The EU Blue Card Proposal: Some Food-for-Thought and a Gender Perspective

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On 7 June 2016, the European Commission presented the proposal for the reform of the 2009 EU Blue Card scheme[1]. The proposal has as its main aim: to attract qualified and talented third country nationals to the European Union based on labour market demand and an offer of employment. Along with revamping the existing rules, the new proposal aims to: (1) establish a single EU wide scheme (instead of in parallel with national ones); (2), enhance intra-EU mobility of professionals; and (3), strengthen the rights of both Blue Card holders and their family members. On July 2017, the EU Council agreed on a mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament on the new proposal which is currently on-going[2].

The purpose of this piece is not to provide a comprehensive legal review of the new EU Blue Card proposal, or to appraise the different opinions and critiques raised to date by different parties. This I leave for the reader’s review and interpretation, while recommending the EP Briefing “Revision of EU Card Directive”[3], as a sound piece, encompassing an overview of the process and opinions. Instead, I offer some food-for-thought while pondering on the overall main aim of the scheme, where I believe it is noteworthy to consider taking a wider look at the qualitative aspects of the 2009 experience. In my opinion, qualitative evidence could help to broaden our understanding vis-à-vis the goals of the new proposal, in particular its attractiveness to Europe and a gender perspective.  As such, I would like to suggest that more qualitative evidence, especially regarding outcomes for the beneficiaries, gender aspects and a closer look at the economic sectors which made greater use of the 2009 scheme be considered. This is so, since deepening our knowledge of those three aspects might yield evidence which could be useful in the process of developing, implementing (and adapting) new and on-going schemes which are moving towards better results in the global competition for talent.

In fact, this piece resulted from my reading of the new proposal after curious probing on two aspects: What are some of the outcomes (from a qualitative standpoint) which result from the experiences of those beneficiaries[4] of EU Blue Card, including migrants, their partners as well as employers who have participated in the program? Also, in parallel what are the outcomes which result from the most sought after national schemes? Below, I shall consider some of the aspects in my introduction.

Qualitative Data and Evaluation

Based on the readings of the EU Blue Card evaluation, I was left with several unanswered questions, including: (1) Which economic sectors have benefited the most from the scheme? (2) What was the  breakdown of gender composition of main applicants? And (3) what was the outcome for family members, in particular spouses/partners in relation to labour market integration?

Information on these three issues could have established a better understanding of some of the aspects at play in relation to the experience of beneficiaries of the program[5]. Moreover, the inclusion of more qualitative data on the experience of beneficiaries (ie. career trajectories, challenges, opportunities, professional outcomes, etc.) would have provided added value (ie. building of a rich profile of participants) to feed into the evaluation process towards new program development. Especially as to whom we are attracting, whom we are missing and where our efforts should be improved in order to attract the talent Europe seeks. In the end, I believe that a broad understanding of the participants’ experiences can also throw light onto important issues, such as potential gaps in need of addressing from the perspective of users, as well as key features which render the experience of coming to Europe attractive beyond the scheme per se. Hence, information which can be useful in future promotions of the new EU Blue Card to attract other potential candidates and employers to join the scheme. Furthermore, collection and analysis of qualitative data is a useful means towards identifying potential unintended consequences regarding overall professional development and the well-being of those on the mobile path[6] (eg. deskilling & trade-off where professionals accept employment which is better paid in country of destination, but offering less opportunity for future growth and development).

Additionally, knowledge of the most prevalent sectors, which have benefited from the 2009 EU Blue Card arrangement, may help to avert pre-conception when designing new schemes, since there is a tendency in literature to over-generalize and promote highly-skilled workers on the basis of ICT and business management professionals. Both of these sectors are more prone to flexible working agreements and reliability on mobility compared, for example, with ‘health care provider’, even though the “health sector is a major source of employment” in the EU[7]. As a result, a narrow “vision” of which sector one is catering to, may be leading policy makers to place excessive focus on the long-term potentiality of regional mobility (intra-EU mobility/multiple change of residence) as an intrinsic “added value” for beneficiaries, as opposed to considering other areas which may be a more relevant value added. For example, by shortening the length of time required for the acquisition of permanent residence, thus diminishing the potential number of renewals of work permits, promoting greater stability while diminishing the dependency on employers. In fact, I wonder, is de facto intra-regional mobility a must to most employers and workers who benefited from the previous scheme, that is, was long-term regional mobility a limitation to the capacity of employers and workers to function well and deliver services in the EU, or was it an “annoyance” and a cost added to business and beneficiaries that warrants being eliminated? I probe, because although highly-skilled workers who are EU citizens enjoy Free Movement; nevertheless, most don’t take advantage of it in terms of long-term relocation for employment purposes, while a large number take advantage of it for short-term study and short-term assignment.

Following the inquiry on added value, if one considers health care workers and their employers, long-term mobility may hinder their ability to ensure service delivery, stability and quality control. On the other hand, short-term mobility usually enhances professional development and network opportunities (ie. participation in short-term trainings and teaching opportunities, conferences, etc.), thus in administrative terms, procedures should always be simplified in order to facilitate the process for the employers and workers, as a good business practice. However, from a sector perspective, perhaps one should consider that doctors and nurses maybe less interested in opportunities for long-term regional mobility than the incentives of long-term contracts; affordable and shortened accreditation processes; opportunities for career progression and a good package of integration services. These could well be the ‘real’ added-values of a scheme that aims to attract and retain foreign workers in a highly competitive healthcare sector worldwide [8]. Studies on the mobility of the highly-skilled have echoed numerous times that expectations of career advancement are equally or even more important than financial gains[9]. In fact, in some sectors on-going mobility may not be the “ticket” to satisfaction or advancement at a given point in their professional career, nor desirable from a standpoint of family integration to the host community.

