Irregular migration in Europe appeared on policy agendas in the early 1970s and more intensively in the late 1980s and 1990s; since then, it has become a top priority issue in policy discourses. With reference to exemplifying country cases, this article elaborates on two discursive elements that have emerged across discourses in the EU: 1. threat and criminalization, 2. ‘number games’. The discourse of irregular migration has become increasingly coloured by deviousness, a criminalisation took place at discursive and legislative level alike, but at the same time the insecurity about ‘numbers’, i.e. the scope of irregular migrants residing in the EU, geared policy discourses to a particular development. This article argues that an interplay between these two elements amounts to a necessity of ongoing demonstration of efficient governance. This takes the form of ‘political games’ that are run by political actors demonstrating the capacity and efficient governance of controlling irregular migration and its underlying implications.