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Comparative Summary

This report by the Law Library of Congress surveys the laws of 20 jurisdictions (the European Union and selected major economically developed countries, representing all continents and geographic regions of the world) related to the treatment of undocumented migrants who arrived as minors, their eligibility for obtaining legal status and access to social benefits, and their possibilities for becoming citizens.  Additionally, all country surveys provide a general overview of national migration legislation, and past amnesty programs are reviewed to illustrate national efforts in resolving problems involving the legalization of undocumented youth.  In defining undocumented migrants and those minors who arrived in the country outside the boundaries of the regular migration process, each country report follows definitions used in the specific country’s legislation to define those who illegally enter, stay, and work in the country.

The laws of the majority of the countries included in this report do not provide for legal status or a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented persons, and consider those who entered the country illegally inadmissible in general.  However, many countries are more lenient in regard to providing opportunities to stay and work for those who were born inside the country or were brought to the country as a child by illegal migrant parents—a policy declared by a 1954 ruling of the Argentinian Supreme Court, which stated that if “the applicant entered the country as a minor, he could not be responsible for noncompliance with immigration norms.”

No country included in the report has special programs that would establish a direct path to citizenship for the children of undocumented migrants; however, many of them undertake efforts aimed at regularizing the legal status of young migrants.  The report demonstrates a variety of approaches to dealing with young people who do not have documentation to prove that they are in the country legally.  These approaches range from detention and deportation (Saudi Arabia), to subjecting them to the general immigration and citizenship acquisition rules (Italy), to providing opportunities to obtain residency permits that would allow them to live and work in the country.  Depending on their age and length of presence in the country, a temporary stay and deferred enforcement of immigration laws may be granted to those who entered the country at a relatively young age and meet other specific requirements (Germany, France).  Even when those who have overstayed their visas or have entered the country illegally are considered inadmissible, temporary resident permits may be granted under exceptional circumstances (Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom).  Some countries (Russia, South Africa) have introduced programs for the legalization of migrants who are working illegally, but these programs are limited to migrants from particular countries of origin.  A comprehensive program for the legalization of certain undocumented persons who arrived as children existed in Australia during the mid-1990s to November 2005, but was cancelled due to abuse of the program by some participants.  Other Australian programs were also short-lived because they were initiated by executive ministries and did not have parliamentary approval.  While some countries prohibit the naturalization of illegal migrants at all (India), a pathway to citizenship is foreseen in the laws of others.  However, no country appears to grant citizenship to the children of undocumented migrants automatically and requires legalization of status and meeting other requirements for naturalization.

The report illustrates that most of the countries surveyed allow undocumented migrants to receive access to public health care and education. The details of each country’s governing laws are provided in the individual country surveys.

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Comparative Summary prepared by Peter Roudik
Assistant Law Librarian for Legal Research
September 2017

Countries surveyed

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Last Updated: 03/24/2021