What is more, both health care providers and their patients understand that good service depends not only on individual technical skills but on the ability of health care professionals to integrate and perform those skills in a given cultural context. In essence, to function efficiently and effectively, a system integrating international health care professionals requires an investment of time and skills on the part of both the migrant professionals and their employers, as well as hands-on experience and development of confidence and trust in the professional/client relationship.

I concur with experts that the digital sector is one of exponential growth in our century. However, for years to come, the health and care sectors remain one of the most important in the European Union for job growth and sustainable well-being, due to demographic trends pointing to an aging society. In fact, most Europeans still prefer to be cared for and assisted by fellow human beings rather than robots and computer programs. Technology may be a great facilitator of services, however, no App can substitute for a therapeutic conversation or provide the necessary support for those with mental illnesses and/or their families brought about by old age conditions (ie. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.). In my opinion, before becoming too caught up on technical aspects of schemes, it is important to consider some over-arching questions in relation to potential fields of economic growth in years to come and specific sectors employing highly-skilled workers. For example, if we take health care – how are healthcare professionals already contributing to the healthcare services in Europe? How can this group of healthcare professionals contribute to future healthcare requirements in the EU? How do those healthcare practices relate to the different needs of migrant communities residing in Europe (ie. bilingual services, cross-cultural understanding, etc.)? What are the needs and aspiration of highly-skilled healthcare professionals and those of their family members?

In fact, I propose that greater attention should be given to schemes such as the EU Blue Card and their accompanied measures, which reflect the needs of foreign professionals for extended sustainable career prospects, since this inherent inclusion within an overall strategy would go a long way to attract talent, while in the case of health workers to assure patients’ wellbeing. Hence a better balance between the interest of migrant professionals and those of the host community they are serving may make Europe more attractive than other places.

Another relevant point of observation on the need for qualitative evidence relates to assessment and an opportunity to gain a broader understanding of the different issues at stake moving beyond the usual economic and legal matters. Highly-skilled migration schemes operating in receptive countries of immigration as, for example, Canada, have gone through continuous policy evaluations and reviews[10].  These reviews are broad and inclusive of many issues, including gender dimensions, outcomes and the wellbeing of beneficiaries, especially their integration into the labour market. Evaluation of outcomes to beneficiaries is a critical aspect of policy review, especially since our knowledge based on the highly-skilled professional is greatly influenced by a macro-economic view of a “challenge-free-migration” paradigm. However, such state-of-play renders the pleas and challenges of highly-skilled workers “invisible” to policy makers, social services and other relevant stakeholders. Perhaps, if individual Member States carried out a more qualitative review of national schemes as part of their highly-skilled migration work program, this information should be shared under the guise of “lessons learned”, as well as considered when building new regional/national schemes. It is important to underscore that it was the very criticism based on empirical evidence by scholars in Canada on the mismatch and underemployment of highly-skilled immigrants which also contributed to changes in policy from a mainly supply-driven system (ie. “point-system”) to the introduction of demand-driven schemes (ie. “expression of interest”).

Expression of interest” schemes, place employment contracts as one of the decisive elements of a successful application, subsequent immigration and the right to remain in countries implementing this system. Experts may differ in their views over the “pros and cons” of a demand-driven system, nevertheless, I agree that having a job in one’s professional field upon arrival in the country of destination is a crucial element which assists positive movement towards an optimal integration into the labour market. In addition, appropriate employment upon arrival is a major advantage in order to avoid major pitfalls in the process, such as loss of skills due to an unemployment period and costs related to mobility (ie. loss of wages and use of savings, increased isolation, anxiety and other mental health issues, loss of professional networks, undermining of professional identity, to name a few). However, as noted by academia and migrants alike, the greatest risks connected to a failed international work experience are borne by migrant workers and their family members; hence the plea by Olsson to reconsider a more beneficial balanced allocation of risks for migrants embedded in labour mobility schemes[11].

I take this opportunity to underscore, that based on research and work experience we know a great deal about the challenges and limited opportunities of low-skilled workers. In comparison, there is little evidence from ethnographic studies on the outcome and wellbeing of highly-skilled workers. In fact, most of the evidence I have gathered has come through the use of qualitative interviews and focus groups in a few studies. Such a research approach has provided rich material and a broader perspective of highly-skilled migrants. For example, based on a number of interviews, Mozetic[12] demonstrated that the self-image and identification of highly-skilled workers interviewed for her study was overwhelmingly related to their professional identity (ie. doctor/health care professionals), compared to the legal category (ie. asylum seekers/refugees), assigned to them. These findings represent an important dimension in support of the new EU Blue Card proposal regarding the inclusion of beneficiaries of international protection. In fact, research efforts looking at the professional trajectory of highly-skilled asylum seekers and refugees is much needed in order to identify common challenges and opportunities based on their experience in relation to integration into the labour market, as well as building an alternative narrative as contributors.

