There is a clear pattern in international migration. The US attracts 54 percent of the highly skilled workers, whereas the EU attracts 84 percent of the unskilled workers. In the long term this is a bad deal for Europe, because unskilled workers tend to draw benefits from the welfare system, whereas highly qualified workers tend to contribute to the government's revenue.
To counter this trend the European Commission has a new proposal which will allow highly qualified foreign immigrants to apply for Europe-wide work permits enabling them to look for jobs anywhere in the European Union. The idea was spawned by Justice commissioner Franco Frattini and employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla who recently (21 December) presented what they called an EU "road map" towards a common EU approach to legal migration.
While the idea has some merit – namely that the EU should make it easier for highly qualified workers to enter, the approach is inappropriate.
Firstly, giving the EU the power to control immigration policies is another step towards "an ever closer union." And that is the wrong way to go for Europe.
Secondly, the proposed solution does not deal with the cause of the international migratory pattern, where highly qualified workers go to the States and welfare clients go to Europe.
The reason for this pattern is to be found in the European welfare model, especially in the Scandinavian model, where high taxes are a disincentive for hard work.
Unless Europe solves the problem of the defunct welfare system, along the lines, for instance, of Wilfried Prewo's reform proposal [pdf], then changes in immigration policy will not change much in the international pattern, because people who can take care of themselves will still go to a place where that is possible, i.e. the US.
After this problem has been solved national governments should look at the merits of the EU Commission proposal, which follows an American model with a so-called EU green card, alllowing skilled immigrants to obtain work and residence permits to the union under a special fast track scheme.
The proposal is a system of multi-year, multiple-entry permits, which could encourage seasonal workers to return home after the working season, knowing they can return legally for other temporary jobs later. Such permits may very well prevent tens of thousands of agriculture and construction workers from entering the EU illegally each year and working on the black market.
But the proposal should not include the package that aims at ensuring all working immigrants the same rights as EU citizens in terms of education, health service and freedom of circulation, and at creating legal alternatives to illegal immigration. Because that is exactly the cause of the EU's immigration problem.