Expanding legal labour migration pathways to the EU: Will this time be different?

The European Commission’s recently published “New Pact on Migration and Asylum” calls on EU member states to increase legal labour migration pathways, including for lower-skilled workers. To help achieve this goal, the Pact proposes greater and more effective cooperation with non-EU countries through so-called “Talent Partnerships”.

These proposals are not new. The idea of partnerships with non-EU countries that include expanded labour migration programmes was at the heart of the EU’s “Global Approach to Migration” launched in 2005, and this approach has been further discussed and developed over the past 15 years. These ideas, however, have never led to a significant opening of European labour markets to lower-skilled non-EU workers.

An obvious question therefore arises: Will this time be different? Will EU member states (which have primary competence in regulating labour immigration from outside the EU) engage with non-EU countries to develop new policies that expand legal labour migration opportunities in meaningful ways? Will these opportunities be inclusive of low- and medium-skilled workers?

While there are clearly many reasons to be sceptical, the actual answer depends on whether there have been any changes in the fundamental dynamics and ideas that drive policymaking on labour immigration in EU member states, given that these have long discouraged increased immigration of low- and medium-skilled workers from non-EU countries.

This is an abstract of a paper published by Martin Ruhs.