European immigration stalled, Brussels will find it difficult to reverse trend

Brussels wants to create more legal ways for skilled migrants to travel to the European Union to reduce illegal immigration, but experts doubt it will go far enough.

According to the Commission, two to three million third-country nationals move to the EU each year to work or study, while as many as 200,000 people arrive in the 27 country bloc illegally.

Yet Europe faces a severe labor shortage, which has worsened in recent years and is expected to worsen as the population ages and as it tries to transform the bloc economy, become greener and more digital.

According to an assessment commissioned by the European Parliament and published in September 2021, “labor shortages are observed in high- and low-skilled jobs”.

This can partly be explained by the fact that most of the valid permits issued are for family reunification and less than one-fifth of professional residence permits are issued.

Moreover, only 1.6% of the first residence permits issued to third-country nationals in 2019 were issued under the Blue Card Directive, an EU-wide program aimed at attracting highly skilled workers.

The sectors expected to face the greatest challenges in the future are health, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and information and communications technology, according to a public consultation in 2020.

A solid road for the future

European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, announcing Brussels’ plans last week, stressed that “legal immigration is essential for our economic recovery, the digital and green transition, and the creation of safe roads to Europe while reducing illegal immigration.”

“I believe we have set a solid path for attracting new talent to the EU today and tomorrow,” he said.

According to the Commission’s recommendations, third-country nationals relocating to the EU, whether they change Member States or change employers, will be able to acquire long-term residency status after five years in the Union.

The plans also aim to streamline the process for potential immigrants to obtain long-term work and residence permits directly from their country of origin, shorten processing times and simplify family reunification.

Brussels wants to create an EU-wide platform where third-country nationals can upload their CVs to help European companies find people with the skills they need. The Commission wants this platform to be operational by the summer of 2023, but hopes to launch a pilot initiative as early as next summer to facilitate the labor market integration of Ukrainian refugees.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24, shook the immigration figures in the EU. More than 5.5 million people, mostly Ukrainian women and children, have sought refuge in neighboring countries and other EU Member States.

Brussels activated the temporary protection system that allows Ukrainian refugees to access the job market, health care and education for at least three years.

Most Ukrainian refugees hope to find a quick solution that will allow them to return to the war as soon as possible, but the longer the war drags on, the more likely it is that some will settle permanently in the EU.

European bureaucracy, differences and discrimination

According to Silvia Carta, a policy analyst at the think tank Center for European Policy (EPC), “the legal immigration package was long overdue and there was no way to frame migration in a more positive way by moving away from a safe approach.

“Obviously, these proposals should have been submitted earlier. However, we must acknowledge that the Commission is working hard to also address the inclusion of displaced Ukrainians in the labor market.”

Still, he told Euronews that “these initiatives have the potential to help increase legal immigration” and provide “tangible opportunities for labor market acceptance and integration of non-citizens”. Europeans strengthen their rights and prevent exploitation.”

He warned of a potential problem: bureaucracy.

Proposals will first have to be negotiated between Parliament and the Council, and once adopted, legislation may not be transmitted uniformly and/or lack visibility in Member States.

“All previous means of legal immigration (legislative and non-legislative) suffered from significant shortcomings in transmission and enforcement at Member State level. In its current form, member states continued to issue national permits giving a lower set of entitlements,” Carta said.

“Also, third-country nationals are often unaware of their rights, so this is definitely an aspect that needs improvement. As for the talent pool, the Commission will also need to find ways to make it attractive to employers and promote it. This is an EU-wide initiative involving all member states. It’s going to be extremely complicated because it’s going to happen,” he said.

Difficulty recognizing qualifications in the EU and discrimination may also be an obstacle to closing the skills gap.

According to the same Parliamentary report, highly educated third-country nationals are more likely to hold low- or medium-skilled jobs than EU citizens (48% compared to 20% in 2019).

“Male third-country nationals entering the EU as asylum seekers are particularly at risk of overqualification; many third-country nationals entering jobs for which they are overqualified may result from a number of barriers; despite legal restrictions and discrimination, they may not have enough language skills and professional qualifications and skills. limited recognition of experience,” he said.

Finally, the question also floats whether the proposals will also reduce illegal immigration.

“I am skeptical about the ability of the Commission’s recommendations to reduce illegal immigration, at least in the short term. There will always be people who do not fit a skill category but still want to migrate, or who are already in the EU but are in the EU. CER) with a visa that has expired and wants to stay but has no legal way to do so, Luigi Scazzieri, senior researcher at CER, told Euronews.

“Some of the commission’s projects relate to building ‘capability partnerships’ with third countries. The idea is to offer legal immigration routes to enable third countries’ cooperation in combating illegal immigration. But I doubt that these projects are large enough in terms of numbers to have a real impact,” he added.

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