Gender Dimension … a missing perspective

Another added value that a qualitative based evaluation of the EU Blue Card regime could bring to the table is the potential to identify unnoticed aspects that could discourage the movement of highly-skilled workers to Europe. For example, Article 16, Paragraph 6 of the new EU Blue Card proposal concerning access to the labour market by family members, allows Member States to continue with labour market tests, instead of granting automatic access to employment without additional hurdles for partners/spouses. If one takes into account the years of experience and reporting from private sector companies (which rely on highly-skilled mobile employees), one is faced with an important discouraging factor in the equation of attracting experienced candidates for an assignment abroad[13]. Namely, double-career couples, where the accompanying spouse is not willing to leave his or her employment. Dual-career partnership is an important element in this equation due to the high level of declining relocation[14]. In fact, some good companies have attempted to provide services in support of a second career partner, including public institutions, such as universities and the private sector, as an attractive career incentive mechanism. From a gender perspective, most accompanying spouses are women who may have an established career in their country of origin/residence. Consequently, movement without employment, additional labour market “tests”, combined with a prospect of long-term unemployment in the country of destination is professionally downgrading/or disastrous careerwise, and potentially financially damaging for both.

Additional administrative hurdles like “labour market tests” pose a particular challenge to foreign professionals given the levels of unemployment in Europe, combined with other barriers in the labour market (ie. language skills, validation and acceptance of foreign degrees and work experience, preference for local professionals by employers, etc.), thus contributing to make the EU potentially less attractive. From a gender perspective, notwithstanding the progress made on family reunification rights and residence in the EU Blue Card proposal, it may not be gender-sensitive or attractive enough when considering the position of spouse/partners of main applicants regarding long term employment, career and financial prospects. Besides, I wonder what is the reason behind the need to curb the possibility of having a partner/spouse employed in the labour market which justifies additional administrative hurdles for them? In the end, additional “market tests” for spouses/partners (comprised mostly of women) can amount to de facto discriminatory measures against women which runs contrary to the EU agenda which promotes gender equality.

Attempts to balance negative prospects may be possible by eliminating the possibility of any additional “tests” after admission[15], combined with a work-permit, as well as adding access to appropriate supporting services for partners seeking employment.  This has the potential to strengthen service provisions and programs directly linked to employment prospects for family members of EU Blue Card holders. Effective services in support of enabling labour-market access may serve as an attractive element in the decision-making process when choosing a given destination (see example of Dual Career programs). It is important to highlight that access and support to job searches should not be viewed as “cost-added” but rather as an investment towards an additional worker in the labour market as well as a potential economic/social contributor to the host society.

Overall, lack of qualitative evidence hinders our understanding and may be in part due to stakeholders’ preferences for large-scale macro-economic overviews, allocation of limited funds for qualitative studies, along with the popular “cost-effective” desk reviews. However, it is important to consider that excessive reliance on overviews of highly-skilled workers may be obscuring our vision concerning the challenges and opportunities experienced by this category, while uncovering new arguments that could be useful in attracting greater numbers of talented third country nationals to Europe.This is particularly acute, as we experience a rapidly changing environment of work and business practice.

Without doubt, the greatest attracting factors for highly-skilled workers to a given destination remain the tangible prospects of  successful integration into the labour market as a whole, including enjoying thriving professional ecosystems and future career/business prospects. Therefore, access to a healthy and strong labour market remains a strong factor accounting for why certain destinations will continue to attract more highly-skilled workers compared to others. Moreover, employment and mobility are viewed by the highly-skilled as an investment, encompassing risks and opportunities for both self and family members. Then perhaps the on-going labour market segmentation and erosion of stable work contracts may count as one of the strongest factors undermining the goal of attracting professionals to a given destination. When considering regional mobility as added value, it is important to realize that company transferees differ from self-initiators, since the former can bear multiple long-term movements as they remain with the same employer, while the latter have to seek and secure employment, along with bearing the costs and challenges of setting up in each new residence[16].

For these reasons, perhaps it is important to take an in-depth look into the experiences of highly-skilled intra-EU mobiles when considering potential differences of integration outcomes in the labour market in relation to their counterparts (ie. third country nationals). For example, recognition and esteem of professional experience assigned by local employers, as well as established professional networks through previous study/or short-term work experience in a given country of destination may contribute to a more successful path[17].  Note that more on the parallel experiences between intra-EU mobiles and third country migrants can be found by consulting previous posts and references on this page.

In conclusion, as negotiations of the proposal on a new EU Blue Card regime continue, greater effort is needed to focus on what is of common interest and value vis-à-vis the aims of the Directive – to attract and retain workers, while contributing to the economic growth of the Union within the spirit and agenda of achieving gender equality for the benefit of all involved. It is important to underline that migration schemes are simply frameworks enabling the process, and that the crucial element in the “attraction equation” remains a healthy, prosperous, and sustainable socio-economic environment – exactly what one would consider when looking at a prospective investment. This is especially true when the “investment” is one’s life and career prospect, along with those of family members.

 

 

[1] “Directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purpose of highly-skilled employment”, COM(2016) 378 final

[2] http://data.consilium.europa.eu/doc/document/CM-1420-2018-INIT/en/pdf

[3] EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service, Author: Martina Prpic , Members’ Research Service
,PE 603.942, 12/12/2017

[4] Information on challenges and opportunities, professional outcomes, well-being, support services, etc.

[5] Missing information is due to a lack of data collected by Member States on those items. See footnote of evaluation.

[6] POCARIM, ERANET, etc.

[7]EU governments spend an average of 15% of their budgets on health, making it one of the largest and fastest growing areas of expenditure…The health sector is a major source of employment, and timely access to high quality healthcare contributes to social inclusion”, e-news, Public Health, European Commission, 2018 http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/sante/newsletter-specific-archive-issue.cfm?newsletter_service_id=327&

[8] “The Growing field of Health Care”, http://www.careerprofiles.info/growing-healthcare-industry.html

[9] To name a few, most recent article of korpela &pitkanen “Temporary Migration between the EU and Asia”, Pathways towards Legal Migration into the EU, CEPS, 2017.

