The EU's Global Approach to Migration and Mobility - European Union Committee Contents

Chapter 3: legal migration and mobility

41.  The GAMM states that the EU faces "labour market shortages and vacancies that cannot be filled by the domestic workforce in specific sectors, e.g. in health, science and technology" and that these shortages will be compounded by long-term population ageing.[32] The GAMM's first pillar, on organising and facilitating legal migration and mobility, aims to address these needs. It is based on "the premise of offering employers wider opportunities to find the best individuals for vacancies on the global labour market ... (while) fully respecting Member States' competence to manage their labour markets".[33]

Europe's ageing population and future labour market needs

42.  As Chapter 2 demonstrates, the EU population is ageing and in some Member States the total population is declining. Most of our witnesses thought that more migrants would be needed in the EU in coming years in response to these demographic trends, to fill labour and skills shortages. Peter Sutherland considered European demographics to be "fundamental" to migration policy, even if this did not always figure as prominently as it might in public debates.[34] Stefano Manservisi, the Director-General of the Commission's DG Home Affairs, was clear that the EU was "solidly now a continent of immigration. It will be even more so in future, given the statistics on demography, the transformation of the labour market and the global competition for talent".[35]

43.  However, none of our witnesses thought that migration was a silver-bullet for Europe's demographic problems. For example, Open Europe[36] were broadly supportive of the arguments that demographic problems could be addressed in part by more labour migration, but they emphasised that migration could not offer a complete solution as migrants would get older and the EU will have to boost its home-grown skills if it wanted to compete on a global basis.[37] Tobias Billström thought that migration could not compensate altogether for an ageing population.[38] Professor Skeldon agreed stressing that it could help to solve particular skills shortages at particular times. However, he stated that the number of migrants that would be needed to prevent ageing and maintain current dependency ratios would be politically unacceptable.[39] Professor Boswell argued that "it will be very difficult for any (Member State) to make the case for expanded labour migration on demographic grounds alone … immigration offers a very highly effective, efficient and swift means of recruiting labour to fill specific gaps in the labour market. That will unavoidably be seen as a way of meeting that demand, particularly in the short term, but I doubt that it could be seen as a big political solution to demographic problems in Europe".[40] Sir Andrew Green, the Chairman of Migration Watch UK,[41] was more sceptical about the demographic arguments for migration, stating that he did not accept that greater migration was the answer to an ageing population, because "immigrants also get older, and therefore you have to have a continuing and increasing flow of immigrants in order that they should affect your average age".[42]

Addressing skills shortages

44.  Many of our witnesses agreed that migration was essential to economic growth and competitiveness in a globalised economy. Bernd Hemingway of the International Organization for Mobility (IOM)[43] emphasised that "migration can have a positive impact on economic development and therefore it should be seen more positively in that respect".[44] Despite the recession and high levels of unemployment in some Member States, Europe still faces sector-specific labour and skills shortages, and will increasingly need to compete with other emerging regions for the "best and brightest" workers. Highly-skilled migrants are needed in a number of sectors, as are low-skilled migrants, partly because as Professor Skeldon pointed out "the skilled generate demand for services that are less skilled; high-flying bankers and so on need office cleaners, waiters, and sandwich-delivery people and so on".[45] In this respect, Professor Geddes and Bernd Hemingway also endorsed GAMM's suggestion of supplementing permanent migration with temporary and circular migration.[46]

45.  However, our witnesses diverged in terms of their assessment of whether migration could provide a complete or long-term solution to skills shortages. Professor Skeldon doubted whether "we can match labour market supply and demand—that is going to be extremely difficult, particularly across such a diverse series of labour markets as we find in the EU".[47] Some witnesses also argued that a reliance on migration could prevent necessary economic, educational, and welfare reforms from being enacted. In their written evidence, COMPAS stated that relying on migration would only postpone making necessary training adjustments in the domestic economy.[48] The former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, told us that instead of seeking to plug skills gaps with migrant labour the EU's focus should be on up-skilling the existing workforce, saying that "sometimes migration becomes the easy answer, certainly for many employers: just getting the people in from somewhere else rather than focusing on the problem we have in our own country". However, he acknowledged that there should be sector-specific exceptions.[49] Christopher Chope MP, the Chairperson of the Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, agreed that advocating migration sometimes "avoids us facing up to the real issues that we need to address".[50] The Government do not believe that lower-skilled migration from outside the EU is required for the United Kingdom to address labour needs given the existence of an expanded European labour market since 2004.[51]

46.  In the context of the EU's demographic challenges and future labour market needs, we consider that flexibility by Member States in the operation of the European labour market to legal migration from third countries, particularly in Member States with skills shortages, could be essential in order to secure economic growth and competitiveness. However, such an approach is not a panacea, and should form part of a comprehensive approach which also tackles the development of skills among the existing workforce, as well as any necessary labour market reforms.

