What future for temporary and circular migration in Europe?

2 March 2011

EPC Senior Policy Analyst, Yves Pascouau said the dialogue marked the end of the EPC's project on temporary and circular migration, which led to an 80-page working paper, "Temporary and Circular Migration: Opportunities and Challenges". The project was part of the EPC’s "Wellbeing 2030" two-year research project co-funded by the European Commission.

Rainer Münz, Chair of the EPC’s Task Force on Temporary and Circular Migration and Head of Research and Development at Erste Bank, outlined the demographic problems caused by Europe's ageing population – the only thing that could make a difference in the medium term was migration. The key now was the numbers and skills of immigrants and how they could be attracted to come to the EU. "Circular" migration – foreign workers moving back and forth between Europe and their own country – could be part of the solution.

Annemarie Muntz, President of the European Confederation of Private Employment Agencies (Eurociett), said Europe faced a shortage of 33 million workers by 2050 and temporary migration was increasingly seen as part of the answer. More needed to be done to facilitate cross-border migration and keep Europe competitive. The biggest challenge facing the temporary agency workers' sector was in tackling exploitation and improving migrant worker conditions. There was already enough regulation, but it lacked effective control and enforcement.

Ronald Skeldon of Sussex University, a contributor to the EPC working paper and participant in the Task Force, said some people saw circulation migration as a "win-win-win" situation: destination countries liked it because workers came and left; countries of origin liked it because they didn't suffer a permanent brain-drain; and migrants like it because they learned skills and earned more money while away. The problem was that many governments were not thinking adequately about how to deal with their long-term labour needs in the coming decades, and Europe was now in global competition for cheap labour.

Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini agreed with the calls for a much more flexible EU labour market, one with affordable social security schemes that allow for migrant flows which reimburse those that pay in but then leave without benefits. She said everyone knew there was an urgent need for immigrant workers in future but governments were not yet prepared to improve their legal status and give them the right to go home a couple of times a year without losing acquired benefits and conditions.