Almost all Member States in the European Union currently make use, or in the past have made use of some form of regularisation of irregular immigrants, although to greatly varying degrees, in different ways and as a rule only reluctantly. A distinct feature of recent regularisations has been the shift towards a humanitarian justification of regularisation measures. In this context, regularisation has become reframed as an issue of the protection of irregular migrants’ human rights. As a result, regularisation has to some extent also been turned from a political tool in managing migration into an issue of international, European and national human rights law. While a human rights framework indeed offers a powerful rationale and at times compelling reasons why states ought to afford a legal status to irregular migrants, I argue that a human rights based approach must always be complemented by pragmatic considerations, as a human rights based justification of regularisation alone will be insufficient to find adequate responses to the changing presence of irregular migrants in the EU, not all of which can invoke human rights based claims to residence.