7 June 2022

Free movement? New Centre of Excellence examines global mobility rights


A new national Centre of Excellence in law will examine the complex legal structures that govern how we, as humans, move or are prevented from moving across national borders and parts of the world. The new centre will provide insight into how different regulations in this area affect each other, from the UN's Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and visa rules to regional and bilateral agreements on trade, security, and health.


Mobility has always been a prerequisite for cultural, economic and human development. However, where our ability to move was previously primarily conditioned by geography, it is now to a much greater extent conditioned by legal structures:

- Everyone who travels across national borders is subject to a wide range of legal rules that determine how we can move in the world. However, these legal structures also create distortions. For example, if we look at global air traffic, visa rules and so-called carrier sanctions mean that most citizens in developing countries cannot simply board a plane and legally travel to the world's richer countries. At the same time, these restrictions also prompt illicit travel routes, where the price to travel the same route is many times higher and much dangerous ", says Professor WSR Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, who will head the Centre of Excellence on Global Mobility Law (MOBILE), which has been selected by the Danish National Research Foundation for contract negotiations. MOBILE will be the second Centre of Excellence in law ever funded. Both centres are located at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Law:

-The prospect of yet another grant from the Danish National Research Foundation confirms that the faculty is continuously involved in the absolute elite for international research, and that the new centre's interdisciplinary approach reaches the very highest level of basic research. This illustrates, among other things, the strong intellectual creativity among our researchers. The centre will strengthen the faculty's basic research, global outlook and help attract partners, top researchers, and young talent from both Denmark and abroad, says Jacob Graff Nielsen, dean of the Faculty of Law. 

Legal infrastructure distorts

The new Centre of Excellence is inspired by developments in the social sciences that, for several years, have looked at how e.g., physical infrastructures, such as road networks and airports, impact the organisation and propensity for mobility. MOBILE adds a new dimension to this work by specifically examining legal infrastructures such as passport, visas, and trade rules: 

- A central and recurring concept in the work of the centre is legal infrastructure. Using this, we will focus on how different rules interact and determine our ability to move. It is, for example, through visa liberalisation and trade agreements that Ukrainian refugees have unique possibilities for free movement into and across EU countries. Through the establishment of a basic research agenda in this area, we hope to create a deeper understanding of how different legal regimes interact and develop over time. These dynamics are not unique to mobility law, however, and we equally aim to contribute to the development of general theory in this area, explains Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen. 

Mobility rules impact many highly topical political issues, from refugee flows through supply crises to climate change. However, as a centre for basic research, the ambition of MOBILE is to go deeper: 

- Our goal is to create a better understanding of the underlying legal dynamics that help determine both mobility patterns and their political response. A centre devoted to basic research on these issues does not exist anywhere else in the world, and we believe that a deep dive is crucial in order to create genuinely new insights. At the same time, a Centre of Excellence provides us with a unique opportunity to build bridges between hitherto isolated research areas and to create a strong network of researchers across main regions of mobility in both the Global North and South. In parts of the Global South, rules on, for example, freedom of movement have existed much longer than in Europe, and the right to mobility is often of crucial importance to both individuals and societies. The centre gives us the opportunity to study and compare regional mobility systems and thereby also challenge e.g., Eurocentric perspectives, which often dominate both research and political discussions, says Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen.   

In addition to researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Law, MOBILE will involve researchers from the Department of Political Science headed by Professor Dorte Sindbjerg Martinsen. The centre's international partners further include leading international researchers: Saskia Sassen (United States), Frédéric Mégret (Canada), Florian Hoffmann (Brazil), Joseph Teye (Ghana), Rosemary Byrne (UAE), Itamar Mann (Israel), Guofu Liu (China). MOBILE expects to hold its opening reception at the beginning of 2023.



Professor with special responsibilities Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen
Faculty of Law
Mobil: +45 50 20 34 00
Mail: tgh@jur.ku.dk

Lene Juhl Friedrichsen
Mobil: 24 80 44 84
Mail: lef@jur.ku.dk