1st Oct 2023

Brussels in plan to attract guest workers from outside EU

  • Construction, tourism and agriculture are key areas where workers are needed (Photo: Wikipedia)

As 300,000 illegal migrants arrive on EU territory each year, Brussels is set to table a proposal establishing special agreements with third countries, tailored to tackle Europe's core dilemma - how to fulfil its economic needs for workers, while alleviating the pressure of illegal migration.

On Wednesday (16 May), EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini will kick off the lengthy legislative process, which at the end could see workers going back and forth between EU and non-EU countries depending on job availability - something known in Brussels' jargon as circular migration.

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Under the scheme, an EU member state – in order to fill its labour gap – would temporarily hire non-EU workers, as long as they respect the key condition and return to their home country after their contracts expire.

"The idea is that people come and work in the EU for a couple of months, then return home and later come again," one EU official explained.

According to the commission source, such a partnership could be "a win-win situation", as it would "match job offers in the EU member state with job seekers in the third country."

Currently, 5 million to 7 million illegal immigrants are believed to be within the EU, but 87 percent of those who enter the bloc are undereducated and do not meet the union's labour market needs.

"If Europe does not get its act together, it will run into enormous problems," an EU official said, referring to estimates that labour shortages could peak in 20 years time when 25 million Europeans are expected to retire from work.

Some sectors may even collapse, he warned.

Who will be on board?

Brussels is now pinning its hopes on Africa as well as the EU's eastern and south-eastern neighbours to provide skilled workers, especially in sectors such as agriculture, construction and tourism.

In practice, the European Commission suggests pooling offers from individual member states and then conducting talks with a third country, able to provide an adequate labour force. EU capitals would then take care of recognizing local diplomas, providing additional professional and language training as well as granting visas.

In addition, Brussels will table several incentives, for example multiple-entry visas, in order to address one of the main concerns of member states: how to prevent foreign immigrants from outstaying their welcome in Europe.

Five countries – from Africa, the Caucasus region and the Balkans - have already signalled they would sign up to the project, with Brussels now hoping to sell the idea to EU home affairs ministers when they meet in mid-June.

But one EU official predicted it would be "extremely difficult" for some EU governments to swallow.

"Until now, no EU leader has had the political courage to admit their country is in need of immigrants," he said, adding "they all pretend to have their country's labour market under control."

The commission argues that the idea of recruiting outside its own borders has already been tested by Australia and the US, where approximately 400 economists are tasked to match US labour market needs with third countries' supplies.

"The price of the EU not acting is simply too high," the EU's executive body warns.

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