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Procedure : 2020/2010(INI)
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Thursday, 20 May 2021 - Brussels
New Avenues for Legal Labour Migration

European Parliament resolution of 20 May 2021 on new avenues for legal labour migration (2020/2010(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty on European Union, in particular Article 3(2) thereof, and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), in particular Article 79 thereof,

–  having regard to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, in particular Article 2 of Protocol 4,

–  having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in particular Article 45 thereof,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, in particular Article 13 thereof,

–  having regard to the European Pillar of Social Rights, in particular Principles 5, 6, 10, 12 and 16 thereof,

–  having regard to the international labour standards on labour migration adopted by the International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organization, and to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1990,

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 13 May 2015 entitled ‘A European Agenda on Migration’ (COM(2015)0240),

–  having regard to the Commission communications of 6 April 2016 entitled ‘Towards a reform of the Common European Asylum System and enhancing legal avenues to Europe’ (COM(2016)0197) and of 12 September 2018 entitled ‘Enhancing legal pathways to Europe: an indispensable part of a balanced and comprehensive migration policy’ (COM(2018)0635),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 23 September 2020 on a New Pact on Migration and Asylum (COM(2020)0609),

–  having regard to the action plan and political declaration adopted at the EU-Africa Summit on Migration, held in Valletta on 11 and 12 November 2015, in particular their respective parts on legal migration and mobility,

–  having regard to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration of 10 December 2018,

–  having regard to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa,

–  having regard to its resolution of 12 April 2016 on the situation in the Mediterranean and the need for a holistic EU approach to migration(1),

–  having regard to its working document of 15 January 2016 on developing adequate legal economic migration channels(2),

—  having regard to the Commission communication of 24 November 2020 entitled ‘Action plan on Integration and Inclusion 2021-2027’ (COM(2020)0758),

–  having regard to its resolution of 19 June 2020 on European protection of cross-border and seasonal workers in the context of the COVID-19 crisis(3),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) 2019/1149 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 establishing a European Labour Authority(4),

–  having regard to the studies by the Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs of its Directorate-General for Internal Policies of September 2015 entitled ‘Exploring new avenues for legislation for labour migration to the European Union’ and of October 2015 entitled ‘EU cooperation with third countries in the field of migration’, and to the EPRS study of March 2019 entitled ‘The cost of non-Europe in the area of legal migration’,

–  having regard to the Commission’s ‘Fitness Check on the EU Legislation on Legal Migration’ of 29 March 2019 (the ‘Fitness Check’),

–  having regard to the Commission Joint Research Centre study of 23 April 2020 entitled ‘Immigrant Key Workers: Their Contribution to Europe’s COVID-19 Response’ and its technical report of 19 May 2020 entitled ‘A vulnerable workforce: Migrant workers in the COVID-19 pandemic’,

–  having regard to the studies by the European Migration Network,

–  having regard to the studies by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,

–  having regard to the work and reports of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants,

–  having regard to the work, reports and resolutions of the Council of Europe,

–  having regard to the work and reports of the International Organization for Migration,

–  having regard to the EU legal labour migration acquis developed between 2004 and 2016, which regulates the conditions of entry and residence and the rights of third-country national workers, which includes:

—  Council Directive 2009/50/EC of 25 May 2009 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment(5) (the Blue Card Directive),

—  Directive 2011/98/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on a single application procedure for a single permit for third-country nationals to reside and work in the territory of a Member State and on a common set of rights for third-country workers legally residing in a Member State(6) (the Single Permit Directive),

—  Directive 2014/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 February 2014 on the conditions of entry and stay of third-country nationals for the purpose of employment as seasonal workers(7) (the Seasonal Workers Directive),

—  Directive 2014/66/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 May 2014 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals in the framework of an intra-corporate transfer(8) (the ICT Directive),

—  Directive (EU) 2016/801 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of research, studies, training, voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes or educational projects and au pairing(9),

–  having regard to the Commission proposal of 7 June 2016 for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly skilled employment (COM(2016)0378), and the respective positions adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in 2017,

–  having regard to the directives which regulate the conditions of entry and residence and the rights of other more general categories of third-country nationals, such as the directives on the right to family reunification(10) and on the status of third-country nationals (TCNs) who are long-term residents(11),

