New Avenues on Legal Migration – address by Vice-President Schinas to the European Parliament Plenary

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear President,

Dear Mrs. Guillaume,

Dear Presidency,

Honourable Members,

I welcome today’s debate on legal migration. And I welcome that it is called “avenues for” legal migration. Because the question is not yes or no to migration. The question is how to make migration a successful experience.

Most of those participating in today’s debate are themselves migrants. Most of us working here haveleft our home places to find new opportunities abroad. Many of us live, meet and work with partners, friends and colleagues from other nationalities in our daily lives. 

Migration can and should be a success story. 

We just need to have the right framework to ensure it works for people embarking on it as well as for both sending and hosting countries. 

This is what legal migration policy is about. 

The vast majority of migrants arrive in Europe legally.

In 2019, Member States issued more than 3 million first residence permits to third countrynationals, of which over 1 million were for employment purposes. 

With the COVID-19 crisis, the contribution of migrants to the European economies, labour markets and public services has become all the more evident. 

Many of them contributed in a crucial way to making it possible for all of us to get through the crisis and address economic and social needs, in particular in the healthcare, food and agriculture sectors.

For example, in the EU, 25% of the workers in the personal care and food preparation sectors are non-EU born.

A shared competence

As we all know, legal migration is a shared competence between the European Union and its Member States. 

It is Member States national competence to decide on the number of workers to be admitted into their own labour markets.

But at EU level, we can support this by developing harmonised rules on the admission and on the rights of workers from third countries, and as you know we have already done that forhighly qualified workers (through the Blue Card Directive), seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees.

An important element of the Pact

Legal migration is an essential component of the Pact on Migration and Asylum. And it is part of the comprehensive external dimension of migration, allowing for the development of tailor-made and mutually beneficial migration partnerships with key countries of origin and transit.

The next steps on EU legal migration policy will also need to take into account the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. 

In the short term, the travel restrictions imposed by all EU countries following the COVID-19 outbreak have implied a temporary closure of most labour migration channels, and the administrative capacity of national migration and consular authorities have also been affected. 

The EU has also experienced higher unemployment rates and a lower labour demand in those sectors most affected by the pandemic.

Now that the vaccination process is well on track and we are working towards a recovery of the EU economy, we need to think strategically about the contribution that labour migration can give to this process.

The need for labour migration

We all know that the EU is an ageing continent. We know that in many economic sectors and regions there are structural labour shortages that cannot be filled by the domestic labour force or through intra-EU mobility. We also know that the ongoing digital and green transformations require new skills sets, innovation and a specialised labour force.

This is where labour migrants can play an important role.

However, only one in four highly-educated migrants residing in the OECD chooses an EU destination, while almost two out of three rather choose to settle in North America or Oceania. 

The EU is currently losing the global race for attracting skills and talents that are needed for our competitiveness. That’s why it is so crucial to have revised rules on highly skilled workers.

In this respect, let me please express my gratitude to the European Parliament for succeeding in reaching an emblematic political agreement on the Blue Card Directive earlier this week. The new scheme will introduce efficient rules for attracting highly skilled workers to the EU, including more flexible admission conditions, enhanced rights and the possibility to move and work more easily between EU Member States.

Adopting the Blue Card Directive is a central objective of the New Pact and this agreement sends a strong signal about our collective ability to agree on key migration files and equip ourselves with a future-proof migration system.

But of course, legal migration is not only about highly skilled workers. I fully agree that we also need labour migrants in low and medium skilled sectors because our economies depend on a full range of professional chains where all kinds of skills need to complement each other.

Reform of the legal framework

In the short term, I want to start by presenting the main proposals on legal migration in the pipeline.  

As announced in the Pact, by the end of this year, the Commission will present a ‘Skills and Talent package’.

The aim is to address the main shortcomings in the current legislation on legal migration, as demonstrated by our comprehensive evaluation in 2019, the Fitness check on legal migration, and the public consultation conducted recently.

Firstly, as I promised during my hearing before this Parliament, we will propose a revision of the Directive on long-term residents to improve the rights and the intra-EU mobility of those migrants who are already well integrated in oursocieties.

We will also propose a review of the Single Permit Directive to achieve its full potential of making the admission of low and medium skilled workers easier for employers and migration authorities.

Finally, we will also set out the options to develop an EU Talent Pool, an EU-wide platform for international recruitment that would help match the skills of migrant workers with the needs of the EU employers. EU employers often do not consider using international recruitment to meet skills needs. International matching, long immigration and market test procedures are a barrier. There is a lack of transparency and it is costly, especially for SMEs. We need to tackle this challenge with an EU-wide tool.

I am aware that this is a sensitive area, where there are very different views on the development of new EU legislation, in particular across Member States, as we saw with the lengthy and difficult negotiations on the EU Blue Card Directive.

I believe that these three initiatives will help improve the current legal and policy framework. 

However, I also want to look at the long term, and here I welcome the more forward-looking suggestions of your Report. 

Talent Partnerships

Beyond legislative changes, there are other things that can be done to foster legal pathways to the EU. I have already mentioned the “Talent Pool”.

Another important initiative is the development of Talent Partnerships with partner countries. The aim is to provide a framework to mobilise EU and Member States’ tools for cooperation with partner countries on legal migration and mobility, building on and scaling up what we have already developed in the last years, for example the pilot projects on legal migration.

It is now time to draw on this experience and build mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries on migration. 

The Commission will provide political, financial and operational support. I want to put together a robust and impactful EU offer. 

As announced in the Migration Pact, the ‘Talent Partnerships’ will be launched at a high political level (virtual) conference on 11 June 2021. I would be pleased to have the Chair of the LIBE Committee, Mr Lopez Aguilar, representing the European Parliament at that occasion.

I count on you for the success of this important project.

To do more in this area, we have to move forward in a realistic and pragmatic way, step by step, taking into account the overall political and economic context.

I am looking forward to working with the European Parliament in the months to come and further discussing your input and suggestions on the way forward.

I would like to thank personally Mrs Guillaume and the shadow rapporteurs for this report. It will be an important input for our work in the months to come.

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