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Europe needs a labour migration policy reform

Submitted by on 13 Nov 2017 – 14:11

For many years, the majority of migrants coming to Europe were people seeking a better future for themselves and their families. The fact that people challenge the unfair distribution of the world’s wealth and living conditions is not strange; on the contrary, it is natural. Bodil Valero MEP  urges for a labour migration policy reform

Today, there are about as many who flee to our borders because of war and conflict as those who come to seek better living conditions. However, with so many conflicts in our immediate neighbourhoods and limited political will in the EU to provide protection for all those who flee for their lives, focus has been mainly on refugees, leaving very little attention for migrant workers. Without a legal option for labour migration, many migrants resort to paying people smugglers to get them to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea in unseaworthy vessels. Some of them seek asylum as there has been no other way to get a residence permit. This has resulted in a high pressure on the EU’s asylum system and long waiting times for refugees who are really in need of asylum.

According to the International Labour Organisation’s global estimates, in 2013, migrant workers accounted for 150 million of the world’s approximately 232 million international migrants. Even though the Refugee Convention clearly states that economic reasons are not grounds for asylum, the EU cannot afford to ignore this large group of migrants.

The truth is that people will continue to seek better living conditions and come to Europe even if all wars in the world would cease.

Moreover, Europe has an ageing working population, which will shrink by almost 50 million by 2060. Demand for labour in all sectors of society, including professions requiring low or no education or qualification, will increase.

These figures highlight the need for the EU member states to re-think their approach to labour migration. Regular migration avenues for migrant workers should therefore be a priority for the EU and greater efforts should be made to create legal possibilities for those who want to work in the EU. A more comprehensive approach is needed that balances the increased demand for labour and legal avenues for migrant workers.

Last year, the European Commission presented a revised proposal of the Blue Card Directive, which is the EU’s main labour migration framework. Although the proposal is positive overall, the scope only includes highly – not medium and low- qualified workers. It was a missed opportunity by the Commission to tackle the demographic challenges that the EU is facing by not expanding the directive’s scope to also include medium or low-skilled workers.

The EU needs to reform its labour migration policy so that we do not have to choose between helping people who flee from war and people who flee economic difficulties. We have the capacity to do both