[10] OSCE, “Gender and Labour Migration Trainer’s Manual”, 2010.

[11] Olsson, P., “Fair allocation of risks: a challenge for labour migration systems”, Pathways towards Legal Migration into the EU, CEPS, 2017

[12] Mozetic, Katarina, “ Being Highly-skilled and a Refugee: Experiences of non-European Physicians in Sweden”, MA Thesis, Malmo University, 2015.

[13] Riusala, K and V. Suutari, “Expatriation and careers: Perspectives of expatriates and spouses”, Career Development International 5/2, 2000

[14] Atlas World Group, 50th Annual Corporate Relocation Survey Results, 2017

[15] Permits Foundation have echo calls for elimination of test in a letter to MEP, Permits Foundation 14/06/2014

[16] See Reference page for articles on self-initiators.

[17] Avoto, J. Dynamics in Highly-skilled Migration: A European Perspective, Inaugural-Dissertation, Hannover, 2009

2018 International Women’s Day: A Time to Include and #PressforProgress

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Every year, International Women’s Day serves as a reminder to where we stand in relation to gender gap around the world, and during which much of the advocacy on behalf of women and girls is centred on key imperative themes, such as: gender based-violence, discrimination, and the absence of equal rights and opportunities, including women in leadership position. However, we should not forget to use this day as an opportunity to also celebrate with friends, colleagues and supporters of gender equality, whilst reflecting and taking stock of progress, stagnation and retreat around us. According to the World Economic Forum While women worldwide are closing the gap in critical areas such as health and education, significant gender inequality persists in the workforce and in politics. Given current rates of change, [the] Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity.”[1]

Based on empirical evidence, just as the one cited from the Global Gender Gap Report, there is much work ahead if we want to break down barriers and glass ceilings towards gender parity; and yet, unless we gather and share our stories and vision, the road forward feels too lengthy for anyone/or any entity to journey alone. Above and beyond, “travelling” in good company is always more fruitful and an enriching process, especially for those invested in social change for the greater good of a broad community of which we are connected. Social media is a great tool, but as Gloria Steinem[2], reminded us through her experience on the road, it takes community organization and social movement to bring forward real change and tangible results in a sustainable and inclusive manner. What’s more, there is something magical that happens when people get together and share their experiences and aspirations, because it is through this process that we find community and willpower to move forward within shared goals. In Steinem’s words, “Over time and far from home, I discover something I might never otherwise have learned: people in the same room understand and empathise with each other in a way that isn’t possible on the page or screen…On the road, I learned that the media are not reality; reality is reality”.

Perhaps, as we live in what feels an intense period of transition, the 2018 International Women’s Day may carry on a special significance in light of a growing interest, effort and platforms where women’s voices around the world are raising common concerns in relation to gender equality and the need for action. As such, more women are actively participating and contributing in small or bigger roles as agents of change. As the UN IWD theme for 2018[3] emphasizes the need to transform the current momentum into action[4], let us not forget the large numbers of migrant women on the move, including professional women at regional and international level. In recent years, international migration has taken centre stage, not always for the greater good of migrants and intra-regional movers themselves and their families, thanks in part to some segments of society who insist to portrait migrants as “drivers of crisis”, instead of potentials for opportunities.

According to the OECD “World Migration in Figures” 2013, women comprise about 48% of all international migrants worldwide, while the proportion of highly educated immigrants in OECD countries has risen dramatically in recent years. Moreover, when looking at highly skilled migrant women, the OECD underscores that “in many countries of origin, the share of tertiary educated women who were living outside their country of birth was higher than for men. This difference reached 10 percentage points in 2010/11” for some countries in Africa, thus leading analysts to conclude that brain drain is more pronounced amongst women than men. On the whole, despite research efforts in the field of highly skilled migration, experts continue calling for the improvement in data collection and analysis in order to have a comprehensive overview of the issue from a gender perspective. In addition, comprehensive data could also support in the effort to raise the level of visibility among key stakeholders of this group of migrant/intra-regional mobile workers.

Against this background, in general migration debates are still silent and dismissive over the disadvantages and challenges faced by female highly skilled migrants (including intra-EU mobile citizens). Instead, most interlocutors prefer to overlook and label this category as mainly “privileged expats”.  Since we live in interesting times full of complexities, perhaps it is time to question our assumptions based on outdated stories of expatriation, and look at realities of a labour market in transition, in an economy where finance and automation is the motto. As such, consider for a moment the following issues: dual-career couples; gender bias in accessing economic opportunities in country of origin as a driver to migration (including amongst Member States in the European Union); transnational income differentials between origin and destination country; and last but not least – youth unemployment in the context of young professionals in search of jobs in the European Union – yes not your average picture of a “migrant worker”. Moreover, as we continue on this perspective, maybe it is time to break the silos towards identifying the communalities between migrants, intra-regional mobiles and “expats” which unite us as a category instead of divide us on the basis of perceived or de facto privileges and outcomes. The latter proposition would also entail breaking up silos among experts and practitioners in the field of human resources, business management, migration, diversity, employment and gender equality, so as to work in a truly interdisciplinary way centred on the challenges and opportunities in relation to international migration/intra-reginal mobility of professionals. What’s more, such an interdisciplinary approach may render us better equipped towards identifying gaps and potential actions that could enable us to harness the full potential of female migrant/intra-EU mobile professionals to flourish and contribute to the community at large, hence addressing untapped/unused talent and expertise.

