As many scholars have shown, and other than what is suggested by their legal definition, migrant smuggling and human trafficking are not always easily distinguishable in reality. Acknowledging this grey area between the two phenomena, the Belgian legislature has introduced an alternative approach (referred to as ‘third-way approach’) which would offer migrants who have experienced ‘aggravated forms’ of migrant smuggling the same protective status that is usually strictly reserved for victims of human trafficking. Interestingly enough, migrants don’t seem inclined to make use of this procedure. Through a series of expert interviews, this article shines light on the perspective of key actors within the Belgian criminal justice system and migration control apparatus with regard to this third-way approach and its functioning in practice. In so doing, the article not only reveals how the proper functioning of this third-way approach is hindered by a series of organizational and institutional factors, but it also shows how the different actors are struggling with the inherent tension between the objectives of protecting state security and the protection of the needs of vulnerable groups in precarious life situations.