EU initiatives: Attracting non-European workers for economic growth

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Published on 2023-11-27 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
The European economy is facing challenges, with recent estimates from Brussels indicating a growth of 0.6%, down from 0.8% a few months ago. The slowdown is attributed to a recession impacting various European nations. Additionally, the European Commission acknowledges the impact of an ongoing labor shortage and is looking to implement new measures to attract workers from outside Europe.

Non-European workers to rescue the European economy 

In July 2023, the European Commission released its report on Employment and Social Development in Europe (ESDE). The study's findings suggest that, despite the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine and the inflationary crisis in 2022, the European economy has performed well. The employment rate has reached a "record high" of 74.6%, and the unemployment rate remains "historically low" at 6.2%. According to Eurostat figures, the job vacancy rate is approximately 3%.

The European Commission is warning about a shortage of European nationals to fill job vacancies. Intra-European recruitment is still relatively low, with only 14% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) indicating its use. The aging population is further intensifying the challenges in the job market. The ESDE report notes shortages in various sectors, regardless of skill or qualification level. However, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), as well as construction and healthcare sectors, were particularly hard hit in 2022.

As per the European Commission's projections, labor shortages are expected to escalate in the coming years due to retirements and a decline in the working-age population from 265 million in 2022 to 258 million by 2030. The Commission deems the situation urgent and, on November 15, revealed new proposals to entice non-European workers and streamline the legal immigration process.

Cutting through bureaucratic hurdles

According to Margarítis Schinás, the Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of migration, a significant amount of bureaucratic red tape makes third-country workers hesitant to navigate the process of having their professional qualifications recognized. While unveiling the Commission's new measures, the vice president expressed concern that this bureaucracy results in "brain waste." The proposed legislative measure aims to simplify procedures for non-European expatriates. Some countries, including Germany, have already reformed their immigration laws to simplify visa processes.

Facilitating the recognition of qualifications

Another aspect that needs improvement is the recognition of qualifications. Due to complex administrative procedures, non-European expatriates face challenges in getting their skills and qualifications acknowledged. Although all skills are appreciated, priority is given to occupations facing shortages, such as healthcare and construction. A regularly updated list will make it easier for applicants to find relevant information. The European Union (EU) is advocating for a simplified process for recognizing qualifications, although the specific details of this simplification are yet to be outlined.

Create a recruitment platform dedicated to non-European workers

The European Commission identifies an "endemic shortage" as a significant hindrance to European growth. To facilitate the connection between job supply and demand, the EU is establishing a recruitment platform, which will enable employers to post job openings and non-European workers to apply online. Additionally, the platform will function as a "talent pool" for EU member states.

Non-European workers and asylum seekers already present in the EU will not be part of this talent pool. In an effort to tackle the exploitation of foreign workers, the Commission proposes the suspension of employers who do not adhere to both European and national legislation. However, the oversight of employers would fall under the jurisdiction of the individual Member States.

Reforming the single permit

Introduced in 2011, the single permit is a temporary residence and work permit (with a maximum duration of 2 years) that allows non-EU nationals to work in an EU country. To enhance the competitiveness of the single permit, the European Parliament is suggesting a simplification of procedures and, most importantly, a reduction in processing times from 4 months to 90 days. Some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are even advocating for a further reduction to 45 days. The European Parliament also suggests a change in the single permit system, advocating for it not to be linked to a specific employer. Instead, foreign workers should have the flexibility to switch jobs, and they could retain their permit even during periods of unemployment for up to 9 months. Negotiations are still underway to reform the single permit to simplify the process of hiring non-European workers.

Reaction from companies and unions

Euroactiv, an independent media outlet focusing on European issues, reports that companies have generally responded positively to the European Commission's proposals. In contrast, trade unions express concern over the absence of specific measures to counter worker exploitation. There are questions about the level of control over companies and the associated penalties. Additionally, there is apprehension about measures that could lead to the hiring of non-European workers at increasingly lower wages. The unions emphasize the importance of ensuring that non-European workers have the same rights as their European counterparts and call on the Commission to enhance its measures.