Migrant women is certainly an issue to be included as part of the debates on International Women’s Day, but leaving female migrant/intra-EU mobile professionals out of the discussion is a mistake, because one will fail to notice key themes around gender equality, work and international mobility that should be part of the conversation. Themes which may directly affect the integration and well-being of female professionals, such as: quality of employment, advancement of women in the labour market, “leaky” pipeline, unemployment, underutilization of skills, disadvantage, unconscious bias, de facto diversity in the work place, underrepresentation, and “brain-drain” to name a few. What’s more, by dismissing the subject of highly skilled migrant women from the debate one risks to ignore this groups’ de facto socio-economic contribution to society, as well as their on-going and potential involvement as agents and advocates working towards the advancement of women’s issues at national and transnational levels. Female highly skilled migrants make up the bulk of health care professionals working around the world, as such should we care to know more about their contribution to our community, along with their challenges?  Should one try to involve those migrant/mobile health-care professionals by making their stories and concerns more visible to the community at large (where they serve), including among advocates working with other migrant groups?  When I share my work interests with professional migrant/intra-EU mobile women in conversation, there is always a connection and a space opening in which they finally feel that they can talk about issues affecting them most, including a relief to know that their challenges are not based on individual notions around the myths of meritocracy, but rather on structural constraints affecting them in the labour market and beyond.

In conclusion, reflecting on IWD 2018, times of transition, social movements, communication and a genuine desire for positive change, I remembered an important lesson Steinem underscored to those who want to be part of social change that feels empowering and long lasting…In her words: “Then and now, we take the road to hold communal meetings where listeners can speak, speakers can listen, facts can be debated, and empathy can create trust and understanding[5]. As we approach the 8th March deliberations, may you endeavour to get to know and to include the experience and voices of highly skilled women on the move[6] in your work and communal meetings. Likewise, as for those international professionals, let’s celebrate and share with our peers, supporters and friends our experiences and lessons learned, so together we too can strengthen ongoing initiatives or initiate a greater collective of voices calling for and acting towards change which is inclusive of ALL.

Happy International Women’s Day to all, and may the efforts employed by those involved in making gender parity a reality in political leadership[7] inspire other bodies to leap forward, because “Empowering women requires women in power”.[8]

 

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/women-leaders-key-to-workplace-equality

[2] Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, 2015

[3] 2018 theme: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives” http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/

[4] Especially actions in relation to rural and urban activists working to change women’s lives.

[5] Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, 2015

[6] Professionals defined under the category of immigrants, migrants, third country nationals, expat, asylum seekers, refugees, and intra-EU mobile citizens.

[7] http://iknowpolitics.org/en/news/world-news/canadian-prime-minister-names-50-50-cabinet; http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39948523

[8] https://epthinktank.eu/2017/03/13/empowering-women-requires-women-in-power/ ; http://redscope-consulting.com/women-leading-politics-european-parliament/

 

Intra-EU Mobility Platform: An idea whose time has come

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According to the 2016 Annual Report on Intra-EU Labour Mobility[1], in 2015 “a total of 8.5 million EU-28 movers were employed or looking for work, making up 3.6% of the total active population across” the European Union. Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain comprise the top three countries of residence, while “Germans, Italians, Polish, Portuguese and Romanians together make up more than half of all movers”[2]. The 2016 Annual Report contain a number of interesting features on intra-EU mobility, ranging from the economic integration of intra-EU workers to the experience of returnees and retirees. However, one of the issues which caught my attention was the findings on highly skilled workers, a category which continues to increase among intra-EU mobiles in recent years. According to the 2016 Annual Report:

“In general, the employment situation of EU-13 movers is still less favourable than that of EU-15 movers as indicated by a higher unemployment rate and by higher shares of persons carrying out low-skilled jobs. This seems to be disproportionate to their education structure and indeed, shares of recent EU-13 movers reporting to be over-qualified for their jobs are particularly high (37%, compared to 27% of EU-15 movers and 20% of nationals). Lack of language skills in the host country’s language appears to be the main (known) obstacle to getting a job among all movers, followed by a lack of recognition of their qualifications (especially for EU-13 movers) … Among EU-15 returnees, mobility seems to have an effect on the type of occupation carried out after return, with recent returnees employed to a greater extent in highly skilled occupations than their non-mobile national counterparts. This is not the case, however, for EU-13 returnees, although they also have higher shares of highly-skilled persons than non-mobile nationals.[3]

The negative trends observed above should raise concerns among promoters and beneficiaries of labour mobility, while stimulating greater efforts towards identifying new ways in which real improvement in the rate of recognition of workers’ qualification and labour market integration could take place. Observations contained in the 2016 Annual Report serves as indication that there is much about intra-EU mobility which we still unaware in relation to the actual experience of mobile EU citizens in the labour market.

However, in the midst of an on-going debate on international migration, the refugee “crisis” and Brexit, Free Movement has received some significant attention in recent times; although not always based on evidence, and in most cases as an “add on” to on-going discussion on international migration and refugee movement to Europe. For once, would be refreshing to see a two-day conference focusing primarily on Free Movement in Europe, tackling the issues faced by movers, lessons-learned and ways forward – lead by civil society with the support of EU institutions and Member States. In general, robust evidence is much needed when attempting to counter a wave of misconceptions about the costs-benefit regarding intra-EU mobility. Several evidence-based contributions have been made to this debate, in recent years, including the 2015 EUROFOUND study on “Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, initiatives like “On the Move”[4] (2017) and REMINDER Project[5](2017-present). But evidence alone would not move the process forward, we need greater political will and well-target measures that can stimulate a positive momentum, like those we have seen in recent years by a number of initiatives focusing on youth unemployment or refugee integration, supported by the European Commission, EU Member States and other key stakeholders.

