EU needs to welcome more immigrants to compete in key sectors

by Ray Clancy on December 31, 2010

EU welcomes skilled workers

Skills shortages mean that Europe needs more third world immigration if it is to be competitive on the world stage, it is claimed.

There are serious deficits in key areas such as science, health, technology, engineering, mathematics, tourism and agriculture, according to European Commissioners Cecilia Malmström and László Andor, despite the fact that the EU continues to experience high unemployment rates.

‘These deficits will increase and spread rapidly to other sectors because of the EU’s severe demographic challenges,’ they claim and as early as 2013 the working age population will start to decline in the EU. Eurostat projections suggesting that the EU workforce will shrink by as much as 50 million over the next 50 years.

‘In times as tough as these, with high unemployment and deep cuts to public spending, it can be difficult to see the need for more people to join the European labour market,’ the commissioners point out in a report.

They say that reducing unemployment within the EU has to be a top priority and the European Commission will soon present a number of actions, for example to reduce the risks of structural high unemployment, strengthen security policies, and invest more in education and training.

‘But it is striking just how serious the demand for labour will be. For instance, recent reports indicate that the EU economy could lack between 384,000 and 700,000 IT workers by 2015 and, by 2020, between one and two million health sector professionals. That represents 15% of the health care needed in the EU. Even with the best policies, it is highly unlikely that all these resources could be found within the Union,’ their report points out.

‘At the same time, global competition for manpower will grow. If Europe is to keep its position on the global market, we need to make our labour market more attractive to possible migrants. This requires work both from member states and EU institutions,’ it adds.

The Europe 2020 strategy talks of labour migration as a key to increasing growth and competitiveness. A few months ago, the Commission presented two proposals on legal migration: to improve the admission procedures for seasonal workers, and to make it easier for international enterprises to transfer personnel across EU borders.

‘These are important steps, but we need other, more innovative policies. We need, for instance, to work more closely with non-EU countries, to improve recognition of migrants’ skills and educational levels, to provide information about labour opportunities, and to do more to integrate newly arrived migrants. We need to do more to address irregular migration and improve our ability to check who is entering the European territory,’ the report continues.

Although it will still be up to each member state to define its labour needs and decide on the number of workers allowed permits, the commissioners say it is important to have a common framework that defines the rules and conditions for legal migration.

‘It is also important to realise that, for many people, migration is a way to improve their lives. Moreover, migration stimulates growth, and the skills and knowledge gained in Europe can be an important benefit to the countries from which migrants come. Recent studies show the connection between increased immigration and increased export to the migrants’ home countries,’ the report also says.

‘There are also social and cultural benefits. Throughout history, people have moved, and their migration has contributed to an exchange of ideas, values, knowledge and culture that enriches our societies and us. Only by being open to the rest of the world can the EU resist becoming intolerant, stagnant and self-aggrandising. And only with an open and competitive labour market can Europe rise to its demographic and economic challenges,’ it concludes.

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