10th May 2021

EU to rubber-stamp common immigration and asylum rules

The European Union - with some eight million undocumented migrants on its soil, but short of high-skilled migrants - is set to give a new boost to its ambition to establish common immigration and asylum policy.

However, organisations active in the area have expressed "strong reservations", claiming that the security approach is getting the upper hand.

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At this week's top-level summit in Brussels (15-16 October), EU leaders are expected to formally back the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, a set of political commitments in five areas - regular and irregular immigration, border controls, asylum policies and co-operation with countries of origin and of transit.

The pact states that the 27-nation bloc "does not have the resources to decently receive all the migrants hoping to find a better life" within its territory.

It suggests that the union's policy be based on a state's needs and ability to welcome people, more precisely, on its "reception capacity" when it comes to the labour market, housing, health, education and social services, but also on the risk of exploitation of immigrants by criminal networks.

The EU says it has been working hard to find a balanced path to the subject, attempting to stem the flow of clandestine migrants, while at the same time trying to encourage the immigration of highly-skilled workers.

In Europe, non-European highly-qualified workers make up only 1.7 percent of the employed population, while they account for nearly 10 percent in Australia, over seven percent in Canada and over three percent in the US.

The pact says, among other things, that the union will take "new measures" to attract highly-skilled labour to its workforce and to make it easier for students and researchers to enter and move within the 27-nation bloc.

But it will remain a member state's exclusive power to decide on the conditions of admission of legal migrants to its territory and to set quotas, if needed.

On the irregular migration front, the EU is set to turn the principle that "illegal immigrants on member states' territory must leave that territory" into action.

In order to achieve this, EU leaders are looking to re-admission deals with countries of origin, incentives to boost voluntary return and the possibility of forced expulsion. European border controls should be strengthened, while employers hiring those without proper documentation should face dissuasive penalties.

Doubts about asylum seekers' rights

However, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a network of 63 immigrant-rights organisations, have questioned the pact's overall tone.

"The pact may be tipping the balance further towards the security approach - which to date has not provided solutions to Europe's migration challenges - and away from the necessary actions to ensure human rights safeguards," ECRE secretary-general Bjarte Vandvik said in a statement ahead of the EU leaders' summit.

The ECRE is particularly concerned about refugees' real access to the EU territory and asylum procedures.

"Much more general scrutiny is required of Frontex, the EU borders agency, for ensuring its operations are respectful of human rights," Mr Vandvik said, adding that Frontex has been "unable or unwilling to report on how many asylum seekers are impacted by its operations and what happens to them if they are pushed back to countries [beyond the EU]."

The European Commission is by 2012 expected to table its proposal on "a single asylum procedure comprising common guarantees ... and a uniform status for refugees and the beneficiaries of subsidiary protection", the pact states.

Those states that face the biggest pressure on their asylum systems due to geographical position should be offered solidarity through "better re-allocation" of refugees. This solidarity will be on a voluntary basis, however.

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