The European Pact on Immigration and Asylum sets out principles for the EU to manage migration, fight illegal immigration and help development in poor countries that people are leaving or travelling through to get to Europe.
Under the plan, EU nations will tailor legal immigration towards workers or professionals whose skills fit their particular labour needs, favouring those who would stay in their countries long term.
They would also pledge to try to avoid handing out residency permits en masse.
Italy and Spain have angered some of their partners by giving papers to around 700,000 people in recent years.
Refugees will be increasingly obliged to apply for asylum from outside. Some 220,000 people did so last year, although the EU said it would strive to better channel aid to those countries they are fleeing.