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Skills through immigration: What is the EU doing?

Both a proposal on easier verification of third-country certifications and the creation of an EU Talent Pool can be expected to come from the EU Commission this year.

Action seems necessary. EU employment figures are higher than at any point since the EU’s statistics body Eurostat started publishing this data in 2009, standing at 74.7% of the working-age population in the third quarter of 2022. Still, business associations complain about labour force shortages.

And the working-age population is in decline. In 2021, there were 5.4 million fewer people aged 20-64 than in 2013. This might only be a decline of 2% over eight years, but it is still the wrong direction.

Limited competences, limited success

Thus, even if the EU were to do a perfect job in retraining people for the green and digital transition, it would still have to turn to immigration, if it wants to maintain its relative economic strength in the world.

“If we want to have prosperous societies, we need to make space for immigration from third countries,” Maxime Cerutti, director of the social affairs department at Business Europe, told EURACTIV.

However, he cautioned that the EU needs to “make sure that there is support in the society for migration,” arguing for a stronger focus on the needs of the labour market when it comes to migration.

However, the EU’s success in attracting and using talent from third countries has been limited so far.

For example, a so-called “EU Blue Card” was introduced in 2011 to attract highly skilled and well-paid workers. The card would allow its holder to work and live in any EU country, but the uptake remains very low.

In 2021, only roughly 29,000 Blue Cards were issued in the EU, two-thirds of them in Germany.

This is not entirely the fault of the EU since member states still largely control their immigration policies and the EU cannot force any member state to accept more immigration.

EU Talent Pool

Aware of these limits, the Commission is focusing more on facilitating immigration into the labour market.

For example, the Commission wants to set up “Talent Partnerships” with Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco.

Cooperation between authorities, companies, and training providers should help fill skills gaps in Europe, according to the Commission. An evaluation of similar pilot projects, however, has shown that such projects require a high degree of coordination and are difficult to scale.

A solution that could work at a bigger scale is the “EU Talent Pool” that the EU Commission would like to implement this year.

The EU Talent Pool is an online platform where prospective migrants can upload their CVs and advertise their skills to European employers, national employment services, and private employment agencies.

In October 2022, the EU Commission launched a pilot EU Talent Pool targeted at Ukrainians fleeing from war. For now, only a few EU member states participate in the programme but more than 4,000 employers seem to be on the platform, according to the pilot project’s website.

For Business Europe’s Cerutti, the EU talent pool is a promising idea since it would give employers direct access to possible recruits.

Recognising qualifications

However, even if employers have access to possibly interested candidates, it might still be difficult to evaluate which skills prospective employees actually have.

The Commission therefore plans to come up with a new initiative to “facilitate the recognition of third-country nationals.”

Not recognising qualifications from third countries also prevents Europe from taking advantage of a lot of labour market potential that is already in Europe.

“One way to address skill shortages is to simplify the qualification procedures and benefit from the skills of migrants and refugees already residing in the EU,” Sinem Yilmaz, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Group, told EURACTIV.

“Many migrants are overqualified for their jobs and European employers struggle to find people with the skills that they need.”

Simplifying the recognition of third-country qualifications will not be easy, however. Even within the EU, problems in the mutual recognition of qualifications are putting barriers to labour mobility, for example for teachers.

And there is another problem: For the EU economy to profit from the skills and the labour force of third-country nationals, they have to actually want to live in the EU.

“Narrow policies focusing solely on attracting skills from the outside of the EU to overcome skill shortages will not work out if member states do not ensure a welcoming community for migrants,” Yilmaz cautioned.

Source: Euractiv