28th Mar 2023


How the EU can win the international race for talent

Listen to article

For our Work Week project, we asked European parties if they'd like to contribute an op-ed, carte blanche. Here's what Volt Europa sent us:

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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

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.

Read all the stories — and what other European parties had to say — in the Work Week section (or on the homepage, you do you)

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.

How Europe can make work permits actually work

Coming to Europe to work from outside the EU is hard. Despite dramatic labour shortages across sectors and EU countries, work permits for non-EU workers are few and those that exist often leave workers at the mercy of exploitative employers.

German plan to offshore asylum 'unworkable' declare NGOs

German ideas of possibly offshoring asylum to countries outside Europe are unworkable, say civil society. The comments follow reports that the German government is exploring options of getting north African states to process asylum claims of those rescued at sea.

Biden's 'democracy summit' poses questions for EU identity

From the perspective of international relations, the EU is a rare bird indeed. Theoretically speaking it cannot even exist. The charter of the United Nations, which underlies the current system of global governance, distinguishes between states and organisations of states.

EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict

Solar panels, wind-turbines, electric vehicle batteries and other green technologies require minerals including aluminium, cobalt and lithium — which are mined in some of the most conflict-riven nations on earth, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, and Kazakhstan.


Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all

Large Language Models could give the powers trained data-journalists wield, to regular boring journalists like me — who don't know how to use Python. And that makes me tremendously excited, to be honest.

How much can we trust Russian opinion polls on the war?

The lack of Russian opposition to the Russo-Ukrainian War is puzzling. The war is going nowhere, Russian casualties are staggering, the economy is in trouble, and living standards are declining, and yet polls indicate that most Russians support the war.

Latest News

  1. Biden's 'democracy summit' poses questions for EU identity
  2. Finnish elections and Hungary's Nato vote in focus This WEEK
  3. EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict
  4. Okay, alright, AI might be useful after all
  5. Von der Leyen pledges to help return Ukrainian children
  6. EU leaders agree 1m artillery shells for Ukraine
  7. Polish abortion rights activist vows to appeal case
  8. How German business interests have shaped EU climate agenda

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality
  5. Promote UkraineInvitation to the National Demonstration in solidarity with Ukraine on 25.02.2023
  6. Azerbaijan Embassy9th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting and 1st Green Energy Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us