–  having regard to the directives which regulate the conditions of entry and stay for categories of TCNs who are not entering the EU in order to work, but are allowed to do so, such as the directives granting beneficiaries of international protection the right of access to employment and self-employment upon recognition of their status, or granting applicants for international protection access to the labour market no later than nine months after their application has been lodged,

–  having regard to Rule 54 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the opinion of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (A9-0143/2021),

A.  whereas the current Union legislative framework on legal labour migration is fragmented, comprising sectoral directives that lay down the conditions of entry and residence for specific categories of TCNs;

B.  whereas a patchwork of rules based on 27 national approaches renders the Union and its Member States an unattractive destination for legal migration;

C.  whereas, despite the intention set out in the European agenda on migration to pursue a comprehensive approach, legal migration has barely featured in EU migration policy development since 2015;

D.  whereas the New Pact on Migration and Asylum does not include any specific proposals on legal labour migration, despite legal labour migration being indispensable for a comprehensive migration and asylum policy;

E.  whereas the current legislative framework is tilted towards employment with either multinational corporations (the ICT Directive) or those in highly skilled or highly paid sectors of the Union’s labour markets (the Blue Card Directive), with only one directive targeted at lower-paid migration (the Seasonal Workers Directive);

F.  whereas there is a shortage of labour in the EU for specific skill levels, sectors and occupations, including for low-skilled occupations(12); whereas the 2018 Commission communication on enhancing legal pathways to Europe acknowledges shortages in ‘skilled trades’ and ‘occupations requiring less formal skills’;

G.  whereas the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our intense reliance on frontline workers and the key role that migrant workers play in providing frontline services in the EU, where populations are rapidly ageing and where 13 % of key workers are immigrants on average(13); whereas COVID-19 has significantly affected migrants, their families, host communities and home countries, and has also exacerbated existing vulnerabilities that migrant workers and their families face across the EU, impeding their mobility, access to the labour market, right to decent working conditions, and access to social and health care;

H.  whereas the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration enhances cooperation on migration and acknowledges the shared responsibilities of all states to address each other’s needs and concerns over migration, and the overarching obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, while promoting the security and prosperity of all communities;

1.  Starts from the principle that migration is normal and that people are constantly on the move; acknowledges the contribution that TCNs make to our societies, economies and cultures and stresses that migration needs to be managed in an orderly, safe and regular manner; believes that to establish new avenues for legal labour migration, the EU should set ambitious and future-proof goals, while simultaneously making effective use of and improving the existing legal and policy framework;

The current EU legislative framework

2.  Notes that Article 79 TFEU provides for the management of legal migration at Union level and commits the Member States to developing a common immigration policy, including common rules on conditions of entry and residence for TCNs and definitions of the rights they enjoy once legally residing in the Union, including conditions governing freedom of movement to and of residence in other Member States; acknowledges that Article 79(5) TFEU reserves the right for Member States to determine volumes of admission of TCNs coming to their territory to seek work;

3.  Underlines the positive effects of the EU framework on legal labour migration identified by the Commission in its Fitness Check; notes the existence of a degree of harmonisation in relation to conditions, procedures and rights, and increased legal certainty for TCNs, employers and local, regional and national administrations; notes, furthermore, the benefits of that harmonisation for competition in the EU’s labour markets;

4.  Underlines that an EU approach to legal labour migration does not automatically exclude the need for national legislative frameworks; recalls, however, that the existing Union framework regulating legal migration to the Union is fragmented, focuses on specific categories of workers, primarily workers employed in high-wage sectors, does not treat those categories of workers in the same way, including by providing for different levels of rights, and permits the existence of parallel national legislative frameworks; emphasises that the current asymmetric patchwork of national and EU laws, while reflecting differences between national labour markets, puts those national legislative frameworks in competition with one another and the Union framework, implying, by extension, bureaucratic procedures for both prospective workers and employers;

5.  Believes that such an approach only serves to meet short-term needs and is not in keeping with the Union’s goal of having a comprehensive approach to migration policy; takes the view that, if well-designed and well-managed, legal labour migration can be a source of prosperity, innovation and growth, for both sending and receiving countries;

6.  Highlights that in its Fitness Check, the Commission reached a similar conclusion and identified the need to address inconsistencies, gaps and shortcomings through a wide range of measures, including legislative measures; notes, furthermore, the favourable effects of new avenues for legal labour migration in reducing irregular migration, which is hazardous for TCNs seeking employment in the Union, and which can have negative effects on Member States’ labour markets;

