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Uncovering and challenging discrimination in immigration law and migration control

Border fencing and barbed wire at Dieppe, France, at sunset © Eye DJ
Dieppe sunset, French border [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Project aims

Immigration laws and migration controls distribute migration opportunities unequally, to the exclusion and disadvantage of many. While migration controls intrinsically distinguish between nationals and non-nationals, they also distribute the opportunity to move legally, often in ways that are directly or indirectly discriminatory against women, racial and religious groups and those whose sexual orientation, gender-identity or family status departs from the nuclear hetero-norm. Such discrimination may be identified within apparently neutral legal rules or migration statuses, or within algorithmic or other decision-making processes. Discrimination on what are, or may be, protected grounds, has a long history within immigration and nationality law, a brief consideration of which reveals its origins in colonial projects of racialised and gendered, dispossession, exclusion and subordination.

There is, however, surprisingly little analysis of whether such immigration and nationality rules and practices are unlawfully discriminatory. This is the case notwithstanding a multiplicity of legal prohibitions on discrimination and the ground-breaking rulings of national and international courts, which have found various laws and migration control practices to be discriminatory. This project aims to fill that gap, by bringing together a network of legal scholars with expertise in both migration and non-discrimination. The aim of the first phase of our research is to map the application of non-discrimination norms to immigration/nationality laws and migration controls, considering in so doing, relevant national, regional (including EU) and international laws.

This project was launched in October 2020 with two online workshops that were hosted jointly by the Refugee Studies Centre and the Centre for Fundamental Rights at the Hertie School, Berlin.

One output from these workshops and the broader project is a Special Issue of the International Journal of Discrimination and the Law, guest edited by Shreya Atrey, Catherine Briddick and Michelle Foster. The call for papers for this Special Issue is available here (pdf).

Contact Catherine Briddick ( for further details about the Special Issue or any other aspect of the project.


logo of the Hertie School Centre for Fundamental Rights

Principal Investigator (PI)

Network members

E Tendayi Achiume

Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law and Faculty Director of the UCLA Law Promise Institute for Human Rights

United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance

Cathryn Costello 

Andrew W Mellon Professor of Refugee and Migration Law, Refugee Studies Centre

Professor of Fundamental Rights, Co-Director of the Centre For Fundamental Rights, Hertie School

Michelle Foster 

Professor and inaugural Director, Peter McMullin Centre on Statelessness, Melbourne Law School

Elspeth Guild 

Jean Monnet Professor ad personam in law, Queen Mary University of London

Emeritus Professor, Radboud University