We Should Use Migrants’ Potential

More international cooperation in vocational training and further education as well as legal pathways into the EU labor market would help,  says migration expert Matthias Lücke from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

Today it is hardly possible for non-EU citizens without a university degree to legally migrate to a European country for work. Due to restrictive regulations, the number of people who legally enter the EU as workers has declined for several years. At the same time, the number of irregular immigrants has increased.

Not only is the central Mediterranean route the world’s deadliest irregular migration route. As irregular migrants often depend on people smugglers, they are at a particular risk of being trafficked—especially when state institutions have broken down such as in Libya. Therefore, irregular migration may strengthen organized crime in countries of origin and destination and undermine social and labor standards.

In order to save lives and interrupt criminal structures, it is therefore necessary to offer potential migrants a viable alternative, create legal labor migration channels, and shift incentives from irregular towards regular migration. EU member states should expand legal employment opportunities for non-EU citizens from developing countries—particularly for individuals without a university degree who have (or will acquire) the necessary language and vocational skills. Given the labor market needs and skill shortages in many countries of origin and destination, an emphasis on vocational skills and training is crucial to avoiding a brain drain from poor countries.  "Countries of origin and destination should commit to cooperating more closely in establishing mutually recognized standards and curricula for vocational training and providing appropriate training opportunities," says Lücke.

Four challenges would have to be addressed in this regard:

  • Training standards and curricula should be attuned to labor market requirements in both countries of origin and destination;
  • vocational training may be modularized to overcome high formal requirements in some destination countries including Germany, by identifying and recognizing the crucial skills needed to perform many real-world jobs in a satisfactory manner;
  • regional cooperation, such as within the EU, may help to harmonize standards and curricula, going beyond existing bilateral cooperation; and finally,
  • a less restrictive visa regime for the purposes of vocational training, skill certification, and job search would facilitate direct personal contacts that are often essential for applicants to be matched to jobs and training opportunities.

The creation of legal labor migration channels will also help to establish a constructive dialogue on migration management with country of origin governments and populations, particularly in Africa. With a viable alternative to irregular migration, governments may become more willing to readmit their citizens from the EU after a failed asylum application. This will be crucial in making irregular migration less attractive.

Migration will remain an important issue for a long time to come. We can manage it to benefit not only migrants themselves, but also countries of origin and destination. There is clearly unmet demand in the EU for workers with documented vocational skills, which creates opportunities for immigrants without putting  local workers at risk.

Further Information:
"Building blocks for reforming the EU asylum and migration regime: Closing the back door while opening the front door." Chapter 2.3 of the 2017 MEDAM Assessment Report on Asylum and Migration Policies in Europe.
"To reduce irregular migration, destination countries should commit to creating more regular migration opportunities." Written submission to the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration consultation phase.
"To facilitate regular migration by workers with vocational skills, UN member states should cooperate to establish mutually recognized standards and curricula for vocational education and provide vocational training." Written submission to the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration consultation phase.