7.  Is aware that the current Union framework regulating legal migration was developed, in part, to prevent labour exploitation and protect the rights of TCN workers; notes, however, that the existing directives have had only a limited impact on preventing labour exploitation, and that migrant workers continue to experience unequal treatment and labour exploitation; calls for the Union to take concerted action to address such unequal treatment and exploitation; considers the use of permits of limited duration in cases of exploitation a good practice that should be promoted across the Union; underlines the need for measures to improve the accessibility and efficiency of monitoring of the workplace; stresses that effective complaint mechanisms should be in place to protect all migrant workers against exploitation, in line with the 2009 Employer Sanctions Directive(14), which should, in particular, guarantee effective access to justice and redress, thus ensuring a level playing field;

Adopting a simplified approach

8.  Points out that the current legal framework and the divergent implementation of the existing directives by the Member States have resulted in many inconsistencies for TCNs as regards equal treatment, entry and re-entry conditions, work authorisation, residence status, intra-EU mobility, social security, recognition of qualifications and family reunification; notes that these inconsistencies can hinder integration; stresses, in addition, that these inconsistencies also create difficulties for businesses that employ TCNs(15) and for local authorities providing integration services; calls for the dissemination at national level of relevant information for businesses;

9.  Emphasises the added value of having a comprehensive Union framework for legal migration as part of a holistic approach to migration, as it provides opportunities through legal and safe pathways for labour-related migration, improves access for TCNs to the Union’s labour market, encourages more orderly migration, attracts workers, students and businesses that the EU and national labour markets need, helps undermine the criminal business model of smugglers and human traffickers, ensures that TCN workers are treated in accordance with fundamental rights, improves access to decent working conditions, and fosters integration on an equal basis for women and men; believes that such a holistic approach benefits TCN workers and their families, host communities and home countries;

10.  Reiterates that better and more consistent implementation of the current legislative framework, better enforcement of the rights laid down in the existing directives, and better dissemination of information to raise awareness of the applicable procedures are the first practical steps that need to be taken;

11.  Recommends that the legislative framework be simplified and harmonised by aligning provisions across the existing legal migration directives on application procedures, grounds for admission and refusal, procedural safeguards, equal treatment, access to the labour market, including the right to change employer, family reunification in line with Court of Justice of the European Union case law, and intra-EU mobility;

12.  Welcomes the Commission’s planned review of the Single Permit Directive; suggests that to reach a broader category of workers, the scope and the application of the directive should be expanded; further welcomes the Commission’s planned review of the Long-Term Residents Directive, which presents an opportunity to enhance mobility and simplify and harmonise procedures; looks forward to the upcoming Commission implementation report on the Seasonal Workers Directive, which should examine in detail provisions on residence status, equal treatment and the maximum period of stay; calls on the Commission to consider a legislative revision of the aforementioned directive following its evaluation; calls on the Commission to propose appropriate legislative action to improve the existing directives by aligning them with the most favourable provisions;

Improving intra-EU mobility

13.  Highlights the fact that the intra-EU mobility of TCNs is a key component of the EU’s legal migration policy, as it provides clear added value that cannot be achieved at Member-State level; recalls that the free movement of workers helps to match demand with supply in the EU’s labour markets and can also contribute to labour market adjustments and overall economic growth in times of crisis;

14.  Calls on the Member States to enhance coordination between national authorities related to schemes on the intra-EU mobility of TCNs; points to the need to facilitate the gathering of data, statistics and evidence, enhance information-sharing, coordination and cooperation between national authorities to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the acquis, and exploit EU added value to the fullest;

15.  Emphasises that more harmonised and supple rules facilitating intra-EU mobility would act as an incentive for TCNs, represent a positive measure for employers, and help the Member States to fill gaps in their labour markets and boost their economies; stresses, moreover, that enhanced intra-EU mobility would allow TCNs already in the EU to improve their integration prospects;

16.  Notes that more recently adopted directives on students, researchers and intra-corporate transferees grant more far-reaching mobility rights to TCNs than legal migration directives adopted earlier, such as the original Blue Card Directive and the Long-Term Residents Directive;

17.  Recommends that, as a first step towards simplification, rights to intra-EU mobility be enhanced across the existing legal migration directives; reiterates that the Commission should propose appropriate legislative action;

