LIMA Project



1. Objectives

This project examines how legal frameworks – Belgian and European - correlate with third country national migrants’ agency, namely how they impact migrants’ family and professional trajectories and to what extent they afford them the ‘capability’ to develop their lives according to their personal aspirations. It analyses the relationship between legal norms and migrants through both a top-down and a bottom-up approach: from the norms to the migrants and then from the migrants to norms with a view to proposing means to enhance migrants’ decisional autonomy.

By conducting a comparative analysis of the opportunities and constraints offered by various legal statuses on migrant’ families, mobility rights, professional trajectories, and the strategies these actors develop to deal with the legal framework, this project will reveal the unequal constraints exerted by legal norms on individual choices and the subsisting margins of autonomy, depending on a series of factors including not only legal statuses, but also ethnicity, gender, level of education, and socio-economic status.

The scientific aim is twofold: understand how legal frameworks shape migrants' professional, family and migratory trajectories and life projects; and analyse if, and which strategies migrants develop to bend the rules and circumvent obstacles, and/or use the opportunities offered by legal systems to fulfil their professional and family aspirations. This will lead us to address two questions that lie at the core of social sciences: the relationship between structure and agency, and social inequalities. The project also furthers our understanding of the inadequacy of normative constructions of 'the' family underlying migration policies, and the reality of migrants' family structures and dynamics. We will firmly ground our contribution to theoretical debates on the relation between structure and agency in the empirical observation and analysis of the lived experiences of migrants. Concrete scientific outputs include research publications in peer-reviewed journals and articles in collective volumes with the interim project findings, a legal definition of the notion of autonomy, and a final multi-disciplinary book.

2. Method

Our project triangulates the contributions of law, demography and sociology, and combines two perspectives. The understanding of migrants’ agency within the European and Belgian legal framework must be confronted to quantitative, demographic studies as well as qualitative, sociological analysis of the trajectories of a selection of migrants. This is done by using two closely inter-related perspectives: a ‘top-down’ and a ‘bottom-up’ approach of the phenomenon under study.

By adopting a ‘top-down approach’, this project examines how the legal framework composed by EU and Belgian norms and jurisprudence regulate migrants’ mode of entry in the national territory, and their access to labour markets, education and family life, through employing a legal analytical method and interviews with expert practitioners. The legal analytical method exposes the content of the legal framework whereas interviews with expert practitioners clarify the administrative practices regarding its concrete application.

This ‘top-down’ approach is articulated to a ‘bottom-up’ approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methods drawn from demography and sociology in order to investigate the impact of the legal framework on migrants’ professional and family trajectories and the strategies that they put in place to cope with these legal constrains and opportunities and organize their family and professional lives both nationally and transnationally.


1. Background Note on the EU legal migration policy
by Lilian Tsourdi

This note analyses the development of the EU legal migration policy covering relevant policy debates. It focuses on seminal policy documents, such as the European Council strategic guidelines and Commission Communications. The analysis of the relevant legal basis as established by the Amsterdam and Lisbon Treaties, as well as that of the content of the secondary instruments adopted as part of this policy go beyond the scope of this note. This work is updated up to April 2016.

2. Presentation on family reunification and labour market access
by Lilian Tsourdi

This slides presentation offers a good overview of family reunification and labour market access rights of different categories of migrants, such as asylum seekers, refugees, irregular migrants, students, highly-skilled workers, etc. The focus is here on EU law only and migrants from third-countries.

3. Presentation of the various residence permits
by Luc Leboeuf

The different residence statuses under Belgian law are presented in a succinct manner. This presentation gives an overall view of the different categories of foreigners established by the Law of 15 December 1980.

4. European law on economic immigration
by Jean-Baptiste Farcy

This PowerPoint presentation analyses the development of European economic immigration policy. Both institutional and material developments are presented. Focusing on European law, the Blue Card, Single Permit, Seasonal Workers, and Intra-Group Transfers Directives are discussed.

5. Correspondence table right of residence - right to work
by Jean-Baptiste Farcy

This table groups together all the residence statuses organised by the law of 15 December 1980 and indicates the corresponding right to work on the basis of the Royal Decree of 9 June 1999, as well as the residence document obtained by the foreign person and his or her registration in the national register.