As Brexit negotiations moves on, discussion on issues related to EU citizens most affected by the “separation” on both side of the Channel has reached some agreement (EC Memo 2017[6]). However, as we live in “interesting times”, perhaps would be important to widen the scope of the discussions in view of gaining a broader perspective and support on Free Movement among EU citizens involving both “movers and stayers”. In my view, this could be done by injecting a dose of greater structure into the dialogue and exchange of information on Free Movement by the establishment of a dedicated forum, while stakeholders continue paddling in the path towards new policies and programs on employment, intra-EU mobility, EU citizenship, and most important carrying on the daily task of implementation at local level.

As suggested in previous post, given the timing and importance of Free Movement as one of the core pillars of the Union, perhaps it is time to consider supporting civil society organizations to establish an Intra-EU Mobility Platform focusing primarily on issues related to intra-EU movers. To date, European institutions have supported the creation of forums dedicated to issues such as, combatting human trafficking or the European Migration Forum, so why not consider the establishment of one dedicated sole to Free Movement? This mechanism could among other things, strengthen the knowledge bases, address misconceptions and promote dialogue among key stakeholders working on issues related to employment, social affairs, integration, return, circular migration, Citizens rights, etc.

In light of the commitment of an “European Union [made] of its citizens and for its citizens! Encouraging and facilitating citizens’ wider involvement in the European Union and what it stands for”, such network could foster greater cross-border dialogue about a core pillar of the Unions’ policy – Free Movement. Moreover, a network made by and for EU citizens would encourage direct participation of civil society in the discussions towards shaping policies and programs related to intra-EU mobility, thus enabling EU citizens to participate in the construction of an ever closer Europe”.

In conclusion, an Intra-EU Mobility Platform which would include representatives from civil society organizations, employment and social affairs (i.e., national and city level), EU institutions, representatives from employers’ organizations, trade unions, academia and experts. In addition, the network could contribute among other things to the identification of: emerging trends, lessons learned, example of practices and areas for further research, and potential direction for programmes and projects in support of intra-EU mobility. The latter of particular importance to movers, because results from research shows that intra-EU mobile citizens are under-serviced in relation to their needs.

To date, a number of academic research and projects have received funding from the European Commission in support of intra-EU mobility (e.g., Horizonte 2020 – Intra-EU mobility and its impacts for social and economic systems, 2016; DG Justice – Rights, Equality & Citizenship Programme, etc.), combined with initiatives at national and local level. However, as we live in an information-overloaded society dominated by “virtual” channels, for those working on the subject, especially policymakers and practitioners, as well as citizens – perhaps such a network would be of value towards creating a focal/resource point where common understanding of the issues at hand and potential ways forward could be developed. As acknowledge by several speakers in a recent round-table on intra-EU mobility in Brussels[7], information is not enough, rather investment in people towards increase participation is need. What’s more, investment in people through appropriate responses is especially needed within a process of community building based on inclusion, solidarity and forward thinking.

In sum, as we witness challenging times ahead … last but not least, a mechanism in a form of an Intra-EU Mobility Platform could serve as a supporting instrument to the work of the Media and human rights defenders in countering xenophobia and misinformation. In addition, such platform could serve as a viable forum where intra-EU mobile citizens could voice their concerns and share experiences with a wider audience, including potential movers.

 

Reference: Victor Hugo, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” 

[1] European Commission, ISSN:2529-3281, second edition, May 2017, page 12.

[2] Ibid. page 13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://euonthemove.eu

[5] Role of European Mobility and Its Impacts in Narratives, Debates and EU Reforms, European Union’s 2020, http://www.reminder-project.eu

[6] EC Memo, “Questions and Answers – the rights of EU27 and UK citizens post-Brexit, as outlined in the Joint Report from the Negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government”, 12/12/2017.

[7]“Cities, Regions and Mobile EU Citizens: getting involved in getting involved”, Region & Cities, European Week, 2017 http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/opendays/od2005/fo/ViewWorkshop.do?doAction=viewWorkshop&previousDoAction=openFOSearchWorkshopsDialog&workshopId=1e2754f05d0ef6f8015d14883c390171&conferenceId=1e2754f05af7bd32015c9ad616ab000c

2017 International Women’s Day: Support “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50”… ‘because it’s’ 2017

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This month around the globe, we dedicate 1 out of 365 days to celebrate women and girls. This year, the spotlight was in the world of work. As stated in the message by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile MLambo-Ngcuka,

Achieving equality in the workplace will require an expansion of decent work and employment opportunities, involving governments’ targeted efforts to promote women’s participation in economic life, the support of important collectives like trade unions, and the voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation […]

It also requires a determined focus on removing the discrimination women face on multiple and intersecting fronts over and above their gender […]

Addressing the injustices will take resolve and flexibility from both public and private sector employers. Incentives will be needed to recruit and retain female workers; … support their re-entry into work, […]”[1].