Setting up a talent pool

18.  Underlines that new tools are needed to help match employers with prospective employees, address labour market shortages, and facilitate recognition of formal third-country qualifications and skills at Union level; highlights the fact that better information on legal migration to the EU is required for employers and TCNs, and that structured and meaningful dialogue with relevant third countries on legal migration needs to be scaled up;

19.  Recommends the development of an EU talent pool and matching platform to serve as a one-stop shop for TCN workers, EU employers and national administrations; notes the Commission’s plan to explore the development of such a talent pool; recommends that this should cover all sectors of employment for low-, medium- and highly skilled workers, and salaried and self-employed labour, including in small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups; notes that the involvement of public employment services, including at local level, in such a platform in both the EU and countries of origin could help to improve partnerships and build trust between Member States and third countries, create a climate of investment, and respond more appropriately to employment needs or labour market shortages; recommends that the participation of third countries in such a talent pool be facilitated, for example online or via EU and Member State diplomatic representations;

20.  Highlights that such an EU talent pool could serve as an important new tool to match and manage skills supply with national labour markets, and that the EU could play an important role in setting up, monitoring and overseeing such a tool, including through funding and knowledge-sharing; recommends that the platform be used to clarify and better align education and training requirements between participating Member States and third countries; considers that a harmonised framework at EU level for applications, based on that talent pool, would help to reduce bureaucracy at Member-State level; believes that the EU can play an important role in pre-screening candidates’ qualifications, language levels and skills; highlights how important targeted information dissemination would be in promoting the talent pool and matching platform in third countries and participating Member States;

21.  Recommends that the assessment, mutual recognition and certification of diplomas, certificates and other professional qualifications, including the formal and non-formal acquisition of skills in third countries, be made easier, quicker, fairer and more streamlined across Member States by implementing accelerated procedures and facilitating access to information; takes the view that this would strengthen intra-EU mobility; highlights that the European qualifications framework provides a good basis on which to relate third-country qualification systems to a common EU reference framework;

22.  Insists that the Member States immediately put in place mechanisms and arrangements for the validation of professional experience and non-formal and informal learning in line with the 2012 Council Recommendation(16); stresses the need for national authorities to share best practices; insists on the importance of involving relevant civil society organisations, social partners and diaspora networks and TCN workers themselves, as well as local authorities and international organisations (in particular the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)), in discussions on the definition of skills, which should include on-the-job training, informal qualifications and work experience;

Strengthening relations with third countries and enhancing legal pathways

23.  Stresses that given the EU’s ageing population and shrinking workforce, labour mobility schemes have the potential to galvanise EU labour markets and contribute to economic growth;

24.  Supports global and regional cooperation on migration as one way to strengthen the availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration; remains convinced that enhancing proper legal migration channels would help to reduce irregular migration, undermine the business model of criminal smugglers, reduce trafficking in human beings and labour exploitation, enhance equal opportunities for all workers and offer a legal path for those considering migrating to the Union; calls, in that respect, on the Commission to regulate recruitment agencies, potentially through the European Labour Authority;

25.  Considers that a wider migration dialogue, for instance through regular summits between the EU and multiple third countries, could facilitate the meeting of the needs of the EU labour markets and the development of balanced partnerships, including on the initiative of businesses and civil society, which can help prepare for the integration of TCNs into the labour market of the country of destination and can enhance the sustainable transfer of acquired skills between countries of origin and destination; highlights that inspiration could be found in existing skills-based agreements on the development of talent partnerships that allow the destination country to be directly involved in shaping the skill sets of TCNs potentially interested in migrating to the EU, including by establishing training facilities and programmes for third countries, and address the need for transparency of partnerships with third countries, including through the need to involve social partners;

26.  Underlines the important role of remittances and the benefits that safe, regular and orderly migration has for both sending and receiving countries; supports efforts to address the ‘brain drain’ and ‘brain gain’ issues by further developing instruments that allow for circular migration; calls on the Commission in that respect to analyse the benefits and downsides of existing models applied by other countries, such as a points-based system and expression-of-interest-based models; recommends, with a view to facilitating circular migration, the introduction of preferred mobility, and access to renewable permits, the right of re‑entry, and an extension of the permitted period of absence for TCNs to allow them to return to their home countries;

