Gaining from migration: moving into a new century

30 November 2007

Demetrious Papademetriou, President, Migration Policy Institute and co-author of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report on Gaining from Migration, said the report was aimed at reducing the complexity of international migration into a few central concepts, focusing on two issues: jobs/employment and confidence.

The employment aspect is bound to become very significant, as the need for workers will become apparent at all levels. Changes in the labour market still provoke strong reactions, but the facts can no longer be disputed.

In the years to come, around 44 million people will leave the labour market and the emerging gap will have to be filled by migrant workers. Up to now, they have tended to come from Eastern Europe and as illegal flows from Africa and Asia, but the EU has just about exhausted the supply of migration from Eastern Europe and a state of equilibrium of low migration has been reached.

The potential migration from the EU countries and even those aspiring to join is clearly not going to be sufficient, and the gap will have to be filled by workers from Africa (mainly North Africa), Eurasia and South East Asia (particularly India or Bangladesh).

Mr Papademetriou said the world was now in an “age of mobility” rather than an age of migration, with people moving back and forth rather than migrating permanently. A new system of labour mobility is therefore needed, rather than a new migration system. The challenge is to manage this new system in a smart way.

There are two key ‘forces’ which could hinder its efficient management: widespread terrorism and “runaway illegality”, plus indirect forces such as strong social and cultural reservations; which are particularly visible in Europe; the impact of migration on wages and jobs; and a lack of serious commitment from governments, which are failing to introduce legal migration measures and create conditions that will work for all.

Many parts of the world are currently experiencing a ‘demographic double squeeze’ - low fertility rates and ageing - but there are still some countries which have what Mr Papademetriou described as “demographic “momentum”.

Stephane Ouaki, Deputy Head of Cabinet of Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Vladimír �pidla, focused on current EU migration policies from his Directorate-General’s perspective.

Migration itself is a very old phenomenon that has recently been on the increase, with inflows of migration in the EU now reaching around 1.9 million per year. Due to low fertility rates, net migration accounts for significant proportion of the total population change, particularly in Germany and Italy. Changing demographic patterns have also moved some Member States, such as Ireland, from being countries of emigration to countries of immigration. Skills shortages are an increasing problem in a number of sectors, contributing significantly to economic migration. 

Mr Ouaki said that although EU net migration is higher than that of the US, Europe is not attracting as many high-skilled workers as the US, Canada or Australia. The same pattern can be observed in terms of labour participation, with the EU migration employment rate lower than in other areas of immigration.

While the need to address these problems is widely recognised, many of these issues remain unresolved. Mr Ouaki said there was now a ‘war for talent’ and if the EU does not tackle these problems, it will suffer the consequences, as migration flows will go elsewhere.

The EU’s Lisbon Strategy aims to mainstream migration policy to include wide labour market participation. The goal is to gradually embrace the issues of social inclusion and protection, employment and skill gaps as well as combating illegal employment.

Initiatives have included the EURES system, designed to help link migrant skills to jobs; the creation of a High-Level Group on ethnic minorities which will meet in December to discuss the problem of recognition of qualifications and access to labour market; and using Structural Funds to train and support migrants in their searches for jobs. Mr Ouaki added that all these initiatives and instruments should be developed with the cooperation with ‘sending’ countries.

Summarising the outlook for next five years, Mr Ouaki said the impact of demographic change would be felt more severely in labour market. The positive trend begun by the Commission in 1999, when it first took action in the area of economic migration policy, must continue in a more proactive way - particularly in terms of delivering more comprehensive integration policies and employment strategies.

Kamal El Mahdaoui, Counsellor, Mission of Morocco to the European Union, emphasised the importance of migration to his country, in particular economic migration, underlining the need for integration and labour policies - instead of viewing it through the prism of enlargement and security.

Migration in the EU demands different approaches than in the case of countries such as the US and Canada. With respect to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region specifically, migration should be seen in the context of development. Differences in employment structures in the region also require different solutions, and the EU should adopt new measures, especially in the area of legal migration.

Visas are a particularly burning issue, but the EU’s powers in this area are very limited, with most of the responsibility for this in Member States’ hands. But Mr El Mahdaoui nevertheless called for a harmonised approach.

Pointing out that the EU has not yet signed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights for Migrant Workers and Members of Their Family, Mr El Mahdaoui asked how it was possible to debate EU mobility when there is nothing underpinning that debate.

He criticised what he said was a lack of political will on the part of Member States, called for visa liberalisation and stressed that visa agreements should become a basis for mobility partnerships.

This requires better cooperation between the EU and countries of emigration. This exists on the bilateral level (for example, between Spain, France and Arabic countries), but there is a clear need for more and wider consultation at the EU level. In this context, he criticised the Commission’s Communication on this issue, which was published without consulting partner countries.

He concluded by saying that migration is an issue of an economic - and not a security - nature. To avoid marginalisation and exclusion, better cooperation between receiving and sending countries is necessary.