IMPROVING THE LEGISLATION FOR LABOUR MIGRATION IN THE EUROPEAN UNION (a Study for the EP)

FULL STUDY ACCESSIBLE HERE 

AUTHORS: Prof. Iván Martín Dr. Anna di Bartolomeo Prof. Philippe de Bruycker, Géraldine Renaudiere Dr. Justyna Salamońska Prof. Alessandra Venturini (Migration Policy Centre, Robert Shuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute)

The paradox between the need for international labour migration to counter the impending demographic crisis in Europe and the lack of commensurate policy instruments to attract and integrate labour migration from third countries into the EU is one of the key strategic issues for Europe. Upon request by the LIBE committee, this research paper reviews the social and economic context of EU international labour migration policy, the status of relevant EU legislation and the available policy options from a comprehensive labour market perspective, as well as their feasibility. These options for opening up legal labour migration channels to the EU should be considered in the framework of the ongoing discussion over the European Agenda on Migration.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Attracting international labour over the medium- to long-term is a crucial strategic issue for the European Union: demographic challenges, enhanced European global competitiveness, sustained European growth and the survival of welfare systems over the next decades, all depend on it.

However, EU labour migration policy has received very little attention from policy-makers, media and the public in general, even in the framework of the recent proposal for a European Migration Agenda.

As a matter of fact, the EU has no comprehensive set of policy instruments to cope with the international labour required by its labour markets. There are several reasons to undertake the development of a more coherent and more comprehensive legal labour migration policy framework in the EU:

  • Non-economic migrants (family reunification, refugees and foreign students) amount to between two thirds and three quarters of all third-country nationals entering the EU labour market;
  • Labour migration policy is the only instrument allowing the selection of skilled migrants with the qualifications and skills required by European labour markets;
  • Effective legal labour migration channels are a necessary component of any strategy to fight irregular labour migration;
  • Legal migration is a key component of international bilateral migration policy dialogues between the EU and its partner countries, in particular Mobility Partnership with Neighbourhood countries. A coherent EU labour migration policy framework is required to integrate this issue into policy dialogues.

As a consequence, an EU labour migration policy framework should be an integral part of the emerging EU labour market and employment policies.

The political sensitiveness of immigration policy and the exclusive competence of Member States to decide the volume of admissions of third-country nationals seeking work are two major constraints on any policy initiative in this field.

Structure and main conclusions

This paper first reviews available evidence on the need for labour migration from third countries to the European Union. Today, in most Member States high unemployment and underemployment levels coexist with substantial labour shortages as perceived by employers. Whereas there is not an overall quantitative labour shortage for the whole EU, several studies find the existence of qualitative labour market shortages for specific skill levels, sectors or occupations, in particular for low-skilled occupations. Highly-skilled profiles are, instead, needed only in a limited number of occupations and countries. Accordingly, any strategy addressing labour needs in the EU – including highly-skilled migration schemes – should be geared to national labour markets’ needs and be strongly sector-oriented.

By looking at the different forecasts available, it can be seen that international migration is poised to play a major role in filling the EUs labour market needs.

Accordingly, redesigning pro-immigration policies should be a complementary response to current and future European labour supply dynamics.

This paper, also, reviews the gradual development of an EU-wide legal framework on economic migration and its current status. After a 2001 attempt to adopt a comprehensive approach to economic migration to the EU, EU legislation has opted for a “category-by-category” approach. To date this has focused on students and researchers, highly-qualified migrants, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees. There is also a proposal recasting the Directives on foreign students and on researchers that has not yet been adopted. Assessments of the implementation of the Researchers Directive (2011) and the Blue Card Directive on highly-qualified migrants (2014) show low rates of use. In both cases, as with the Seasonal Workers Directive, the wide powers of discretion retained by Member States and insufficient promotion of the existence of new rules undermines the potential of directives.

Beyond the conditions of admission, the intra-EU mobility of third-country nationals remains a key component of EU labour migration policy and one of the biggest failures in European immigration policy. Overall, the EU labour migration system lacks effective coordination mechanisms between Member States for policy implementation at the EU level.

The paper, next, looks at the existing evidence for the impact of EU migration policies on migration flows in the labour market, as well as the integration challenges posed by the arrival of third-country nationals. Available data do not allow for a thorough assessment of the impact and effectiveness of immigration policies on migrant flows and – especially – on migrant composition in terms of reasons for entrance: family reunification beneficiaries, refugees, workers and students. Only very limited quantitative studies have been conducted in a systematic and comparative way at the EU level. This lack of data and research severely limits our ability to understand and design an evidence-based EU labour migration policy.

However, the low level of use of EU labour migration policy tools, such as the Researchers Directive or the Blue Card Directive, suggests that the impact of EU labour migration policy on migratory movements is very limited.

Empirical evidence reveals that migrants do not integrate into the labour market to the same extent as native workers. They have lower wages and are more likely to be unemployed than native workers with the same characteristics.

Regarding the proposal for a European Agenda on Migration presented by the European Commission on 13 May 2015, the chapter on “A new policy on legal migration” does not contain major novelties in relation to the current EU labour immigration regime. The proposals lack a clear vision of future EU labour migration policy and its integration with labour market and employment policy. They do not build a comprehensive and coherent policy set and they do not make up for the shortcomings of current EU labour migration policies. Overall, they are not suited to respond to the identified and projected labour needs of the European Union over the medium- to long-term. However, they open a unique opportunity to discuss EU labour migration policy: this opportunity should not be wasted.

