Tuesday 6 November 2007, by European Commission
1) CONTEXT OF THE PROPOSAL
Grounds for and objectives of the proposal
This proposal forms part of the EU efforts to develop a comprehensive immigration policy. The Hague Programme of November 2004, recognised that «legal migration will play an important role in enhancing the knowledge-based economy in Europe, in advancing economic development, and thus contributing to the implementation of the Lisbon strategy», and asked the Commission to present a policy plan on legal migration «including admission procedures, capable of responding promptly to fluctuating demands for migrant labour in the labour market». The December 2006 European Council agreed on a series of steps to be taken during 2007, including to «develop, as far as legal migration is concerned, well-managed migration policies, fully respecting national competences, to assist Member States to meet existing and future labour needs (…) the forthcoming Commission proposals within the framework of the Policy Plan on Legal Migration of December 2005 should be rapidly examined».
This proposal is presented – together with the proposal for a «framework directive» – in accordance with the December 2005 Commission Communication on a Policy Plan on Legal Migration (COM(2005) 669), that foresaw the adoption between 2007 and 2009 of five legislative proposals on labour immigration. This approach aims at laying down admission conditions for specific categories of migrants (highly qualified workers, seasonal workers, remunerated trainees and intra-corporate transferees) on the one hand and securing the legal status of already admitted third-country workers and introducing procedural simplifications for the applicants on the other. The present proposal seeks to respond to the above political mandates. It aims, in particular, to improve the EU’s ability to attract and - where necessary - retain thirdcountry highly qualified workers so as to increase the contribution of legal immigration to enhancing the competitiveness of the EU economy by complementing the set of other measures the EU is putting in place to achieve the goals of the Lisbon Strategy. It specifically aims at effectively and promptly responding to fluctuating demands for highly qualified immigrant labour - and to offset present and upcoming skill shortages - by creating a level playing field at EU level to facilitate and harmonise the admission of this category of workers and by promoting their efficient allocation and re-allocation on the EU labour market.
This proposal aims to fulfil these objectives in a way which does not undermine the ability of developing countries to deliver basic social services and to progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As such, it will include measures to promote circular migration.
To achieve these objectives, the Commission proposes to create a common fast-track and flexible procedure for the admission of highly qualified third-country immigrants, as well as attractive residence conditions for them and their family members, including certain facilitations for those who would wish to move to a second Member State for highly qualified employment.
With regard to economic immigration, the current situation and prospects of EU labour markets can be broadly described as a ’need’ scenario. Some Member States are already experiencing substantial labour and skills shortages in certain sectors of the economy, which cannot be filled within the national labour markets and concern the full range of qualifications. Eurostat projections indicate that in the EU the total population is expected to decline by 2025 and the working-age population by 2011, even if not all Member States will be affected to the same degree. Another element to consider is the continuous growth of employment in high-education sectors in respect to other sectors of the EU economy. Analysis shows, therefore, that the EU will increasingly need a highly qualified workforce to sustain its economy, even though immigration cannot in itself be the solution.
The EU as a whole, however, seems not to be considered attractive by highly qualified professionals in a context of very high international competition: for example, the EU is the main destination for unskilled to medium-skilled workers from the Maghreb (87% of such immigrants), while 54% of the highly qualified immigrants from these same countries reside in the USA and Canada. The attractiveness of the EU compared to such countries suffers from the fact that at present highly qualified migrants must face 27 different admission systems, do not have the possibility of easily moving from one country to another for work, and in several cases lengthy and cumbersome procedures make them opt for non-EU countries granting more favourable conditions for entry and stay. The scale of the problem is difficult to quantify, as presently only ten Member States have specific schemes for admitting highly qualified workers and, as these schemes differ, data are not comparable. For the other Member States, specific statistics do not exist or are partial. Only very rough estimations can be provided: for example, around 74 300 professionals were admitted into 15 Member States in 2003. However, even where specific schemes exist, these are exclusively national and do not allow any facilitation for highly qualified third-country workers needing or wishing to move to another Member State for employment, therefore segmenting the EU labour market and not allowing for more efficient (re-) allocation of the necessary workforce.
Since the Tampere European Council of October 1999, the Commission has sought agreement on common rules for economic migration, which is a cornerstone of any immigration policy. In 2001 the Commission proposed a Directive on «the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment and self-employed economic activities». Whilst the other European Institutions gave positive opinions, discussion in Council was limited to a first reading of the text, which was officially withdrawn in 2006.
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