I was highly satisfied with the 2017 IWD focus on work as it aligned with the aims and intentions of this webpage. In addition, greater emphasis is needed to develop, implement and expand concrete initiatives aimed at recruitment, re-entry and retention of women in the labour market, in particular schemes supporting migrant/mobile professional women.

Recalling my last post, mid-career intra-EU mobile jobseekers need the support of employment mobility schemes, such as REACTIVATE[2]. Based on the REACTIVATE call for proposal, this scheme represents a step forward in supporting the unemployed and potential employers. Nevertheless, an important aspect requires clarification regarding specific eligibility criteria for intra-EU mobile jobseekers. That is, are jobseekers wishing to take part in the program only those “seeking a work placement in another EU 28 country” ? Or would an EU citizen already residing in another Member State be eligible? In principle, would unemployed EU citizens already residing in another Member State be eligible to register, thus benefiting from the services of the program?

These questions are raised because numbers of accompanying partners/spouses already relocated and seeking employment could benefit from such comprehensive supporting services geared exclusively to intra-EU mobiles. In light of the realities of intra-EU mobile families, perhaps in future calls or existing programs, the requirement for relocation of candidates could be waved in favor of “the best interest” of jobseekers already residing in another EU Member State.

Based on the UN Women Executive Directors’ call for the “voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation … [along side] incentives needed to recruit and support [the] re-entry [of women] into work”, I would like to put forth the following suggestion:

That both private and public sectors’ employers consider: (1) stepping up their efforts in the recruitment process aimed at greater diversity outcomes in support of female intra-EU mobile citizens and migrant workers[3]; and (2) develop, partner and implement “returnship”/re-entry like programs for women who have undergone a career break due to family care or migration experiences, as suggested in previous posts.

All efforts towards a gender balanced 50/50 world of work and beyond are relevant, ‘Because it’s’ 2017 [4].

[1] See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/2/statement-ed-phumzile-iwd-2017#sthash.IY5i00Ct.4bvgnpVf.dpuf

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=629&langId=en&callId=485&furtherCalls=yes

[3] https://highlyskilledmigrantwomen.com/2016/02/01/2016-international-womens-day-women-employment-and-intra-eu-mobility/

[4] “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s succinct “Because it’s 2015” explanation of his new, half-female cabinet”, Trudeau’s ‘Because it’s 2015’ retort draws international attention, The Globe and mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/trudeaus-because-its-2015-retort-draws-international-cheers/article27119856/

“Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee Program”: Operationalizing Innovative and Resourceful Measures to Support Mid-career Professional in Re-entering the Labour Market

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According to the 2016 EUROFOUND report on gender gap and employment in Europe, “The cost of a woman’s exclusion from employment throughout her working life is estimated at between 1.2 million and 2 million, depending on her education level”[1]. Hence, I found myself intrigued and hopeful when I read the following article: “The Youth Guarantee in practice: Tina’s journey from unemployment to her dream job[2]. Furthermore, I was curious if such a scheme could be transferrable to my area of interest; i.e., a successful program aimed at supporting mobile, mid-career professionals seeking job opportunities.

How exciting it was to envision the following story in alignment with such an aspiring goal!

The “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” in practice: Ana’s journey from unemployment to her new job

Ana Gomes was 41, when she moved from her country of origin (somewhere is Southern Europe) to another major EU capital. After one year searching for a job in a field where she had more than 9 years of work experience, she was unable to take part in any special programs for those searching for employment. This was so, since she was not considered as a vulnerable group, long-term unemployed, + 45, etc. In fact, most of the programs offered by the PES (public employment services) in her city of residence focus primarily on youth and low skilled. However, what Ana really needed was a kind of individual counseling/advise commensurable to her skills and experience, instead of the usual “how to write your CV, interview and presentation” skills tailored to young jobseekers. In fact, one of the counselors she saw from a special program for jobseekers told Ana that her motivation letter, CV and experience were perfect for the jobs she was applying, and after the second meeting declared that she could not help her any further.

Language skills were not Ana’s problem, since like many European professionals, she spoke three EU languages fluently. However, perhaps one of her main disadvantages was her lack of professional networks in the place of residence, and opportunities to demonstrate her skills to potential employers.

So after many trials and no success, Ana finally heard of a new program called the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” scheme aimed at facilitating intra-EU mobile citizens integration to the labour market through an “on-the-job” re-entry program. All Ana needed to qualify for the scheme was: history as a of job-seeker and registration with PES, residence in another EU Member State, +35 years of age, at least 5 years of work experience in her field. As part of the program Ana received tailored support and a job placement for 6 months commensurable to her work experience.

When I first met Ana at the office (into her three months re-entry work experience) she had a big smile and a heart filled with renewed hope in the future. But as she started to talked she said: “When I left my country with a graduate diploma, language skills, more than 9 years of work experience, a vast network of professional acquaintances and some international working experience (pause) … let me tell you, I was confident and certain that I would find a job here and continue to thrive in my career. So when the opportunity came for my partner to move here, I did not hesitate … however, after a year of unemployment and isolation from my professional network, I felt that I made a big mistake in leaving my country towards a “EU adventure”. In fact, I realized that mobility is not always advantageous for those in mid-career path, because you are too old and experience for entry jobs and not so experienced to senior one. In addition, despite being an EU citizen, I am disadvantage when competing for jobs with those who are locally trained and known by potential employers”.

