EU told to open door to 20m migrant workers
By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
Last Updated: 2:27am BST 17/09/2007
A huge increase in economic migration into the EU is being proposed by the European Commission.
It wants to relax controls and open the borders to an extra 20 million workers from Asia and Africa over the next two decades.
That would more than double the present non-EU resident population now living in the 27 member states. It now stands at about 18 million out of a total of around 490 million.
The Commission is drawing up a new ''blue card'' scheme – modelled on the American ''green card'' work permit – allowing qualified migrants the right to live, work and travel in the EU.
The plan marks a renewed push to convince member states to adopt a single fast-track immigration policy.
Despite greater harmonisation in recent years, EU countries still operate their own programmes and quotas.
Britain is not signed up to common EU borders, but would still be affected if the plans went ahead.
Under the commission's proposals, once overseas migrants had been in an EU state for five consecutive years they would be free to travel where they wished.
The Tories said the British ''opt in'' to EU asylum and immigration plans would be rendered pointless by such a policy.
“Under these proposals anyone who has lived for five years anywhere in the EU would be allowed to stay permanently,'' said David Davis, the shadow home secretary.
He added: “Since this would be in addition to already large-scale immigration, the stress placed on housing, public services and community relations in the UK would be enormous.
“It is vital that the UK Government retains complete control over who is allowed to come to the UK.
“It should not allow the EU to create loopholes that would make a mockery of a sensible, well-balanced immigration system.”
The new EU policy was outlined by Franco Frattini, the EU justice commissioner, at a conference of immigration ministers in Portugal yesterday.
He said Europe needed labour, both skilled and unskilled, because of a fall in the population of working age. America was also attracting more qualified workers than were coming to the EU, Mr Frattini added.
He said that while illegal immigration had to be curtailed, skilled migrants should be ''actively encouraged''.
“We have to look at immigration as an enrichment and as an inescapable phenomenon of today's world, not as a threat.
“We should take more account of what statistics tell us: 85 per cent of unskilled labour goes to the EU and only five per cent to the USA, whereas 55 per cent of skilled labour goes to the USA and only five per cent to the EU. We have to reverse these figures with a new vision.”
Mr Frattini said that despite recent EU expansion pushing the bloc's total population to 490 million, the working population was declining.
By 2050, a third of residents in the 27 countries would be aged over 65.
He said countries with rapid recent economic growth, such as Ireland and Spain, had benefited from the inflow of skilled workers from elsewhere in the EU and beyond.
“All skill levels are required,” Mr Frattini said. “The challenge is to attract the workers needed to fill specific gaps.”
He said immigration was still a far too negatively loaded term in Europe, and that had to change.
EU members states all operate different skilled immigration programmes.
Britain is moving to a points-based work permit system from next year aimed at attracting more skilled workers and removing settlement rights from unskilled migrants.
Germany requires a job offer with a minimum salary of 85,000 euros (58,000) a year for migrants who are hoping to get a work permit.
With growing signs that the world economy may be about to go into reverse after years of growth, the commission's proposals could run into stiff opposition from member states worried about high unemployment.
There are also anti-migrant tensions in parts of Europe that would be stoked by an open door approach.
However, Jose Socrates, the prime minister of Portugal, which currently holds the EU presidency, urged support for the proposal.
He said it was crucial to meet labour shortages and curb illegal immigration and people trafficking.
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