European legal migration and mobility policies: a greater role for the EU?

47.  The EU has already adopted Directives on long-term residents, highly-skilled workers, family reunification, students, researchers, and a single permit, which have to some extent harmonised conditions of admission and migrants' rights in a number of areas. Directives on seasonal workers and on intra-corporate transfers are currently under negotiation. As we have already noted decisions about how many and what type of economic migrants to admit remains a Member State competence.

48.  Several of our witnesses expressed reservations about the feasibility and desirability of a more harmonised approach to labour migration in the EU. Most thought that viable labour migration policies must reflect the very different labour market needs of the Member States. Professor Keith told us that Member States have adopted different approaches due to variations in their labour markets, welfare provision, immigration histories and policy-making processes.[52] COMPAS considered that while some progress had been made on harmonising the rights of third country nationals, the harmonisation of admissions policies was very difficult.[53] Hugo Brady, from the Centre for European Reform (CER), was sceptical about the creation of an EU-wide migration system, which he thought would be overly bureaucratic, and that in any case Member States would never cede the necessary powers to the EU to allow it to set labour quotas.[54] Tobias Billström agreed, stating that such a system would benefit the larger Member States to the detriment of the smaller ones. He suggested that Member States should instead compete for migrants by offering them better terms and conditions.[55] Charles Clarke simply stated that the idea of an EU labour migration policy or points based system was "pie in the sky".[56]

49.  The case of Sweden highlights the very different situations across the EU on labour migration: while some Member States are trying to limit labour migration, Sweden is actively trying to encourage it and compete with other Member States for migrant workers, yet it still has a relatively low number of immigrants. More information is provided in Box 2.


The Swedish labour migration system

In 2008 Sweden reformed its labour migration management policy. Since the reform, employers in Sweden have been able to recruit migrant workers for any occupation, so long as the job has been advertised for a given period and prevailing wage and contractual conditions are respected. Sweden now has one of the most open and liberal systems for economic migration anywhere in the OECD. In its evaluation of the Swedish system, the OECD was supportive of the post-2008 reforms, though it noted that the peculiarities of the relatively highly regulated labour market in Sweden meant that this model is not easily transferable to other countries.

Source: OECD (2011) Recruiting Immigrant Workers: Sweden 2011, Paris: OECD

50.  Tobias Billström told us that the liberalisation of Swedish economic migration policy has not resulted in a large influx of labour migrants.[57] It is highly doubtful whether an equivalent liberalisation in other countries, particularly those with a less regulated labour market, longer history of labour immigration, or more widely spoken official language, would have similarly small effects on inflows. In fact, Sweden's liberalisation could be seen as an attempt to counteract some comparative disadvantages that it faces in relation to other countries when it comes to recruiting skilled migrant workers.

Anticipating labour and skills shortages

51.  The Migrants' Rights Network considered that in order for the GAMM to be effective, a more thorough understanding of the Single Market, the way in which it interacts with other economies in the EU neighbourhood region, and the way it generates demand for migrants was required.[58] However, most of our witnesses had little confidence in the EU's ability accurately to predict where labour and skills shortages may arise and respond to this effectively. COMPAS stated that for most occupations and sectors, it is very difficult to project future labour demands, which is why the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in the United Kingdom focused its analysis on current labour and skills shortages. They did think, however, that the EU could play an important role in strengthening labour market tests across Europe to ensure that employers seriously search the whole EU labour market before turning to non-EU workers.[59]

52.  The Commission has promoted some initiatives in this area but Mark Harper MP, the Minister for Immigration, did not consider them to be worthwhile. He also stated that the identification of skills shortages and selection of migrant workers was best achieved at the national level by bodies such as the MAC, but above all by employers themselves.[60] The Government believes that it is primarily a matter for individual Member States to facilitate economic migration on the basis of national assessments of economic need.[61]

53.  Stefano Manservisi took a more sanguine view of the EU's potential role. While clearly stating that the admission of labour migrants was a Member State competence, he said that the EU had a role to play in facilitating legal migration to the EU and coordinating Member State actions. The Commission's aim is:

"to progressively find a better balance between national competences, in particular the delivery of work permits and therefore decisions on the number of people who can enter to work, and the fact that since we are working in an increasingly integrated Single Market that is producing an increasingly integrated new labour market, perhaps we can find a solution to have individual decisions taken in a framework where knowledge is a bit more shared".[62]

54.  Claude Moraes MEP regretted that the EU had failed to adopt a comprehensive approach largely due the resistance of the Member States who were concerned about sovereignty and "visceral" politics.[63]

55.  Member States should continue to have the right to choose the number of migrants from third countries they wish to admit to their labour markets, depending on their needs. Therefore, we consider that any transfer of responsibility to the EU in the management of legal migration would be undesirable and also impossible to agree and achieve.

