on "The Regularity of Irregularity: Rethinking Migration Paradigms" aims to explore and deepen our understanding of various facets of migrant irregularity. Focusing on four overarching themes – irregular migration processes, integration and settlement processes, the governance of irregular migration, and knowledge production on irregular migration – the conference will examine the political production of migrant irregularity and its social, economic and political drivers, public and media discourse, inclusionary and exclusionary policy responses, and the lived experiences of migrants navigating hostile regulatory governance frameworks and finding themselves in a precarious legal situation at different points of their trajectories. 

Against this background, we invite individual paper and panel submissions addressing any of the four overarching themes of the conference described in more detail below. We encourage submissions from different disciplines, career stages, and methodological approaches. More details on the application procedure, including formal requirements and information on where to apply, can be found at the end of this Call for Papers. 

The four Conference Themes

Irregular Migration Processes and Journeys: Aspirations, Capabilities and Decision Making in the Context of Irregularised Movements

Irregular migration involves various processes and aspirations that drive individuals to embark on alternative migration routes. This conference theme will explore the driving factors of irregular migration, including economic, social, political, legal, and environmental aspects, alongside considering transnational dimensions. Discussions may revolve around the motivations, decision-making processes, and experiences of migrants who opt for irregular pathways, their networks and the broader migration infrastructures facilitating irregular movement and stay. An overarching aim of this thematic strand is to examine how political barriers to mobility affect drivers of migration, and intersect with migrants’ motivations and aspirations, thereby shaping migration processes. 

Integration and Settlement Processes: Rethinking Societal and Systemic Inclusion and Exclusion  

Integration is a multifaceted process encompassing societal and systemic factors, as well as the lived experiences of migrants. This topic will explore the challenges and opportunities associated with migrant integration, with a particular focus on the interplay between inclusion and exclusion, especially for migrants with precarious legal statuses. These migrants often experience what Hinger & Schweitzer (2020) describe as ‘organised disintegration’, yet they also encounter instances of social acceptance and potential pathways to integration and regularisation. These opportunities are influenced by dynamics of racialisation, gender, economic contributions, and perceptions of deservingness. This thematic strand will delve into the dynamics and nuances of societal acceptance, feelings of belonging, and the everyday experiences of migrants, including their participation in informal employment sectors.  

Governance of Irregular Migration: Rethinking Policy Implications 

States and non-state actors play critical roles in the governance of irregular migration. While the regulatory role of the modern state is undeniably pivotal in shaping migration, states exhibit diverse responses to irregular migration and the presence of irregular migrants on their territory, influenced by multiple actors and competing interests and shaped by the multilevel constitution of the policy field that involves next to national governments also local, regional and supranational entities as well as various international organisations and related policy fora on the international level – in addition to various non-governmental actors. Moreover, externalisation, i.e. remote control policies based on extraterritorial interventions and cooperation with countries of origin and transit, have been a strong and growing policy trend in states’ attempts to control migrants’ movements and returning irregular migrants from their territories to countries of origin and departure.  This conference theme will examine how different state and non-state actors contribute to, challenge, or even undermine dominant governance practices, considering both inclusionary and exclusionary policy approaches.  

Knowledge Production on Irregular Migration 

Irregular migration exemplifies a ‘wicked’ policy problem, characterized by conflicting values and perspectives, uncertainties about complex causal relationships, and debates about the impacts of policy options (Head 2018). The knowledge surrounding the issue is inherently contested, with various framings – such as victimisation, criminalisation, and resistance - offering distinct narratives and proposing diverse solutions. Moreover, the often hidden nature of irregular migration results in limited knowledge accessibility and reluctance among implicated parties to disclose key aspects of the phenomenon. This thematic strand will critically reflect upon the production of knowledge about migrant irregularity and the use of evidence in this field.

Individual Paper Proposals

Paper proposals should consist of a 250-word abstract, along with the name(s), affiliation(s), and contact details of the author(s). Paper proposals should also include a short (max. 50 words) bio, detailing career stage (e.g. PhD researcher, post-doc, etc.) and disciplinary background.  

Individual papers will be grouped thematically into panels who will be assigned a discussant and a chair.  We strongly encourage authors to highlight the conceptual and methodological novelty of their contribution.

Panel Proposals

Panel proposals should comprise of a 250-word abstract outlining the theme of the panel, accompanied by four thematically consistent and interconnected 250-word paper abstracts. Panel proposers should nominate a chair and a discussant (the role of chair and discussant may co-incide). 

Submissions should include the names, affiliations, contact details and short (50 words) bios of the chair(s), discussant(s) and author(s) of each paper.

Panels should not be composed of papers coming from a single project. Instead, we encourage panel proposers to build panels drawing on a diverse set of researchers. Open calls for contributions for panels should also be considered, which should be circulated via IMISCOE (website, social media). Panel organizers launching an open call for paper proposals should forward calls to the IMISCOE communications officer ( for further circulation via IMISCOE. Generally, we encourage panel proposers to consider diversity in the composition of panels, notably in terms of career stage, but as far as appropriate to the panel theme, also in terms of disciplinary background or theoretical or methodological approaches.  

The deadline for submissions is 6 September 2024, COB. Decisions will be sent by early November 2024.

Conference format

The conference will take place in a hybrid format allowing passive participation in all conference activities for both online and on-site participants. Individual paper givers/ panel chairs are asked to indicate whether papers are presented/panels are organised online or in person. For presenters, panels will then be either online or in person. 

Volunteers for the role of chair and/or discussants for panels based on individual submissions: For panels put together on the basis of individual paper submissions we are looking for chairs and discussants. Please indicate in the conference submission tool (field: “Volunteers for the role of chair and/or discussants”) whether you are available for either or both roles.  

Limitation of roles: To enable a wide participation, only one submission per (presenting) author is permitted. The discussant role should also be limited to one panel. 

To learn more about abstract submission and other conference details, proceed to the following webpage:

How to apply

Papers and panels can be submitted via this online tool.

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