Transnational Migration, Citizenship and the Circulation of Rights and Responsibilities (TRANSMIC)

Circular migration from the Eastern partnership countries to the EU – the rights of migrant workers in Bulgaria and Poland

(ESR 1; Maastricht University)

Research plan:

This PhD project aimed to analyse the implementation of the European Union’s approach to circular migration and to assess its consequences for the rights of the economically active low- and highly- skilled migrants from the Eastern partnership countries. Most of the literature on circular migration focuses on conceptualising the EU approach rather than on its implementation on national level in the EU Member States. It was the aim of this PhD project to fill in this gap by focusing on the transposition of the EU legal migration directives incorporating circular migration elements, as well as the implementation of policy instruments forming part of the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility.

By developing a benchmarking framework for analysis based on international standards and soft law, the dissertation explored whether these EU legal and policy instruments provide a “win” for the migrant workers within the context of the “triple win solution” that circular migration allegedly offers. It has an interdisciplinary character and combines international, European and national law and implementation evaluation as part of an empirical legal research study using semi-structured interviews and focus groups. The PhD project focused geographically on the Eastern neighbourhood, which comprises countries in Central and Eastern Europe that attract migrant workers from the former Soviet Union republics. It employed a comparative case study methodology, focusing on the implementation of the circular migration approach in national legislation and policy of Poland and Bulgaria.

Summary of research findings:

  • The EU’s approach to circular migration has been driven by selectivity based on the skills and the qualifications of migrants and it only allows the most desirable migrants – the highly-qualified – with the possibility to engage in rights-based circular migration.
  • The circular migration approaches at the national level differ between countries due to various factors such as the national context, stage of development of the national migration policy, the way in which EU law is transposed into domestic law and how Member States use their margin of appreciation. Consequently, this leads to different outcomes for the rights of migrant workers and very often to discrepancies between the predetermined models by policymakers and the migrants’ realities.

Research period: November 2014 – January 2018

Status: finished. Dissertation successfully defended on 27 June 2018 at Maastricht University.

Researcher: Zvezda Vankova  (profile page)


Zvezda Vankova is researcher at the Department of European and International Law & the Institute for Transnational and Euregional Cross Border Cooperation and Mobility (ITEM) at the Faculty of Law of the Maastricht University. She defended the dissertation “Circular migration from the Eastern neighbourhood to the EU – the rights of migrant workers in Bulgaria and Poland” which was part of the TRANSMIC project. Zvezda holds a BA degree in Public Administration and a MA degree in International relations from the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. She was awarded a scholarship by the Danish Agency for International Education (CIRIUS) and specialised European Studies at the University of Copenhagen (2004-2005).

In July 2019 she was awarded a Rubicon grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO), allowing her to conduct research at the University of Lund (Sweden) for a period of 24 months.

Prior to joining the Faculty of Law of the Maastricht University, Zvezda Vankova worked as a central research coordinator of the latest edition of the Migrant Integration Policy Index (2015) and as a policy analyst at Migration Policy Groups’s Integration & Diversity programme. As a researcher and program coordinator at the Open Society Institute Sofia (2005-2013), Zvezda Vankova has been an active participant in the development of immigration, asylum and integration policy of Bulgaria through policy and legal analyses, advocacy work and capacity building activities. Zvezda has contributed to the drafting of strategic documents such as the National Strategy for Migration, Asylum and Integration, legislative and policy mechanisms in the field of regular and irregular migration, and formulating recommendations on the necessary reforms. Ms Vankova has developed and delivered training courses on integration policies to hundreds of local authority staff and civil society representatives.

Zvezda was selected by UNHCR Bulgaria to monitor the National Program for Integration of Refugees in Bulgaria as an independent expert in the period 2012-2014 and served as the Country Co-coordinator for the European Web Site on Integration for Bulgaria. She also conducted an independent monitoring of immigration detention facilities in Bulgaria. At the end of 2012, she co-founded the association Multi Kulti Collective which aims to support the integration of foreigners into Bulgarian society.

The South – South migrant worker between temporary admission schemes and integration efforts – the case of Bulgaria (ESR 1; Maastricht University)

This Ph.D. project aims to analyse the impact of the EU circular approach on the South – South migration in Europe and Central Asia by looking at Bulgaria as a case study. Bulgaria is a new EU member state, slowly developing from sending through transit country to receiving state for South –South migrants mainly from the EU Neighbourhood policy countries, states from the former Soviet Union and neighbouring countries from the Balkans. By employing a multilevel governance framework of analysis, the dissertation will explore the application of the EU circular migration approach and readmission in the Bulgarian law and practise, analyse whether Bulgarian migration policy leads to increased vulnerability of the South-South migrant and what is the role of the non-state actors in the formation of the state migration policy and the implementation of integration and return incentives. The starting point of the ESR project is the tension arising from Bulgaria’s effort to manage labour migration and ensure integration in line with European developments on one hand, and on the other the obligation to control the future external borders of the EU related to the application of the Schengen acquis and the use of the EU readmission agreements with the sending third countries. This research project has an interdisciplinary character and employs legal and policy analysis, and qualitative research methods.

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