56.  We also doubt whether it is possible for the EU accurately to predict labour demand or skills shortages into the future.

Social security coordination

57.  The GAMM states that existing EU rules on social security coordination are "intended to remove disadvantages and protect acquired rights for EU citizens moving within the EU and also for all legally resident non-EU nationals with a cross-border dimension". The GAMM proposes that portability of social and pension rights could be a facilitator for mobility and circular migration, as well as a disincentive for irregular work, and should therefore be improved.[64] Through a series of Council Decisions concerning six third countries, the EU intends to create a limited external social security coordination system applying to persons—both EU nationals and nationals of these six countries—who move into and out of the EU.

58.  The Government are opposed to being bound by EU agreements on social security with third countries as they consider that this constrains their ability to conduct effective bilateral arrangements. They believe that social security arrangements with third countries should be a matter for individual Member States and do not consider that there are enough safeguards in place to protect the social security framework from manipulation.[65]

59.  However, notwithstanding the Government's concerns, several of our witnesses supported the view that portability of social security rights was important for encouraging mobility and circular migration. This is based on the assumption that people will not freely come and go if they risk losing benefits that they have accrued while working in one particular Member State. Professor Boswell told us that if the EU really wanted to promote circularity and mobility, then access to welfare state provision in each Member State, which is currently "premised on the notion of sedentariness", would have to be fundamentally rethought. She acknowledged that this was quite a radical agenda, encompassing residency rights, healthcare, insurance and pensions.[66] Tobias Billström also called for a more coherent approach between Member States.[67]

60.  We note the Government's concerns about the Commission's approach to the external dimension of EU social security coordination. However, notwithstanding these concerns, we consider that the EU may need to consider the portability of social rights.

Family reunification

61.  The GAMM does not address family reunification directly. However, since family migration is one of the main legal migration flows to Europe,[68] and in some countries the main flow, we asked witnesses about the EU's policies in this area, and the United Kingdom's position in relation to these policies.

62.  The EU adopted the Family Reunification Directive in 2003.[69] This measure aims to establish common rules relating to the right to family reunification, including enabling family members of third country nationals residing lawfully in the EU to join them in the Member State in which they are residing. The Commission is likely to publish a proposal to revise this Directive in due course.[70] While the Government decided not to opt-in to this Directive, we have consistently urged the Government to opt-in.[71] In June 2012 the Government also announced new requirements at the domestic level before family reunification would be allowed, including a minimum salary and language requirements.[72] With this decision, the United Kingdom has further diverged from the common EU policy on family migration.

63.  Some of our witnesses referred to the substantial variation between Member States' rules on the admission of family migrants and most of them thought that a more harmonised approach to family migration was justified, whether through new legislation or more stringent implementation of existing legislation. Stefano Manservisi observed that, while there was a common policy on family reunification in the Schengen Area, there was a need to implement it "in a more stringent way".[73] Charles Clarke referred to the variable rules across the EU and stated that there was a strong case for the adoption of a more harmonised approach in this area, as did Rebecca Crerar, from the Suffolk Refugee Forum.[74] Professor Keith thought that this issue would become more and more important over the next couple of decades.[75]

64.  When considering the admission of foreign workers allowance must be made for the fact that many of them will bring families with them, or seek to do so once legally resident in a Member State. We believe that there could be problems with a situation that admits spouses and children more readily to one Member State than another, considering that, once admitted they may eventually acquire the right to freedom of movement throughout the EU. We repeat our view that the Government should seek to opt-in to the Family Reunification Directive.

Labour market integration and public opposition to migration

65.  The GAMM refers to the "urgent need to improve the effectiveness of policies aiming at integration of migrants into the labour market".[76] It states that "effective integration, in particular in the labour market, is key to ensuring that both migrants and receiving societies can benefit from the potential of migration, including via stronger diaspora communities and migrant entrepreneurs".[77]

66.  The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a new article providing for the promotion of the integration of third country nationals.[78] The Commission published a Communication on a European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals in 2011, which highlighted a number of areas of particular concern including low employment levels of migrants and high levels of over-qualification (so-called "brain waste").[79] It encourages Member States to develop language courses and increase the participation of migrants through active labour market policies, among other things. It also emphasises the need for more action at the local level, including the effective involvement of local authorities and civil society organisations.[80] Of most direct relevance for the GAMM, it emphasises the role that countries of origin could play in integration processes through pre-departure information on visas and work permits, language and vocational training, mutual recognition of skills with Member States, diaspora engagement, and support for temporary and circular migrants.