Developing the EU’s legislative framework

27.  Recalls that the EU is lagging behind in the global competition for talent; notes that the only proposal concerning legal labour migration presented by the previous Commission was for a revision of the Blue Card Directive; remains committed to seeking a meaningful and robust revision of the Blue Card Directive to bring added value in terms of harmonisation, recognition of skills, simplification of procedures and improved intra-EU mobility;

28.  Emphasises the need for a structured dialogue and consultation of stakeholders, including relevant civil society organisations, social partners and diaspora networks, TCN workers themselves, and local authorities and international organisations (in particular the IOM, the ILO and the OECD), when considering the future development of the EU’s legislative framework;

29.  Takes the view that EU and national policies on legal migration should focus on responding to labour market and skills shortages; calls on the Commission, to this end, to analyse inefficiencies in labour market tests and labour migration schemes which do not respond to real labour market needs; recommends that the Union develop its legislative framework to cover, to a greater extent, TCNs seeking work in low-skilled or medium-skilled employment(17);

30.  Notes, in that context, that TCNs are often employed in the home and domestic care sector(18); notes that this is a sector in which most employees are women; calls on the EU and its Member States to ratify ILO Convention 189 on domestic workers and to ensure the full application of employment standards; calls on the Commission, moreover, to consider legislative action in this area;

31.  Calls on the Commission to develop an EU-wide scheme to attract and facilitate the cross-border activities of self-employed people, entrepreneurs, and start-ups – in order to enhance innovation – as well as younger TCNs with no formal qualifications, through, for example, job-seeker and training visas, taking into account the services of the Europass platform in line with Decision (EU) 2018/646 of the European Parliament and of the Council(19);

32.  Recognises that sectoral directives are a panacea neither for the EU’s labour market needs, nor for the issue of legal migration more generally, while acknowledging that most Member States have national schemes to attract labour migrants; believes that, in the medium term, the EU must move away from a sectoral approach and adopt an immigration code setting out broad rules governing entry and residence for all TCNs seeking employment in the Union and harmonising the rights enjoyed by such TCNs and their families;

33.  Points out that such an overarching legislative instrument would address the current patchwork of procedures, remove the different requirements laid down across the Member States and provide the needed simplification and harmonisation of rules without discriminating against any sector of employment or type of employee; considers, furthermore, that such an instrument would facilitate cooperation between Member States and between the EU and third countries;

o   o

34.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) OJ C 58, 15.2.2018, p. 9.
(2) PE573.223v01-00.
(3) Texts adopted, P9_TA(2020)0176.
(4) OJ L 186, 11.7.2019, p. 21.
(5) OJ L 155, 18.6.2009, p. 17.
(6) OJ L 343, 23.12.2011, p. 1.
(7) OJ L 94, 28.3.2014, p. 375.
(8) OJ L 157, 27.5.2014, p. 1. Intra-corporate transferees are seconded from an undertaking established outside the EU to an entity belonging to the same group of undertakings established in the EU.
(9) OJ L 132, 21.5.2016, p. 21.
(10) Council Directive 2003/86/EC of 22 September 2003 on the right to family reunification (OJ L 251, 3.10.2003, p. 12).
(11) Council Directive 2003/109/EC of 25 November 2003 concerning the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents (OJ L 16, 23.1.2004, p. 44).
(12) Policy Department C studies on exploring new avenues for legislation for labour migration to the EU and on EU cooperation with third countries in the field of migration.
(13) Fasani, F. and Mazza, J., Immigrant Key Workers: Their Contribution to Europe's COVID-19 Response, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020.
(14) Directive 2009/52/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009 providing for minimum standards on sanctions and measures against employers of illegally staying third-country nationals (OJ L 168, 30.6.2009, p. 24).
(15) The Fitness Check identified the following main areas as having the most internal coherence issues: application procedures, admission and residence conditions (including grounds for rejection and withdrawal), equal treatment conditions, intra-EU mobility and family reunification.
(16) Council Recommendation of 20 December 2012 on the validation of non-formal and informal learning (OJ C 398, 22.12.2012, p. 1).
(17) See e.g. European Migration Network, Determining labour shortages and the need for labour migration from third countries in the EU, European Commission, Brussels, 2015.
(18) See also: EPRS, The cost of non-Europe in the area of legal migration, European Parliament, Brussels, 2019, pp. 21–22.
(19) Decision (EU) 2018/646 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 April 2018 on a common framework for the provision of better services for skills and qualifications (Europass) (OJ L 112, 2.5.2018, p. 42).

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