EU to propose immigration steps

The European Union (EU) executive plans to encourage legal migration into Europe to plug labour shortages caused by a declining, ageing population, EU officials said on Thursday.

EU Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said he will present proposals to member states on October 23 aimed at reversing a trend drawing skilled migrants to competitors such as the United States and unskilled workers to Europe.

Prime Minister José Sócrates of Portugal, which currently holds the EU presidency, urged support for the proposal, saying it was crucial to meet labour shortages and curb illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Frattini said 85% of unskilled third-country labour was going to the 27-nation EU and only 5% of skilled labour. The United States was attracting 55% of skilled migrants and only 5% of unskilled labour.

“We have to reverse these figures with a new vision,” Frattini told a conference on legal migration.

Frattini’s plans involve issuing “blue card” residence permits to skilled workers entitling them to work in a member state for an initial two years and to move into a second member state after two or three years’ residence in the first EU state.

Portugal will host the first EU-Africa summit in seven years in December, where the issue will be central.

Portugal, like Spain and Italy, has seen high emigration to northern Europe and benefited from workers sending earnings home.

Increasing numbers of illegal immigrants from Africa are arriving in southern Europe, often taking risky boat trips. Socrates said it was necessary to reinforce control of EU borders “especially the southern maritime frontier”.

All EU states have to agree on the proposal on the blue-card system, which is modelled on the US green card.

It has already proved divisive, touching on one of the hottest political issues in Europe.

Germany is among those states which believe that any measure to allow a migrant to enter a country’s labour market should remain the sole responsibility of that country.

The proposals will include steps aimed at narrowing the “rights gap” between EU citizens and migrant workers and define where equal treatment in areas such as working conditions and social security rights should apply.

Frattini said the number of people living in the European Union, currently 490-million, would decline in coming decades and by 2050 a third of the total would be over 65 years of age.

He said projections showed the total population was expected to decline by 2025 and the working-age population by 2011.

“Labour and skills shortages are already noticeable in a number of sectors and they will tend to increase,” he said.
- Reuters

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