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Green Paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration

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Green Paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration

The main aim of the Green Paper is to launch a process of in-depth discussion involving the EU institutions, Member States and civil society on admission procedures for the economic migration of third-country nationals. The Commission proposes a number of initiatives for putting in place a common Community framework for economic immigration. It proposes, among other things, to adopt common criteria throughout the Union for the admission of third-country nationals, to simplify entry procedures and to clarify the rights and legal status of the different types of migrants. It also emphasizes the importance of accompanying measures for ensuring the sound management of immigration. At the end of this consultation process, the Commission will take on board the conclusions of the wide-ranging debate and before the end of 2005 will present an action plan on legal immigration, as provided for in The Hague Programme.


Green Paper of 11 January 2005 on an EU approach to managing economic migration [COM(2004) 811 - Not published in the Official Journal].


In its communication on immigration, integration and employment (COM(2003)336 final) and in the Green Paper "Confronting demographic change: new solidarity between generations" (COM(2005) 94 final), the Commission emphasized that, on account of demographic trends, a decline in employment could be expected after 2010. The reduction in the size of the labour force between 2010 and 2030 will be equivalent to some 20 million workers for the EU-25. Given the impact that demographic decline and population ageing will have on the economy and on European competitiveness, the Commission feels that more sustained immigration flows will be needed to meet the requirements of the European labour markets.

In the Commission's view, therefore, common criteria and rules that are transparent and more closely harmonised at European level need to be adopted for the admission of economic migrants.

Developing an EU approach to labour migration

Since the Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Union has had the necessary legal basis for adopting measures relating to certain areas of immigration policy. Nevertheless it is for the Member States to determine the number of third-country nationals that can be admitted. The Commission proposes a Community approach also because the decision to admit third-country nationals into the territory of a Member State inevitably affects the other Member States. Without common criteria for the admission of economic migrants, the number of third-country nationals illegally entering the territory of the European Union could increase. Common criteria are essential if the administrative burden of Member States and third-country nationals is to be reduced to a minimum.

Common criteria

In order to reach an agreement in the Council, the Commission will analyse the various harmonisation options available:

  • to create a comprehensive framework along the lines of the 2001 proposal, which sets out the conditions of entry and residence for any economic migrant;
  • to envisage a series of legislative proposals focusing on specific groups of migrants (for example, seasonal workers or inter-corporate transferees);
  • to examine the case for developing a common fast-track procedure for certain economic migrants.

The "Community preference" *

The principle of "Community preference" is defined in the following terms: "Member States will consider requests for admission to their territories for the purpose of employment only where vacancies in a Member State cannot be filled by national and Community manpower or by non-Community manpower resident on a permanent basis in that Member State and already forming part of that Member State's regular labour market". Generally, before admitting a third-country worker, Member States require proof that no one already part of the domestic labour market can fill the vacancy concerned, although there are exceptions for certain categories (research workers, etc.).

In terms of third-country nationals, it is stipulated that, as from January 2006 (Directive 2003/109/EC), long-term residents will enjoy the benefit of Community preference over potential migrants in the Member State of residence.

The Commission wonders whether Community preference (in relation to potential migrants who are outside the European Union) could also be granted to workers who are not - or not yet - permanent residents and who, for different reasons, are looking for a new job.

In addition, the Commission proposes to grant Community preference (in relation to those who have never worked in the European Union) to migrant workers who, having worked for some years in a Member State, returned temporarily to their country of origin and wish to return to work in that same Member State (in order to encourage circular migration).

The main objective - given labour market requirements in Europe - is to give the possibility of remaining or returning also to workers who are third-country nationals and who are already on the territory of and/or have worked legally in a Member State before leaving it following the expiry of their work permit. The aim of this proposal is to give migrants greater encouragement to become legal and, at the same time, to promote temporary migration and brain circulation. Especially within the context of circular migration, the granting of the Community preference could benefit migrants, their countries of origin and the European Union.

Intra-Community mobility

In order to respond more effectively to manpower shortages, the Commission would like to discuss the possibility of improving intra-Community mobility for third-country workers. Long-term residents will, from 2006 onwards, be able to move to and to establish themselves in a second Member State for study, work or other purposes.