67.  Peter Sutherland and Tobias Billström emphasised the role that the EU could play in the sharing of best practice on integration policies.[81] Professor Keith told us that the integration debate had become unhelpfully focused on cultural and national identity, but observed that "all of the evidence demonstrates the importance of language learning, in terms of a facility to contribute to society more generally".[82] He thought that the United Kingdom has done fairly well in this regard and could perhaps share some of its best practice with the rest of the EU.[83] Professor Skeldon told us that "There is a great difference between the current approach of EU and European states and that of states such as the United States, Canada and Australia which see migration as part of state-building and nation-building".[84]

68.  At the Member State as well as the EU level, Tobias Billström emphasised the importance of politicians making un-emotive factual statements in this area, referring to negative public reactions in Sweden to any sensationalist press commentary.[85] Open Europe echoed this view, stressing that politicians needed to openly promote a "game plan" while taking "concerns from individual citizens and the community seriously". It referred to the large degree of buy-in to the Swedish government's policy as a success story.[86] It considered that the best tool for integration is allowing migrants entry to the labour market as quickly possible.[87] Bernd Hemingway stressed the vital importance of engaging local organisations and "grassroots NGOs", not only for implementation but also in the formulation of integration policies. He stated that "the small NGOs working in small cities, are very important. They are the ones who have access to the migrants and are comfortable in working with them".[88] However, the Migrants' Rights Network considered that in practice—"beyond the rhetoric"—not much was being done to improve the integration of migrants into EU labour markets, particularly in low-skill sectors.[89]

69.  The Government stressed that good language skills were key in facilitating better integration, including within the workplace, and they referred to steps they had taken to help equip non-EEA nationals with the necessary skills in this respect. The UK Border Agency also administered projects funded through the European Integration Fund to help migrants develop English language skills.[90]

70.  We consider that the EU's contribution to labour market integration policy should primarily be through the European Integration Fund. We support the recommendations of the European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, and encourage the Commission to develop these recommendations into concrete proposals, particularly those dealing with countries of origin in the context of the GAMM.

71.  We also support the Commission's efforts to promote the sharing of Member State experiences and good practice in the wider area of integration policies. We believe that language learning has an important role to play in this respect. We would also stress the valuable role that the voluntary and private sector can play in this process, and recommend that the views of civil society be taken fully into account in the formulation and implementation of integration policy.

32   GAMM, p. 2 Back

33   GAMM, p. 12 Back

34   Q 26 Back

35   Q 302 Back

36   An independent think tank, which seeks to contribute to new thinking to the debate about the direction of the EU, including calls for radical reform. Back

37   Q 120 Back

38   Q 52 Back

39   Q 229 Back

40   Q 229 Back

41   An independent, voluntary, non political body, which is concerned about the present scale of immigration into the UK. Back

42   Q 213 Back

43   The International Organization for Migration was established by a number of European countries and the USA in 1951 to respond to the large migratory flows which came after the end of the Second World War. It now has 146 member states (not including China and Russia) and is based in Geneva. It operates in countries of origin, countries of transit and countries of destination through 400 field missions and eight regional offices. It is not an UN agency but its Director General is part of the Global Migration Group. Back

44   Q 364 Back

45   Q 229 Back

46   Q 229, Q 336 Back

47   ibid. Back

48   COMPAS Back

49   Q 149 Back

50   ibid. Back

51   UK Government Back

52   Q 183 Back

53   Q 179 Back

54   Q 180 & 188 Back

55   Q 56 Back

56   Q 150 Back

57   Q 44 Back

58   Migrants' Rights Network Back

59   COMPAS Back

60   Q 243 Back

61   UK Government Back

62   Q 303 Back

63   QQ 329-330 Back

64   GAMM, p. 13 Back

65   UK Government Back

66   Q 228 Back

67   Q 46 Back

68   Bernd Hemingway told us that the majority of legal migration into the EU was due to family reunification. See Q 364. Back

69   Directive 2003/86/EC on the right to family reunification, OJ L251 (3 October 2003) p. 12 Back

70   Commission Communication, Green Paper on the right to family reunification of third-country nationals living in the European Union (Directive 2003/86/EC), COM (2011) 735, 15.11.2011 Back

71   See EU Committee, Economic migration to the EU (14th Report of Session 2005-06, HL Paper 58) Back

72   For more information about the UK Government's family reunification requirements see:  

73   Q 327 Back

74   Q 151, Q 78 Back

75   Q 184 Back

76   GAMM, p. 4 Back

77   GAMM, p. 13 Back

78   Article 79(4) TFEU Back

79   Commission Communication, European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, COM (2011) 455, 20.7.2011 Back

80   Its full name is the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals and it will be absorbed by the Asylum and Migration Fund in due course. Back

81   Q 33 and Q 58 Back

82   Q 196 Back

83   Q 197 Back

84   Q 220 Back

85   Q 55 Back

86   Q 125 Back

87   Q 126 Back

88   Q 381 Back

89   Migrants' Rights Network Back

90   UK Government Back

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