29th Sep 2023

Cumbersome visas complicate Tunisia jobs deal with EU

  • The EU deal with Tunisia was signed by EU enlargement commissioner, Olivér Várhelyi (seated left). (Photo: European Union, 2023)
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An EU-Tunisia deal includes promoting legal migration to undermine smuggling — but also hinges on member states easing cumbersome Schengen visa applications.

The issue may end up complicating the European Commission's so-called Talent Partnerships, an idea that seeks to match Tunisians with European companies.

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"If we set all of this up but it then takes ages to obtain a visa for students, there is little point in developing the Talent Partnership," a senior EU official told reporters earlier this week.

Last year, Ylva Johansson, the EU migration commissioner, said that such talent partnerships could be rolled out in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

At the time, the commission said this could address labour shortfalls in Europe in areas like healthcare, agri-food and tourism.

Some 300 places for Tunisians have already been handed out under the scheme in Belgium, France and Germany, said the senior EU official. Another 700 would be earmarked for the end of next year and possibly more should other EU states step in, he said.

But getting EU states to further ease Schengen visas in the hopes of attracting talent may be tricky.

"This is something that I have raised with the member states and we will continue to do so to avoid bottlenecks in processing of visa requests," Johansson told MEPs on Tuesday (18 July).

"Legal pathways, as you know, it's a national competence to decide for labour migration," she added.

The commission is hoping to convince member states to cooperate on getting Tunisians, and others, to get jobs in Europe. This could include training them before they leave Tunisia, said Johansson.

Part of that plan also includes creating an "EU talent pool", set to be announced in October, to further ease job flows into Europe.

The deal with Tunisia, signed on behalf of the EU by Olivér Várhelyi, EU enlargement commissioner, also includes sending Tunisians without the legal paperwork to stay in Europe back to Tunisia.

The plan to expedite those returns is set to start next week. Of the some 45,000 that fled Tunisia on boats to Italy this year, just over 5,000 were Tunisians.

Tunisia is also set to get eight new patrol vessels under the deal to intercept those fleeing at sea. Another 17 refurbished vessels, under a previous agreement, will also be delivered.

The commission says that €105m has been earmarked for migration. Of that, some €15m will be used to send some 6,000 sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia back to their home countries through a programme overseen by the International Organization for Migration.

"All the funds that is related to migration, none of its budgetary support. Mostly it's being channelled via the UN organisations," said Johansson.

But other proposals include stepping up Tunisia's cooperation with Europol, the EU's police agency as well as the EU's border agency, Frontex. A delegation of Tunisians is now set to visit Frontex headquarters in Warsaw.

Critics worry that the deal-making with Tunisia, under the leadership of its autocrat president Kais Saied, may further embolden its crackdown on human rights and eventually backfire.

"We are now again financing an autocrat without political democratic scrutiny here in the house. And this will not be a solution. It will strengthen an autocrat in Tunisia," warned Birgit Sippel, a German socialist MEP.

A 2016 EU agreement with Turkey saw Ankara using migrants as leverage in an attempt to squeeze concessions from the European Union.

EU eyes job deal with Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia

The European Commission wants to set up so-called "talent partnerships" with foreign states to help fill the labour gaps in the EU — on the condition they help prevent irregular migration.

Tensions and a murder at Tunisia's departure port for Lampedusa

Sfax, Tunisia's second-largest city, has become a hub for sub-Saharan migrants because it is the closest departure point for Europe, just 190km from the Italian island of Lampedusa. That's created tension with locals, who often view them as adversaries.

No details on new EU aid to curb migrants from Tunisia

The European Commission on Monday (12 June) said it cannot yet release details of €105m to prevent migrants from leaving Tunisia. But similar past proposals for Tunisia in the past may offer some clues.


How the EU can help Tunisia avoid a total economic crash

Tunisia possesses both the necessary ingredients and the capacity to invigorate its economy to become a 'Mediterranean tiger'. Yet, this potential has remained largely untapped since the dawn of its 2011 uprising.

EU Ombudsman warns of 'new normal' of crisis decision-making

Emily O'Reilly cited the post-pandemic recovery funds, the windfall taxes on energy companies, and the joint purchase of vaccines, as procedures which received limited scrutiny from the national parliaments — as a result of emergency decision-making powers that bypassed parliament.

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