Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day 2013, I would like to take this opportunity to rejoice with you all – talented, inspiring, and professional international people, who have shared your experience and expertise, as well as taken action to make this planet a better place to live. You are living proof that …“there is no passion to be found playing small in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” (Nelson Mandela).
Keeping with the theme of mobility/migration, the European Year of Citizens 2013 presents us with an opportunity to give greater impetus to the European agenda on intra-EU mobility. Yet, as one who follows with great interest the voices of those calling for more action to support EU citizens moving within Europe, I continue to miss discussion of concern related to the plight of highly skilled migrant women. Women whose talents and experiences have much to contribute to the knowledge economy, potential economic growth and upcoming demographic changes due to affect labour markets in Europe. Nevertheless, research on highly skilled migrant women continues to point towards the “waste of talent” in the form of high rates of unemployment and underemployment among this group of professionals.
Despite a valuable and extensive body of literature on EU mobility and international migration, there has been little attention paid to the lack of appropriate support services to assist the integration of highly skilled female migrants in the EU labour market, and the challenges faced by such women as a consequence of this absence. Research on migrant women in the European Union tends to focus a great deal on the conditions and challenges of low/medium skilled third country nationals, who have limited rights to seek employment in the EU, and who often also face abuse of their human rights. These studies have generated a great body of knowledge in the field of gender, migration, labour markets and abuse of human rights, and yet are limited to what one could consider a representation of “the most vulnerable” segment of the female migrant population. It is therefore important to understand that we continue to face a knowledge gap regarding highly skilled females. More importantly, due to a lack of information about their challenges and conditions, important stakeholders (including policy makers and support services) may develop and/or continue to hold unfair ideas and/or stereotypes about the perceived life of privilege led by highly skilled migrant women, thus rendering them “invisible” to social policy programmes. Furthermore, this knowledge gap may generate a faulty perception that this group of migrant women has no need of support programmes aimed at full integration into a host society’s labour market (programmes which cater for those with a high educational background, immigration status/rights as EU citizens, and with past employment experience), especially when this perception is combined with inaccurate assumptions about “accompanying spouses” in a dual career couple.
Might 2013’s International Women’s Day celebrations serve as a reminder that much is needed to be done to create a space in which we can fully participate and realize our migration/mobility project alongside the members of our host community? Indeed, much concrete action is still needed to enable highly skilled migrant women to go beyond de jure rights of participation in the labour market, into de facto employment opportunities that are commensurable with their skills and professional experience. The Summary of the Expert Conference on “Free Movement and Participation of EU Citizens – Making it Work for All” held in September 2012, had some interesting recommendations which could lead us closer to a de facto state of affairs. Even though the recommendations were not tailored to highly skilled female migrant workers, one could see some potential on the following three points: 1. The need to reinforce cooperation with employers; 2. The need for more research on how EU citizens in the process of intra-EU mobility are faring in terms of integration (particularly regarding labour market integration); and 3. The possibility to have EU funding open-up towards the integration of EU citizens (i.e., European Integration Fund).
Labour market integration is one of the main vehicles through which migrant workers, in particular professionals, integrate into the larger community. Therefore, l look forward to seeing initiatives and programmes aimed at the integration of highly skilled migrant women into the labour market, in posts commensurate to their skills and experience, while attaching language acquisition and other elements to the overall package. Overall, provision of information on rights is only the first step in the process. Enabling the realization of those rights is the essential element that makes it possible for all of us to contribute in a meaningful way to the greater European Project.
 The term ‘highly skilled migrant women’ refers to EU citizens within the definition of highly skilled: “…restricted to persons with tertiary education, typically adults who have completed a formal two-year college education or more” combined with work experience. World Migration 2008, IOM