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EU: European Commission Decides On Common Immigration Rules

Brussels, 11 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today decided to establish common EU rules of entry and residence for third-country nationals who have been offered work in the European Union.

If accepted by EU leaders at their Laaken, Belgium, summit in December, the new rules would introduce a single -- U.S. "green card"-style -- document and common criteria for the entry of foreign workers. The rules would also clarify the rights of third-country nationals working in the EU, and provide for centralizing statistical data on legal immigrants in the EU.

Outlining the proposal in Brussels today, EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Antonio Vitorino said that member states themselves would decide how many immigrant workers they need and what sectors of the economy to open for foreign specialists. Vitorino said that under the proposal, EU accession candidates would enjoy priority over other third countries.

"When fulfilling a job vacancy, first the [EU] member state should see if there are available people in the local job market, of course. Then [it must] consider 'community preference' [extending to other] member states, and enlarge this preference to candidate countries as soon as possible. And only at a third stage consider third-country nationals."

The preference the EU plans to accord to candidate countries would not affect the seven-year transitional curbs Germany and Austria plan to place on labor movement from new to old members after enlargement. While the curbs will delay the application of a certain part of EU law -- that providing for the free movement of labor within the bloc -- to new members, today's proposal only concerns those immigrant workers who current member states decide to exempt from existing national immigration curbs.

One of the aims of the commission's proposal is to lay down uniform rules for member states to undertake special national programs to meet what it calls "sectoral deficits" -- that is, worker shortages in certain sectors of the economy. The proposal notes these are often areas demanding high levels of specialization, which is reflected in relatively high rates of pay. A good example is the information technology (IT) sector, which some EU members -- notably Germany -- have already started opening to foreign recruits.

Commissioner Vitorino today acknowledged that the proposed new rules would enhance the risk of a "brain drain," in which donor countries could lose highly skilled specialists essential for their own development to more developed and richer competitors in the EU. But, Vitorino said, this problem must be resolved outside immigration policy.

"I must be very frank -- don't ask immigration policy to solve problems that cannot be solved by immigration policy. There is an open-market competition for brains everywhere in the world, everywhere in the world. It's a worldwide competition. It's not immigration policy that is creating such competition, it's not immigration policy that can solve [the problem]."

Vitorino said the EU needed to tackle the brain drain problem in what he called close "partnership" with donor countries. It should, he said, try to ensure -- among other things -- that skilled immigrants remain in contact with their countries of origin and help promote development there.

Vitorino also said the new rules were not expected to root out illegal immigration into the EU, which in 1999 was estimated at 500,000 a year. Rather, he said, they would provide a transparent alternative channel for legal labor migration and reduce red tape on immigration.