The Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs together with the Ministry of Economics and Communications and Ministry of Interior hosted a Peer Review in Tallinn (11-12 June). The policy programme highlighted by the host country was their substantially revised immigration policy aiming to attract highly skilled migrants from third countries to work in Estonia.
The meeting brought together ministry representatives and independent experts from 10 peer countries (Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Malta, Norway, Serbia and the UK) as well as representatives from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities at the European Commission.
The debate revealed that many of the Member States present employ policies which explicitly or implicitly aim to attract highly skilled immigrant labour. Having said that, the situation in the various countries present differs a lot in terms of economic, geographic, demographic, security and institutional conditions. Countries employ various immigration policy approaches and use different criteria to provide labour market access to immigrant workers from third countries, as well as from within the EU.
The main conclusions of discussions can be summarised under the following headings:
- Role of migration in the current crisis and in relation to future demographic trends:
Although experience shows that some countries have implemented tougher checks on migration and incentives to return during the period of economic crisis, it was agreed that on the whole such measures affected highly skilled migrants less, as their skills often continued to be in high demand. It was also emphasised that attracting highly skilled migrants cannot be a solution for demographic change and ageing workforce, but rather a policy measure to overcome certain skills gaps and policies have to go hand in hand with strong vocational education and training policies and measures to tap underused domestic potential (e.g. measures to encourage more women to enter the labour market and for older workers to stay on in employment).
- Focus of immigration policies on highly skilled migrants:
The host country example emphasised entry to highly skilled migrants by setting a wage criterion of 1.24 times the average wage (in the sector or on the Estonian labour market depending on whether migration was for 6 months or 2 years). While a number of other countries also used a wage criterion to govern entry of particular types of migrants a number of differences emerged. Because of Estonia's relatively small labour market and its stage of economic development, the use of the wage criterion forms the core of migration policy whereas in many of the peer countries the wage criterion only formed one element besides other selection approaches (e.g. points based systems; catalogue of shortage sectors; scrutiny of qualifications, etc.). In addition a number of countries emphasised that migration of low skilled workers was also important to them in certain sectors and for short-term assignments. In addition, countries with a long tradition of migration additionally grappled with other concerns such as family reunification and the longer-term integration of migrants.
- Balance of intra-EU and third country migration:
Estonia's policy currently largely focuses on attracting third country migrants as the country's wage levels can mean that employment is less attractive to other EU nationals. In a number of the peer countries, the clear policy focus as well as the reality of migration flows was on intra-EU migration.
- Design and implementation of immigration policies:
Immigration policies have to emanate from well defined policy objectives with clear focus and use transparent and non-bureaucratic measures. To build a functioning scheme, effective coordination and collaboration between various ministries and public administration is important and the involvement of social partners is an indispensable prerequisite.
The meeting concluded that well designed migration policies which as far as possible reduce bureaucratic burdens on employers and migrants while safeguarding local labour force and wage levels are critical both at national and EU level. Schemes should be designed in the view of a longer perspective exceeding the horizon of the ongoing crisis to avoid to emergence of skills gaps but also social inequalities in the long term. Stop-start policy approaches to migration responding too closely to the immediate demands of economic cycles could harm the interests of employers and migrants (and therefore of the economy and its growth) who require a more predictable policy to plan their commitments properly. Countries favouring longer-term migration in line with the ideas behind the European Blue card also need to place further emphasis on integration policies and their compatibility with short-term immigration schemes.
Peer country comment papers from independent experts:
Participating independent experts