Against this backdrop, in mid-November, the European Commission presented the first ever "skills and talent mobility" package, which aims to attract skilled workers from third countries. The measures include a new platform, the EU Talent Pool, which aims to connect EU employers with third-country jobseekers. Additionally, there will be attempts to expedite the process of recognition of third-country qualifications and to enhance the mobility of learners from the EU.
The initiative is led by three Commissioners - Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, Ilva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs, and the recently appointed new Bulgarian Commissioner Iliana Ivanova, who is responsible for innovation, research, culture, education and youth. KInsights spoke to her about her first big initiative:
How serious is the labor shortage problem in the EU?
About 75% of small and medium-sized enterprises say they cannot find the employees they need. It is questionable how we can achieve the goal of having 20 million IT professionals by 2030 - there are only 9 million IT professionals in the sector so far.
Europe's demographic problem is well known. By 2070, the number of people of working age will fall from around 65% in 2019 to 54-56%. At the same time, pressure on pension and social protection systems is increasing.
There are major shortfalls in 28 occupations, which employed 14% of the EU workforce in 2020. These are plumbers and pipefitters, nurses, systems analysts, welders, heavy goods vehicle drivers, civil engineers, and software developers.
As Europe's population ages, shortages in medicine and care for the sick and elderly are increasingly acute. By 2030, 7 million jobs are expected to open up in this field, and the EU labor market can only partially cover them.
Increasing labor mobility within the EU is not enough to meet these needs. When scarce staff move, it means that some European regions gain and others lose, because almost all member states suffer from labor shortages. In short, the EU's own workforce is not enough.
Bulgaria is one of the countries that suffers the most from brain drain. At the same time, sectors such as IT technology are developing well and have a constant need for fresh resources. What will be our country's role in the new initiative?
Participation in the platform is voluntary. No one is forcing countries to open their labor markets to third-country workers. They have to decide what kind of staff they need, if they decide to use the tools the EU offers them. They can add or subtract professions according to their needs to the 42 already identified.
The same applies to the recommendation on learning mobility. We have the ambition to significantly increase the exchange of pupils, students, teachers, and trainees between member states, and we also have the tools and the financial resources to support this. But the key is in the hands of the member states themselves.
We ought to remember that education is an area of national, not EU, competence under the treaties. The Commission and its services are available, as far as technical assistance is concerned, to fund the exchange of learners and trainees through a programme such as Erasmus+, for example.
The proposed package is the first ever initiative for organized labor migration in the EU, addressing labor shortages in various sectors. It also aims to prevent illegal entries into the EU and risks to irregular migrants. To prevent tragedies in the Mediterranean, there must be avenues for legal migration.
Last year, there were 330 000 illegal arrivals in the EU. At the same time, we have 3.5 million decisions allowing legal immigration - more than 10 times as many. More than a third of them - 1.5 million - are because of labor market needs. Today, there are 10 million third-country nationals employed in the EU.
How will the recognition of experience, work experience, qualifications of third-country migrants be carried out?
There is a lot of bureaucracy in the recognition system now. It discourages third-country job applicants. We don't call this a 'brain drain' but a 'brain waste'.
The Commission has proposed the creation of national qualifications recognition offices with greater capacity and in more active cooperation with migrants' countries of origin, shorter processing times and reduced costs for jobseekers, simplified translation and certification processes.
Once third-country workers find a job through the platform, will they need a work visa and how will this be handled?
The issuing of work visas and permanent residence permits remains in the hands of member states. If an employer wants to hire a third-country job applicant, he or she must apply to the national authorities to issue the applicant with a visa or permit. We do not question who makes the final decisions on labor migration. What we want to do with the proposal is to make it easier for jobseekers to find the right vacancies
However, the Commission is proposing to revise two directives relating to the entry and residence of third-country nationals in the EU - the Long-Term Residents Directive and the Single Residence Permit Directive, adopted in 2003 and 2011 respectively.
The proposed revision of the second includes an obligation for Member States to accept applications submitted both in their country and in a third country. It is also envisaged that the four-month time limit for issuing a decision will cover the issuance of the necessary entry visa and the time for a labor market test. The proposal also contains a right for the permit holder to change employer within the validity period of the permit. We propose that it should not be revoked for at least three months if the holder remains unemployed.
The main changes to the Long-Term Residents Directive, on the other hand, foresee that the required five-year period of residence can be taken into account cumulatively by adding together the periods of residence in the different member states. Periods of residence under temporary and national protection and during studies should also be counted. Member States are to put in place control mechanisms to monitor actual residence and ensure that this status is not abused.
An improved right to family reunification without integration conditions is also envisaged, with full access to work for family members, and children of long-term residents born in the EU can acquire the status immediately.