With regard to workers who do not (yet) fulfil the conditions for obtaining the status of long-term resident, the Commission is wondering whether they should be given a more limited possibility than long-term residents of moving to and establishing themselves in a second Member State in order better to respond to national labour market requirements.

Admission systems

In order to decide when there is a need to recruit third-country nationals, very strict and more flexible conditions must be set out. Whatever system or systems are approved by the EU, they must be able to fill specific jobs and to meet recognised short-term and long-term labour market requirements.

There should also be a procedure for third-country nationals who wish to enter the EU in order to carry out an economic activity but who do not enter the European labour market.

The Commission lists possible criteria for determining whether there is a need to admit third-country nationals to the EU market:

  • an individual assessment - if, after a certain time, employers have not received acceptable applications within the EU labour market, they would be allowed to recruit from outside the EU (as a general rule), and
  • an annual income test, and/or
  • a certain skill level, and/or
  • a recognised need by sector and/or region in a Member State.

Responding to the needs for specific skills

To respond to the requirements for specific skills, the Commission proposes to set up a European selection system (e.g. according to experience, training, language skills and job offer). Alternatively, there could be several systems, e.g. one for low-skilled workers and another for medium/highly skilled workers. Here the Commission proposes to discuss the manner in which the European Public Employment Services (PES) and EURES could adapt.

With regard to third-country nationals who wish to be admitted for self-employment, the Commission proposes to harmonise the conditions of admission. Presentation of a detailed and financially viable business plan and proof of financial means could be required. For specific contracts concluded with a European client for less than one year, the Commission recommends more flexible procedures.

Applications for residence and work permits

In most Member States third-country nationals need to be in possession of a work permit for their application for a residence permit to be examined. The Green Paper envisages setting up a single national application procedure that would lead to one combined residence and work permit, thereby simplifying existing procedures.

Possibility of changing employer/sector

The Green Paper asks two questions here:

  • Should there be limitations on the mobility of the third-country worker inside the labour market of the Member State of residence?
  • Who should be the holder of the permit? The employer, the employee or should it be held jointly?

Legal status and rights

By specifying that third-country workers already enjoy certain rights under the acquis, the Green Paper recalls the issues that need to be considered in order to clarify the legal status of migrant workers:

  • should the enjoyment of certain rights be conditional on a minimum stay (principle of differentiation of rights as a function of length of stay)?;
  • should there be incentives, e.g. better conditions for family unification or for obtaining the status of long-term resident, to attract certain categories of third-country workers?

Accompanying measures: integration, return and cooperation with third countries

A successful European policy on economic migration requires that migration flows are managed in cooperation with the countries of origin and transit, taking into account their reality and needs. Some particularly sensitive issues must be examined as a priority:

  • the fact that the countries of origin invests in developing the skills of persons who will go to work abroad;
  • how to encourage brain circulation;
  • the accompanying and reception measures (introduction programme for the newly arrived, including language training and civil education);
  • the management of the return of temporary economic migrants and reintegration into their home society;
  • the possibility of granting certain third countries preference for the admission of their nationals, e.g. within the framework of the European neighbourhood policy or pre-enlargement strategies.


On the basis of the conclusions of the Tampere European Council in October 1999, the European Union has started to draw up an overall policy on migration. Several directives have already been adopted:

In 2001 the Commission proposed a directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of paid employment or self-employed economic activities. However, the debate in the Council was restricted to a first reading of a text.

The Commission has taken into consideration the reservations and concerns expressed by the Member States during the debate on this 2001 proposal for a directive and relaunched the debate on the basis of the alternative proposals presented in this Green Paper. In June 2005 the Commission also organised a public hearing so that the matter could be discussed by all the various actors involved. The responses presented at this public hearing have been published on the Freedom, Justice and Security website.

Key terms used in the act

  • Community preference: Member States will consider requests for admission to their territories for the purpose of employment only where vacancies in a Member State cannot be filled by national or Community manpower or by non-Community manpower locally resident on a permanent basis in that Member State and already forming part of that Member State's regular labour market. The Accession Treaty of 16 April 2003 gives preference to workers who are nationals of the Member States over workers who are nationals of third countries as regards access to Member States' labour markets (Council resolution of 20 June 1994, in connection with Council Regulation (EEC) No 1612/68

Last updated: 13.11.2007