20th Nov 2019

EU to cherry-pick migrant workers

  • 31,000 sub-Saharan Africans arrived on the Canary Islands last year, six times the figure of 2005 (Photo: AFM)

With both, legal and illegal migration becoming Europe's Gordic knot, moves are under way to promote lawful routes to the EU labour market, including the possible introduction of a European version of the US green card and sanctions for companies who hire illegal immigrants.

The EU is setting its hopes on Africa, India and the eastern neighbours, as labour shortages could peak in twenty years time when 25 million of Europeans are expected to retire from work.

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"Europe stands at crucial point", one EU senior official said, adding "we should look at the third countries as a potential donor of labour force".

Brussels made it crystal clear what the block's demands were, with the biggest appetite for highly-skilled immigrants, followed by seasonal workers, remunarated trainees and intra-corporate transferees.

In September, the European Commission will introduce a piece of legislation on admission of third country high-skilled workers, which should propose a simplifaction of the current administrative burden for an applicant and potentially introduce a European version of the US green card.

Under one scenario, a so-called EU blue card would grant a highly-qualified worker the possibility of seeking a job in any EU state, although the exact details are still to be nailed down.

"We are in a need situation", an EU senior official said, underlining that "the European Union lags behind the US and Canada" when it comes to the recruitment policies in place.

Mali centre

In order to catch up, the EU opened its first job centre in African state of Mali last week, a move expected to bring, among others, seasonal farm, construction and tourism workers to Europe, while promoting legal ways of seeking a job.

So far, only Spain and France offered job quotas for Mali workers linked to the EU office, as the participation is voluntary. Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands are also considering coming on board, an EU official told EUobserver.

But the job centre received a cold reaction from some NGOs, with Xavier Declarcq from Oxfam Solidarity saying that such centres "are contradictory to the development policies".

"It is a clear response to Europe's economy needs, but could have a devastating effect on Africa", Mr Declercq told EUobserver, underlining that the main risk lies with "brain draining in Africa".

Firm penalties

Meanwhile, Europe's core dilemma remains how to fulfil its economic needs for workers, while decreasing the pressure from illegal migration at the same time.

Seven millions of illegal immigrants are believed to be in EU territory, with an additional 500,000 arriving each year. However, 87 percent of those who enter the old continent are undereducated, while a majority of highly skilled illegal immigrants seek jobs in the US and Canada.

In May, Brussels is set to table a proposal to sanction companies which hire illegal immigrants.

Employers involved in such activities could face financial penalties, such as refunding the social welfare system for lost revenue or paying the immigrant back a salary they would normally earn.

Should the illegal immigrant need to be expelled, the employer would be obliged to pay the costs of sending the person home.

Border protection

In addition, on Thursday (15 February), EU interior ministers will once again feel the pressure to step up the fight against illegal immigrants, with EU commissioner Franco Frattini set to name and shame those EU governments which fail to comply with his recent request to strengthen the block's border security agency Frontex.

At the end of January Mr Frattini in a letter called on the 27-nation block "to ensure that appropriate technical equipment is made available to the maximum extent possible".

Frontex, responsible for protecting Europe against illegal migrants, needs aircraft, helicopters, vessels and other equipment for marine operations by no later then April, when a new wave of migrants is expected to hit EU southern and south-eastern borders (Canary Islands, Lampedusa, Malta) due to favourable weather conditions.

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