Labour immigration has a key role to play in driving economic development in the long term and in addressing current and future demographic challenges in the EU. The EU is therefore working on a number of interconnected measures which, together, aim to produce flexible admission systems, responsive to the priorities of each EU State, while enabling migrant workers to make full use of their skills. These measures cover the conditions of entry and residence for certain categories of immigrants such as highly qualified workers, seasonal workers and intra-corporate transferees, as well as the establishment of a single work and residence permit.
The Blue Card Directive
Highly qualified migrants play a key role in strengthening the EU’s competitiveness. But in a world where international competition for highly qualified workers is increasing, Europe can only appeal if it speaks with one voice.
In 2009, the EU has therefore put in place attractive conditions for non-EU workers considering taking up highly skilled employment in the EU states, creating a harmonised fast-track procedure and common criteria (a work contract, professional qualifications and a minimum salary level) for issuing a special residence and work permit called the “EU Blue Card”. The Blue Card facilitates access to the labour market and entitles holders to socio-economic rights and favourable conditions for family reunification and movement around the EU.
The EU Blue Card Directive also promotes ethical recruitment standards to limit – if not stop entirely – active recruitment by EU States in developing countries already suffering from serious “brain drain”. The EU Blue Card does not create a right of admission; it is demand-driven, i.e. based on a work contract. Its period of validity is between one and four years, with possibility of renewal.
Stronger protection for seasonal workers
According to estimates, well over 100 000 non-EU seasonal workers come to the EU each year (this includes irregular migrants). EU economies face a structural need for seasonal work for which labour from within the EU is expected to become increasingly difficult to find. Furthermore, there is significant evidence that certain non-EU seasonal workers face exploitation and sub-standard working conditions which may threaten their health and safety. And finally, sectors of the economy that are characterised by a strong presence of seasonal workers — most notably agriculture, horticulture and tourism — are repeatedly identified as the sectors most likely to have non-EU nationals staying in the EU without permission carrying out the work.
These elements led the European Parliament and the Council to adopt, on 26 February 2014, the Directive on seasonal workers. The Directive sets the conditions of entry and stay of third-country nationals for the purpose of employment as seasonal workers.
When transposed into national law, the Directive will provide for clearer, simpler admission rules which should result in fewer people working unauthorised in seasonal jobs and/or staying on longer in the EU than they are entitled to. Moreover, the new rules governing working conditions will help prevent exploitation and protect the health and safety of non-EU seasonal workers. Seasonal workers will benefit from appropriate accommodation during their stay, and a complaints mechanism will be available for non-EU seasonal workers and third parties.
Finally, the circular movement of seasonal workers between the EU and their home countries will be encouraged through the introduction of a facilitated re-entry procedure for subsequent seasons. This will bring those countries providing seasonal workers with a reliable flow of income, skills and investment, thereby contributing to development.
Facilitating the intra-corporate transfer of non-EU skilled workers
The globalisation of business and accompanying skills demand has made it desirable for multinational corporations to transfer employees temporarily to another branch or subsidiary. Intra-corporate transferees (ICTs) can potentially bring substantial benefits to the EU: innovation, enhanced competitiveness, increased investment flows, etc. However, a number of factors currently limit opportunities to transfer non-EU employees: a lack of clear specific schemes, the complexity and diversity of visa or work permit requirements, costs and delays in transferring foreign ICTs from one European corporate headquarters to another and difficulties in securing family reunification.
To address this situation, a Directive for intra-corporate transfer of non-EU skilled workers was adopted in 2014. It is designed to improve the current situation in several ways: companies outside the EU should have a common set of rules and requirements and EU companies a better and faster access to global talent to meet staffing needs for managers, specialists and graduate trainees. Moreover, the EU will have a greater pool of skilled staff at its disposal, helping it to secure a knowledge-based and innovative economy that attracts investment, thereby creating jobs. In addition to the fast-track entry procedure and the single application for a combined work and residence permit, the Directive also includes more attractive residence conditions for the families and enhance mobility within the EU. ICTs will also benefit from the same working conditions as posted workers whose employer is established within EU territory.
A single procedure for work and residence permits: the Single Permit
In December 2011, the so-called Single Permit Directive was adopted. It creates a set of rights for non-EU workers legally residing in an EU State. The Directive should be applicable to non-EU nationals with authorisation to reside or work in the EU, independently of their initial reason for admission. Its scope includes both non-EU nationals seeking to be admitted to an EU State in order to stay and work there and those who are already resident and have access to the labour market or are already working there. It provides for:
- a single residence and work permit
- a single application procedure for this permit
- a set of rights for all non-EU workers already admitted but who have not yet been granted long-term resident status, in a number of key areas: working conditions, education and vocational training, recognition of diplomas, social security, tax benefits, access to goods and services including procedures for housing and employment advice services.