Main recommendations

In this regard, the paper calls for a comprehensive labour market vision of EU economic migration regime. The current piecemeal, category-specific approach to legal labour migration at the EU-level does not respond to the needs of EU labour markets, which are subject to a process of gradual unification.

Indeed, EU labour migration policy should be an integral part of EU labour market policy. As such, it should incorporate measures facilitating the labour market integration of all flows of third-country nationals into the EU labour markets. This would include not only economic migrants entering the EU labour market with a work permit, but also all third-country nationals ultimately accessing European labour markets. Here there are, also, family reunification beneficiaries, asylum-seekers and foreign students.

An operationalization of the EU preference principle is crucial to ensuring the smooth implementation of any EU-wide labour migration scheme and the articulation between international migration and the intra-EU mobility of EU nationals.

Social partners and social dialogue mechanisms are a necessary component of any EU labour migration initiative. They both define an EU labour migration policy responding to the actual needs of the labour market and defuse misrepresentations of migrants in political discourse and public opinion.

A public information and communication strategy on the realities of migration and the need for a comprehensive labour migration policy at EU level should be an integral part of any policy debate in this field, given the strong anti-immigration attitudes in wide sectors of public opinion in many Member States.

Legal labour migration opportunities to the EU should be integrated into EU migration agreements with third countries (such as Mobility Partnerships), as well as mechanisms to facilitate the labour and skills matching for migrant workers from those countries. This would allow the articulation between EU labour migration policy and EU external cooperation in this field.

More precise and disaggregated migration statistics should be collected at the EU level, and the current Commission Annual Report on Immigration and Asylum could be transformed into a fully-fledged EU-wide migration policy review mechanism.

Last, but not least, more research and better production of data are crucial in any effective evidence-based labour migration policy at the EU level. More research is needed, in particular, in the following areas:

  • Labour market integration of non-economic migrants;
  • Patterns of intra-EU mobility of third-country nationals legally residing in the EU;
  • Mechanisms to better match the profile of labour migrants to the needs of the EU labour markets;
  • Foreign students graduating in EU education institutions should have some opportunity to access EU labour markets, enhancing thus the attractiveness of the EU destination, and an EU Traineeship Programme for third-country nationals could be a building block to facilitate the smooth integration into of third-country nationals with the required skills.
  • More generally, the recognition and certification of qualifications and skills obtained in third countries by third-country nationals should be made easier and progress towards an EU-wide recognition system should be envisaged.The actual implementation and working of labour market tests in different EU Member States.Policy options to open new avenues for legal labour migration to the EUThe paper briefly reviews a series of concrete policy options for widening the legal channels for access to the European labour market in response to identified labour market needs. The analysis of existing options allows some conclusions on the right mix of policy instruments to integrate into a comprehensive labour market approach. The main objectives would be the following: ensuring a more efficient international labour matching of migrant workers; optimizing the labour force already present in the EU; fitting legal migration channels to the needs of the European labour markets; and ensuring the availability of a sufficient pool of potential labour migrants for employers. In terms of policy instruments, an analysis of existing options suggests the following conclusions:
    1. Improving labour matching within and outside the EU
    • An EU-wide Labour Market Information System and an EU labour market needs a forecasting system integrating migration flows of non-economic migrants. Both are the basis of any effective, evidence-based labour migration policy at the EU level. The former can be used to facilitate international labour matching for third-country nationals and to operationalize the principle of EU preference and to ensure a better matching of labour migration policy outcomes to the actual needs of EU labour markets.
    • Current EU and Member States job intermediation mechanisms (notably public employment services matching systems) could be extended to third country nationals, in particular through partnerships with public employment services in countries of origin. An obvious step there would be to extend the European Job Mobility Portal, EURES, to third countries, in particular Neigbourhood countries in the framework of Mobility Partnerships.

    . The role of private placement agencies in international labour migration matching should be enhanced and regulated, for instance through the development of a system of certified international recruitment agencies.

    1. Optimizing the labour force already present in the EU
    • The labour market integration of non-economic migrants has to be
      supported
      , first by getting a better knowledge of their skills and facilitating
      changes in migratory status;

    . The intra-EU mobility of third-country nationals legally working in EU Member States should be facilitated; and the targeted regularization of irregular migrants for whom there is labour market demand should be incentivized.

    1. Fitting legal migration channels to the needs of the European labour markets

    . The ongoing reform of the EU Blue Card should impose fewer costs on migrants and employers and grant more rights, in particular to intra-EU mobility, to Blue Card holders.

    • Targeted and occupation-specific job search visas might be a more effective instrument to match EU labour migration policy to EU labour market needs than supply-driven expression-of-interest system, as suggested in the European Agenda on Migration.
    1. Extending the pool of potential labour migrants for employers
      • Foreign students graduating in EU education institutions should have some opportunity to access EU labour markets, enhancing thus the attractiveness of the EU destination, and an EU Traineeship Programme for third-country nationals could be a building block to facilitate the smooth integration into of third-country nationals with the required skills.
      • More generally, the recognition and certification of qualifications and skills obtained in third countries by third-country nationals should be made easier and progress towards an EU-wide recognition system should be envisaged.

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