6. Change of foreign student status
by Jean-Baptiste Farcy

The objective of this note is to analyse the access of foreign students to the labour market at the end of their studies. Such a transition implies, for foreign students, to change their status in order to obtain the status of foreign worker. While changing status is legally possible, foreign students face significant barriers. Firstly, the time limit within which the change of status must be requested forces foreign students to find employment already before the end of their studies. Second, because of the selectivity of the conditions for obtaining a work permit in Belgium, young graduates are at a disadvantage. With a view to correcting this inconsistency, progress has recently been made, or is currently being negotiated, at European level.


Sylvie Sarolea

Sylvie Sarolea, jurist

Research areas: asylum and immigration law in the EU, Belgian and comparative law; human rights; international private family law; equality and non-discrimination.

Geographical areas: Europe, Belgium, Central Africa.

Luc Leboeuf

Luc Leboeuf, jurist

Research areas: international, Belgian and European asylum and immigration law, human rights, public international law.

 Jean-Baptiste Farcy

Jean-Baptiste Farcy

Research areas: European and Belgian immigration law; status of foreign workers.

Geographical areas: Europe, Belgium.

 Lilian Tsourdi

Evangelia (Lilian) Tsourdi

Christine Flamand

Research areas: international, Belgian and European asylum law, human rights, children's rights, gender issues and vulnerabilities.


Bruno Schoumaker

 Sophie Vause

Sophie Vause, démographe

Research areas: gender and migration, networks and migration.

Geographical areas: Belgium, DRC.

Sarah Carpentier, demographer

Research areas: migration, socio-professional integration, poverty and social inclusion, longitudinal research and life-course perspective, (European) social policy.

 Laura Merla

 Laura Merla

Research areas: Transnational and multi-local families; gender and migration; care circulation and intergenerational solidarity; migration and social policies.

Geographical areas: Europe, Australia, Latin America.


 Jacques Marquet


Sarah Smit, doctorante

Research areas: International migration, migration policies, migration strategies.

Geographical area: Belgium.


The creation of the EDEM dates back to the beginning of 2011. This team is part of Cedie (Charles de Visscher Centre for International and European Law) which has developed over the last decades an international reputation for the excellence of its teaching and research, including in immigration law. The EDEM comprises eleven researchers (2 postdoctoral fellows, 5 doctoral students and 4 part-time researchers) and is coordinated by Professor Sylvie Saroléa.
The research conducted by EDEM focuses in particular on the regulation of immigration by European law. It focuses on European Union standards and the case law interpreting them, as well as Council of Europe law, mainly the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The transposition of European asylum law into national law, particularly into Belgian law, has been a central topic of analysis since 2011. Team members also work on other themes, including visa policy, family reunification, freedom of movement of European citizens and the constitutional protection of migrants.


The Centre for Research in Demography and Societies is part of the IACCHOS Institute, whose origins date back to 1963 when the first research group in demography was created at the Catholic University of Louvain. DEMO has 40 members, including doctoral students. Involved in various national and international projects and networks, DEMO conducts basic and applied research on demographic challenges in both developed and developing countries.
The research carried out by DEMO members includes issues related to intergenerational relations and family development, international migration and integration, internal migration and health, and gender. DEMO has also been involved in large-scale projects on immigration, including the MAFE programme on immigration between Africa and Europe, which remains relevant to the current project.


The Interdisciplinary Research Centre on Family and Sexuality (CIRFASE) succeeded the Institute for the Study of Family and Sexuality (IEFS). The aim of this institute was to promote teaching and research on families and sexuality, and over the years it has developed a high level of expertise in this area. The Centre has 31 members, 18 associate members and 3 emeritus members from different disciplines, including sociology, psychology, anthropology, law, history, psychoanalysis and sexology.
The research themes are structured around two axes: 1) Age, cycles and life course; and 2) Family and sexual norms, morals and models. The expertise acquired in the field of mobility and social ties is particularly relevant to this project. In particular, a research programme on transnational families (TRANSFAM) has been developed with the aim of better understanding how migrants combine local work and family life, and their family obligations towards their relatives living in the country of origin.

Joint Research Group: MIND. Most of the researchers belonging to the consortium formed by the three research teams above are also members of MIND, an interdisciplinary research group on mobility, interculturality and diversity. MIND was created at the end of 2013 by Laura Merla, Bruno Schoumaker and other colleagues from the IACCHOS Institute in order to improve the visibility of immigration studies both within and outside UCL, to promote synergies between different disciplines, and to attract doctoral and post-doctoral students. The current ARC project represents a unique opportunity to develop scientific collaboration between several MIND members, thus strengthening UCL's expertise and reputation in the field of migration.