Protecting Irregular
Migrants in Europe

PRIME is an international research and policy project that analyses the conditions and politics of irregular migrants in Europe. It seeks to understand how and why the conditions of irregular migrants vary so dramatically across Europe. The category of "Irregular(ised) migrants" includes an extensive range of statuses and experiences that vary between countries, between sectors of employment, and by gender and nationality/ethnicity. In that vein, the project examines how national institutional contexts – not only immigration and asylum law and policy but also the regulation of work, welfare state policies, and sectoral differences – shape the causes and consequences of irregularity. Breaking the mould of "methodological nationalism", it also examines the role of gender, ethnicity and public attitudes in shaping migrants’ experiences of their legal status.

Understanding "irregularity" as a complex, gendered and "nationalised" status, PRIME will provide a new comparative institutional approach to understanding the conditions of irregular migrants in Europe and how they are made vulnerable. It will achieve this through large-scale surveys, structured policy analysis, and qualitative interviews with irregular migrants, employers, policy actors, interest groups and voters across eight European countries (Austria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK) and four focus sectors (agriculture and food processing; recycling and waste management; restaurants; care). It will thereby generate new analysis on how migrants’ outcomes and experiences are shaped by national socio-economic institutions (including national labour market regulations and welfare institutions), sectoral policies, the actions and interests of migrants and social attitudes.

A Prime Year for PRIME: The project made significant strides towards understanding the intricate web of conditions and politics surrounding irregular migrants in Europe

In 2023, one of the primary activities of the PRIME project was to conduct national-level policy roundtables with policy actors and relevant stakeholders in Austria, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Croatia and the UK. The roundtables took place between September and October 2023, and in total, 92 individuals representing a spectrum of stakeholders (government offices, trade unions, employers, NGOs, etc.) participated in these six roundtables. The purpose of the roundtables was to create a platform to engage with stakeholders, identify their key challenges and information needs, and test if the questions being addressed in the project are relevant to the stakeholders. The USG team (Sandra King-Savic and Usman Mahar) successfully organized one of these workshops in Austria with the assistance of the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. Following the roundtable, the consortium now has a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of irregularity and the needs of different stakeholders that will assist the teams in terms of access and research. Building on the momentum from these stakeholder meetings, this year (2024), the project consortium will conduct qualitative and quantitative research in eight (Austria, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Croatia, Spain, Greece and the U.K.) across four focus sectors (hospitality, agriculture, waste management and care).

The consortium also established internal guidelines and conducted training on ethics and trauma sensitivity, emphasizing the importance of responsible research. Furthermore, workshops with national and EU actors and interest groups fostered knowledge exchange between national teams and provided valuable pre-fieldwork feedback.

Throughout 2023, PRIME accomplished significant milestones in line with its project phases. Deliverables submitted to the European Commission included a report by the external Ethics Advisor (June 2020), a comprehensive data management plan (November 2023), a stakeholder meeting report (December 2023) and a foundational paper presenting a theoretical framework for an institutional approach to understanding the conditions of irregular migrants in Europe (December  2023).

With the completion of Phase 1 in 2023, the project witnessed the development and refinement of a common analytical approach and framework. This involved extensive literature reviews, a typology of policy responses, and a deep dive into national institutions across focus countries in addition to the achievements and deliverables mentioned above. Regular consortium meetings, both online and in-person, facilitated collaboration and collective efforts in shaping the project's direction. The engagement with the External Advisory Board and stakeholders from various sectors and countries ensured a holistic approach to understanding irregularity.

As PRIME transitions into the research phase this year, the project is poised to build upon the foundations laid in 2023. The insights gained from literature reviews, policy analyses, and stakeholder interactions will inform large-scale surveys, qualitative interviews, and structured policy analyses, contributing to a robust comparative institutional approach. The commitment to understanding irregularity as a complex, gendered, and nationalized status remains at the forefront, promising valuable contributions to research and policy realms. In conclusion, PRIME's 2023 achievements mark a significant step forward in unravelling the complexities surrounding irregular migrants in Europe, reflecting the commitment of the consortium and partners to contribute meaningfully to the discourse on migration and vulnerability. 

Not strictly in the project's scope but in line with many of the PRIME objectives and themes, Sandra and Usman actively contributed to academic and policy dialogues on migration through a series of scholarly publications, conferences and workshops in 2023. For example, Sandra published a research article on the shifting understanding of “integration” in Switzerland from the perspective of migrants from former Yugoslavia (Frontiers in Political Science 2023). Usman co-edited “The Multi-Sided Ethnographer: Living the Field beyond Research,” slated for release in 2024 (Transcript), along with a chapter in the book on engaged ethnographic practices in migration research. A full list of publications is available on their web pages (Usman; Sandra). Furthermore, Sandra convened a panel at the Annual IMISCOE Conference in Warsaw, addressing critical issues such as the role of migrant researchers and the complexities of academic selves, inequalities, and epistemologies in migration studies. Usman presented a paper in this panel and participated in another roundtable discussion on migration, inequalities, and social mobility processes organised by Marta Bivand Erdal. Both attended workshops, such as “Trusting the State? Law, Bureaucracies and Politics”, where they presented working papers. Details can be found on their respective websites:; 

Funding Details and Partners

PRIME is an EU-Horizon Research and Innovations Actions project (grant no. 101095113). As as an associated partner to the Horizon grant, the work at USG is funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) [grant no. REF-1131-52104].

The project is led by the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence (Italy). Other participating institutions apart from the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) are the University of Bristol, the University of Uppsala (Sweden), the University of Warsaw (Poland), the University of Zagreb (Croatia) and the Danish Refugee Council (Denmark).

DignityFirm, i-CLAIM, and MIrreM are EU-Horizon partner projects of PRIME.

More details can be found on the PRIME website and the personal websites of the team members, Usman Mahar and Sandra King-Savic


Sandra King-Savic


Member Academic Board

Büro 52-7138
Müller-Friedberg-Strasse 8
9000 St. Gallen

Usman Mahar

Dr. des.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Müller-Friedberg-Strasse 6/8

9000 St. Gallen