Wednesday, September 12, 2007

EU told to accept 20m migrant workers

From the FT this morning:

EU told to accept 20m migrant workers

Europe must relax its immigration controls and open the door to an extra 20m workers during the next two decades, the European Union’s justice chief will say on Friday.

Franco Frattini, justice commissioner, is to tell the bloc’s immigration ministers in Lisbon that the EU should stop erecting barriers and instead build safe pathways for Africans and Asians who risk their lives heading to the continent to find a job.

“We have to look at immigration not as a threat but – when well-well-managed, and that is our new task – as an enrichment and as an inescapable phenomenon of today’s world,” he will say.

“Europe has to compete against Australia, Canada, the USA and the rising powers in Asia.” He will suggest the word immigration and its “dark side” should be dropped in favour of “mobility”.

While 85 per cent of unskilled labour goes to the EU and only five per cent to the US, some 55 per cent of skilled labour goes to the USA and only five per cent to the EU.

The Italian wants to reverse those figures by means of harmonised policies to allow in millions of extra workers of all abilities.

“All skill levels are required. The challenge is to attract the workers needed to fill specific gaps,” he will say. That runs counter to attempts by countries such as Britain to restrict access to prized skilled workers.

Germany, Italy and Hungary, with their ageing populations, are most in need of immigrants, he will say.

Next month Mr Frattini is to propose an EU “blue card” to compete with the US green card. Skilled workers could apply for two-year residency that could be extended. After five consecutive years living in any number of EU countries they would be allowed to stay permanently.

He is to table a law laying out minimum working standards for unskilled migrants and forming a one-stop shop for them to apply for work permits.

The Commission is about to establish a €10m information centre for Mali. Locals will be able to apply for jobs in Spain and France through a deal signed between the countries. It will be the first of several such centres in Africa.

Mr Frattini is aware of the sensitivities of national governments, who will have to back his reforms.

The reforms could lead to a more than doubling of the EU’s foreign-born population by 2030. So he will also stress the importance of finding jobs for indigenous workers and cracking down on illegal immigration.

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