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Europe: European Countries Differ On Immigration

New life in the West? Immigration continues to be a hot topic in many European countries -- but they are dealing with it in different ways. Denmark's prime minister has just been re-elected on the back of support for his anti-immigration policies. Britain this week unveiled plans to restrict immigration by making it harder for unskilled foreigners to work there. But at the same time, Spain has offered an amnesty to nearly one million illegal workers.

Prague, 9 February 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Long lines of foreign workers stood outside Spanish labor offices this week.

Their aim -- to take advantage of an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

To qualify, they must have a work contract, a clean criminal record, and prove they've been in Spain for at least six months.

Reuters spoke to one Latin American hopeful in Barcelona.

"I have a little more confidence because of the documents my boss gave me," Man said.

Spain's amnesty appears to run counter to immigration proposals unveiled 7 February in the United Kingdom.

There, Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced plans that will make it harder for unskilled migrants to come and work in the United Kingdom. Instead, hopefuls will be graded according to what skills they have.

"The system we have at present works well, but it's complex and difficult to understand. Therefore, we will bring all our current schemes for work and student migrants into one simple points-based system. This will ensure that we are only taking migrants for jobs that cannot be filled from our own workforce and that we're focusing on the skilled workers we need most," Clarke said.

Other European Union member countries, too, have made -- or are considering -- changes to their immigration rules.

Germany at the start of this year eased entry for certain skilled workers.

The Netherlands plans to introduce a requirement that new immigrants pass a Dutch language test.

Both those countries criticized the Spanish amnesty, saying it would attract more illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, France has been debating the idea of introducing quotas for skilled migrants.

Some within the EU want it to move towards a common policy on immigration. But the area is still very much in the hands of national governments, says Sergio Carrera of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

"At national level, these issues are very sensitive and also we may see cases in which politicians tend to use it at national elections. The issue of economic labor migration is one of the hottest at national level. We may see this at EU level, the difficulty to achieve common agreement on this aspect," Carrera said.

Recent moves by individual countries appear to be divergent. But on closer scrutiny, they have a similar purpose, says Ryszard Piotrowicz, a migration expert at the University of Wales.

They're selecting the migrants they need -- and clamping down further on those they don’t want.

"The UK and Spain and most other European countries are trying to achieve the same thing, which is to control migration and pick -- as far as they can -- educated migrants who have something to contribute to the local economy. They will allow people in from particular sectors or categories where they have something to contribute. That's something that works for countries because it fills an immediate gap and they get people cheap, they're not paying for them to be trained. It can be effective," Piotrowicz said.

Such schemes to attract skilled foreigners are one way of dealing with Europe's ageing workforce and falling birth rates.

Simultaneously closing the door to unskilled migrants may also be more acceptable to the general public in those countries where many people fear being "swamped" by immigrants.

In Spain's case, many illegal workers will miss out on the amnesty as they don't have the right papers.

But Carrera says member states need to "face the reality" that the EU will continue to be a destination for more and more immigrants.

"What we need to do is establish a coherent framework to facilitate legal channels for migrants and economic migrants, instead of basically closing borders and doing tougher immigration regulations which anyhow are not going to have the effect of preventing migration," Carrera said.

Migrants will head to Europe, he says, whatever policies individual EU member states adopt.