In the wake of the 2015/2016 migration crisis, EU policy-makers have urged returning more irregular migrants. In order to achieve this, the EU has adopted a series of non-binding documents for European administrations (such as the EU Return Handbook) and agreed on informal return deals with countries of migrants’ origin including Afghanistan. This article argues that the EU’s shift towards soft law has not altered the EU’s return policy in a profound way. Yet, it has managed to ‘convert’ EU return policy by emphasizing a particular interpretation of existing hard law (towards more restrictive practices and a stronger focus on ‘efficiency’). The soft law approach has also allowed policy-makers to signal action in times of crisis at lower legislative and sovereignty costs.