The arrival of over 1 million people in Europe in 2015 and the sense of crisis it provoked have renewed debates on appropriate ways to establish a more orderly migration management system. How can we ensure pathways are available for those in genuine need of protection, while reducing the number of migrants arriving irregularly? “Legal pathways” are often presented as an essential tool toward this end. In 2015, Germany created such legal pathways in the form of access to the German labor market in a little known, and almost accidental migration policy experiment: the Western Balkan Regulation. The regulation, also known as section 26.2 (§26.2) of the employment regulation (Beschäftigungsverordnung), essentially opened the labor market for nationals from the six Western Balkan countries, without, more surprisingly, including any minimum skill or qualification requirements. The only pre-requisite was a valid job offer by an employer in Germany, subject to a standard priority check for third country nationals.
The Western Balkan Regulation is now being invoked by some German politicians as a success and a model to apply to other countries and regions, such as North Africa, when it comes to migration management and irregular migration. While the policy environment at the time was so complex that one cannot credibly single out the exact effect the Western Balkan Regulation had on reducing irregular migration from the region to Germany specifically, it is nonetheless a unique migration policy experiment from which important lessons can be drawn, lessons that are even more relevant as policy makers are considering using the regulation as a model for other regions or countries going forward.