With help from the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program, Ana was able to gain a foot inside the industry, and in the process help to raise the awareness of her employer to the fact that many highly skilled mobile women are an added value to the industry. In fact, after three months in the re-entry post Ana started to network with her former professional network back home, in order to facilitate a partnership towards a major project her employer was considering applying, but for which was missing an important partner in the consortium. Her boss admitted that she has never though that highly skilled intra-EU mobiles experienced disadvantages in the labour market, and that perhaps through Ana’s networking and business skills a new partnership will come about that can be very positive to her enterprise.

Within 6 months of completing the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program, Ana was able to gain: work experience in the country of destination in her field, access a professional network of colleagues and mentors, gain access to information on the “hidden job” market (including projects in the pipeline), and develop new skills, such as project development.

I am happy to state that at the end of her 6 months program Ana was given a chance to re-integrate into the labour market, as she was able to secure a temporary consultancy position with the company while they are waiting for the project she helped to develop to come through. Ana and her employer hopes that her journey will culminate in a job offer which will secure her a 3 years contract with the company and a prospect for more to come. Now as a consultant she is working full-time in a field that she not only love, but she sees her investment in her studies and work back home paying off. She said: “I am very grateful, because my talent is no longer wasted on being unemployed, I have a renewal hope on my career prospect and future opportunities to contribute to my family, employer and my host community; yet others [like me] are not so lucky, since they don’t have the opportunity to participate in a kind of support program that de facto gives you the opportunity to gain access to the labour market through employment”.

The “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee Program” consists of a six-month’s re-entry work placement for qualified intra-EU mobile workers, age 35+, seeking employment, residing in another EU Member State, and having minimum 5 years of work experience. Placements are commensurable to workers experience and language skills, while support on language training is also offer by the programme. Participants receive a wage subsidy provided by the program, and employers are encouraged to consider them as potential candidates on new openings. Besides on-the-job training employers are encouraged to provide professional network support through for example, mentoring and career supporting activities.

Since it’s launching a year and half ago the pilot “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program has had more than 300 participants throughout the European Union, with a considerable success rate on labour market integration according to the main implementers, the Public Employment Services and partners. Given its high demand by intra-EU mobile citizens and preliminary evaluation among the employers, this program is due to expand in 2017.


Like Cinderella, this story would be great news if it was, in fact, true. Unfortunately, the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program does not exist. Unlike in the fictitious story of Ana[3], many highly skilled intra-EU mobiles remain unemployed and without a re-entry program which could, like in the case of ‘Youth Guarantee’, produce concrete results in facilitating the integration into the labour market in another EU Member State and consequently increase the prospect of mobility in the EU.

Fortunately, all this may change. While writing this article, I came across a call for proposals with a new European Commission Program called: REACTIVATE – Intra-EU job mobility scheme for unemployed over 35”[4]. The program aims to support unemployed citizens in the 35+ age group, including long-term unemployed, to help them find a job, traineeship or apprenticeship with at least 6 month duration in another Member State. Reactivate will be featured as an intra-EU labour market activation measure, combining tailor-made recruitment, matching and placement services with financial support for jobseekers and employers (SMEs).

The action supported by the projects shall:

  • deliver a comprehensive, tailor-made package of mobility services, combining customized activation measures with direct financial support to both the target group of EU citizens over 35 years of age and employers (in particular SME’s);
  • include at least information and assistance with offers and vacancies, matching these with candidates and the preparation of the placement /recruitment in a number of Member States involving jobs, apprenticeships and/or traineeships; and
  • provide one or more items of direct financial support to both the target group of EU citizens over 35 years of age and employers (in particular SME’s).”[5]

From my perspective, REACTIVATE is great news! I look forward to reviewing the selected projects. I feel this scheme represents a step forward towards concrete activation measures in supporting jobseekers and potential employers through the process of recruitment, matching and placement services. Congratulation to DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion and European Parliament for supporting this new intra-EU mobility scheme.

As stated in my previous post, current re-entry programs are no panacea. They support qualified and experienced workers gaining back a foot in the labour market after a period of unemployment or transition. However, as in the case of immigrants in Canada and United States, it has been proven that bridge and re-entry programs work. Why not try new creative schemes that support mid-career professionals back into the labour market through on-the-job re-entry?

As expressed in: “Commission Work Programme 2016 – No time for Business as Usual”, “History has shown that Europeans have an inherent capacity to work hard, innovate, to create and to sell their ideas to the world. We cannot afford to lose a generation of this talent and potential.”[6]

In light of the above statement, may public services and other key stakeholders consider establishing a re-entry program consisting of work placements for professional intra-EU mobile citizens, 35+, jobseekers, residing in another Member State in line with the REACTIVATE program as a concrete response towards facilitating access to the labour market, gender equality, diversity and inclusion. After all, first and foremost, Employment is the primary motto for intra-EU mobility while the proportion of highly educated among recent intra-EU movers has increased substantially (from 27% in 2008 to 41% in 2013) [among] all citizenship groups.[7]

May 2017 advance many concrete initiatives in support of highly skilled migrant/mobile job-seekers in Europe, fostering inclusion in opportunities to participate in the labour market, creating true peace, harmony and joy for both the individual as well as their respective family members.

[1] Eurofound (2016), The gender employment gap: Challenges and solutions, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=89&newsId=2624&furtherNews=yes

[3] Ana Gomes is a fictitious figure, but her story is based on anecdotal accounts by intra-EU mobile professionals and personal experience of the writer.

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=629&langId=en&callId=485&furtherCalls=yes

[5] http://www.newslettereuropean.eu/reactivate-new-call-for-proposals-of-eu-job-mobility/

[6] http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/key-documents/index_en.htm

[7] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-14-622_en.htm