Impressions from the European Migration Forum

On 6-7 April I participated in the European Migration Forum, organised by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee. The theme was ‘sustainable labour migration and successful integration’.

The Commission communication ‘towards a reform of the Common European Asylum System and enhancing legal avenues to Europe’ stirred reactions from the participants. Oddly, it was not foreseen to be released on the same day and thus was not on the agenda of the Forum. Many participants therefore gathered to discuss it during the self-organised space that was given for topics of their own choice. The main points of concerns were the absence of addressing family reunification as a legal avenue for entering the EU, and its implicit encouragement to favour temporary residence permits over permanent ones, which may have serious implications on both integration and social rights. Social Platform will have a closer look at the communication, especially as the last sentence promises that the Commission will come up with concrete proposals in the light of the feedback they receive.

Matthias Ruete, Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs in the Commission explained that the communication aims to encourage migration to the EU, protect those in need and promote integration policies. On the question of when the Commission expects our inputs, Mr Ruete responded that it depends on how quickly Member States want a proposal. Addressing concerns about temporary residence permits, Mr Ruete stated the fact that 2.3 million third-country nationals got permits in 2014 illustrates the EU’s openness to allowing people to stay.

On behalf of Social Platform, l was elected to the European Migration Forum’s Bureau. I will coordinate the exchange of information with our members and the European Platform on Asylum and Migration. I will also call for a meaningful civil dialogue where we are a part of the agenda-setting, outcomes and follow-up. The Forum was organised according to a participatory methodology, which according to some allowed for more interaction but at the same time was not sufficiently linked to the relevant policy processes of the EU institutions.

‘There is no quick fix… we need to rethink our approach in a changing reality’, said Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. The Commissioner emphasised the importance of involving civil society in both agenda-setting and implementation. He highlighted that the Commission communication addresses skills shortages, the transposition of the Seasonal Workers Directive, and that the Commission will revisit the Student and Research Directive and the Blue Card Directive. Furthermore, the Commission will make a comprehensive assessment of EU legal frameworks to address low-skilled work and identifying gaps in managing labour migration. The EU will support Member States with an Integration Action Plan, which is currently being drafted.

Two of the workshops focused on access to the labour market and the role of the local level, and aimed at feeding into the EU Integration Action Plan. The other two were on low- and medium-skilled migration and undeclared work and labour exploitation – areas where EU actions are not foreseen but where discussions could perhaps pave the way for new initiatives in the long-term.

I took part in the workshop on low-skilled workers as it focused on domestic and care work, a topic that Social Platform has been paying close attention to. Initially it was clarified that low-skilled workers include domestic cleaners, the agriculture sector, mining and manufacturing. Medium-skilled workers include clerks and the service, craft, trade and construction sectors. I mentioned how public service cuts have led to increasing numbers of migrant women providing domestic services, allowing women in medium- and high-skilled occupations to better reconcile work and family life. Our position on investing in services and gender equality includes a recommendation urging Member States to ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention ILO 189 on domestic work (only Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Germany and Italy have ratified it so far). Participants also discussed how de-institutionalisation leads to a greater need for care services for children and older people, and the importance of recognising and valuing the domestic care sector. A low-wage job does not necessarily imply low-skill, and migrants often end up de-skilled as they cannot access employment that makes use of their qualifications. Most participants favored the introduction of legislation that would protect all workers’ rights, irrespective of sector and skills. Sector-specific laws risk creating different levels of rights and protections.