11th Dec 2023


How the EU can win the international race for talent

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Across Europe, people are discussing how to react to the US subsidy programme, but what affects our competitiveness in Europe? I asked this question to founders in Berlin and next to access to funding, many said their most limiting factor is finding the right people for their vacancies.

Their problem is not unique. To date, four out of ten employers report difficulties recruiting employees with the right skills. Many industries that are essential to our economies, such as hospitality, IT, agriculture, and healthcare already rely heavily on international talentWithout them, companies would struggle to keep up with demand due to higher costs and lower quality of service.

Facing the labour shortage dilemma

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Over the next 30 years, our workforce will shrink by 50 million people. This will inevitably have a harsh effect on our economies and societies: recession, inflation and supply bottlenecks. The labour shortage trajectory is already affecting our daily lives, with under-staffed hospitals and care homes, bare shelves in supermarkets and cancelled transportation.

Despite this, we continue neglecting the need to make Europe more attractive. Meanwhile, the US, even under nativist and anti-immigrant President Trump, Canada and Australia observe the highest immigrant rates and are exploring ways to better attract talent at all skill levels.

If united, the EU labour market can compete with other migrant destinations, both in diversity and size. For that, we need to have a frank discussion about workable solutions. We need to create one labour market for international talent and not 27 competing policies with different procedures and rules. We also need to change the way Europe is perceived by many looking to move here: a racist continent. One way is to treat migrant workers the same as we treat EU nationals.

Freedom of movement for international talent

A year ago, the commission proposed a Skills and Talent package, including a measure to revamp the EU Long-term Residents Directive, an EU law that grants rights to migrants who have been living and working in the EU for more than five years.

As the lead negotiator on the EU Long-term Residents Directive, I believe this is our chance to re-orientate our approach to labour migration, focusing on making Europe more attractive and welcoming and integrating migrants by improving their rights.

One way to achieve this is to grant migrants the freedom to move freely for work. Nowadays, even those who have a permanent residence status (i.e. a status granted by national authorities before an EU citizenship) cannot move freely across the EU for employment. To give you a real life example, if you are a Canadian who has lived in Germany for more than five years, and want to move to Belgium for life or work purposes, you need to start your immigration process from scratch. Put bluntly, as a migrant, the EU does not exist for you.

This is where an EU permit comes in handy. As a holder of the EU long-term residence permit, you can in theory move from one EU country to another for job or study purposes without losing the permit. However, migrant workers face many challenges including long administrative procedures, labour market tests, language and civic tests. They have to submit a big pile of supporting documents, pay a high fee and still have their applications rejected. If they finally succeed, they are given a temporary residence permit in the second EU country and can only apply there for an EU long-term residence permit after three years. Migrants see this as a step back from their status. This is why only 2% of migrants succeed in moving to the second country.

If we want to be serious about retaining and attracting international talent, this needs a fix! The solution I propose is to make the status truly European and portable, by allowing migrant workers to move freely across the EU and apply for an EU long-term residence permit in another European country immediately. You would simply need to present your EU long-term residence permit and, if needed, a job contract or offer from a university.

This law will not fix all the problems Europe is facing, but it can help us retain the talented and skilled people who choose Europe as their destination. It will also result in more resilient European labour markets, filling labour shortages when needed, and spurring economic growth and productivity. And from a moral standpoint, it will enrich our society by welcoming and including migrants in it.

Let's show that Europe can be bold and win the race for talent.

Author bio

Damian Boeselager is a MEP & co-founder of Volt Europa.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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