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Commission unveils package to attract migrant workers to EU labour market

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The European Commission put forward a series of voluntary measures to facilitate the employment of third-country nationals in the EU in a bid to boost legal migration pathways and help member states address widespread skills and labour shortages.

The proposal, announced on Wednesday (15 November), seeks to help match European employers with non-EU workers, as well as facilitate the recognition of their qualifications.

“We should not forget that we have an untapped potential for the EU domestic workforce, but it’s not enough,” the EU Commission’s Vice-President Margaritis Schinas told reporters while presenting the package.

“We are fighting a global race for talent against very powerful competitors who have straightforward avenues for third-country nationals,” he added, pointing to the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

According to the Commission, the proposal is in line with the EU’s efforts to boost legal pathways set out in the Pact on Migration and Asylum and can play as a “strong disincentive to irregular migration”.

“This is not about Fortress Europe, this is about Europe open for business, in a way which is orderly and regulated,” Schinas said.

Filling the gaps

Several member states are already working on measures, like visa facilitation, to attract more non-EU workers to their labour market. The EU institutions are also currently negotiating a revision of the single permit directive – which grants non-EU nationals the right to work in a member state – in an effort to simplify the recruitment of workers.

Wednesday’s package comes as an additional tool to address shortages and includes an EU talent pool, which will allow job seekers residing outside the EU to register on a platform and match with vacancies published by European employers. Visa procedures will still be regulated by member states, which will be able to take part in the scheme on a voluntary basis.

According to the Commission, the platform will help member states to better cope with the “endemic labour and skills shortage”.

According to Eurostat data, unemployment across the Union remains at a low rate – 6% – while the job vacancy rate is still almost 3%, meaning that Europe is struggling to complete its workforce with domestic labour alone. Moreover, the ageing trend in the continent is expected to worsen the situation, leading to a shrinking in the working-age population.

At the moment, international recruitment from third countries remains low mainly due to language and administrative barriers. The rate is also low for intra-EU recruitment. Only one in seven (14%) SMEs report hiring workers from other EU member states to address skills shortages.

In the Commission’s view, the talent pool would help recruit people in the fields in most need, like construction, health care, elderly care, and transport.

“It’s about all skill levels, but clearly there is an emphasis on shortage occupations,” Schinas explained.

Member states will be able to adjust the list of professions included in the talent pool depending on their needs.

Avoiding ‘brain waste’

To lower bureaucratic barriers, the Commission also put forward a recommendation to facilitate the recognition of qualifications.

“We have a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of red tape, and this creates a certain reluctance of third-country workers to go through the system of recognising their professional qualifications. We call this brain waste,” Schinas said, adding that it could be possible to introduce a legislative proposal in the future.

The talent pool will not apply to non-EU workers or asylum seekers who are already legally residing in the EU. According to the proposal, people seeking international protection residing outside the EU could apply for jobs through the platform, but the job offer would not give them the right to asylum in the EU.

Businesses happy

Business associations welcomed the proposal as a way to fill the gaps in the European workforce.

“Helping to match skilled third-country nationals with the most pressing shortage occupations is an important approach,” said Business Europe director Markus J. Beyrer.

The package was also welcomed by some EU lawmakers.

“It is high time to use the Single Market to our greater advantage, facilitate the mobility of workers and coordinate the labour needs of our businesses,” said German MEP Dennis Ratke (EPP).

Green MEP Damian Boeselager also welcomed the initiative to recognise foreign qualifications and facilitate international recruitment.

“While re-skilling and up-skilling are part of the solution on how we can address this demand in new workers, it is clear that our dependence on international talent will increase,” he said.

However, not everyone welcomed the proposal.

Trade unions concerned

“This is mainly a call to bring in workers as cheaply as possible,” said Petra Bolster, from the trade union FNV International.

Bolster also expressed concerns regarding the possible exploitation of migrant workers by European employers.

“Before more vulnerable employees from outside Europe are attracted via the Talent Pool, politicians must ensure that they have the same rights here as their European colleagues. Only then can you prevent them from being abused by employers and employment agencies that base their revenue model on the lowest wage costs,” she said.

On Wednesday, several NGOs called on the institutions to improve the single permit directive, currently undergoing a revision, to make sure that their right to work in the EU is not linked to a single employer in order to reduce the risk of exploitation.

According to the Commission’s proposal, employers using the talent pool would need to comply with EU and national laws and would be suspended if found to exploit workers. Additional provisions to screen employers using the platform would fall on member states.

Additional reporting by Eleonora Vasques.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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