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Free Movement of Labour Immigration

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Published: 6th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction(s): UK LawEU Law

The question of immigration and movement of workers within the European Union has become an increasingly important issue in EU politics. One of the foundations of EU treaties and agreements is the free movement of labor within member states … however, the situation has proven to be complicated with recent expansions of the bloc.

In 2004, when 10 new member states joined the bloc, only three nations, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden, allowed unrestricted access to workers from the former communist countries.

In the aftermath of the accession, tens of thousands of workers from Eastern European countries such as Poland and Lithuania flocked to the UK and Ireland. Fearing another surge of immigration, both countries placed restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians when their countries joined the EU in 2007.

The restrictions have caused quite a bit of debate. While some argue that the influx of foreign workers is good for the economies of both nations, others believe they increase competition for available jobs and drive down wages and work standards. In a recent survey, 66% of Britons believe there are too many foreigners in the country.

Employers generally encourage more liberal immigration policies so they can hire people for hard to fill positions, missing skills in the local labor pool and, admittedly in some cases, for lower wages. Some even state that migrant workers are harder working and more reliable than their native counterparts, which certainly doesn’t win any love with the average workingman looking for a job.All this has led to the policies put in place before Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU. Most nations that were members of the EU before 2004 have restrictions in place for Bulgaria andRomania.

The notable exceptions are Finland and Sweden.

Both nations are very liberal in their attitude toward free movement of labor – Sweden has always had its doors open to all members of the EU, while Finland removed restrictions on 01 May 2006 for the 10 member states that joined in 2004.

Sweden’s attitude toward immigration in general is very open and in stark contrast to many of its EU counterparts, even welcoming Iraqi refugees to the point where they are requesting help from the rest of the bloc in shouldering the load.

Not all nations are as open to newcomers as the EU’s northern nations.Some of the countries with the most restrictive policies are Germany, France and theNetherlands. All continue to impose special requirements on 2004 EU entrants, as well as Bulgaria and Romania.

However, Germany – facing an aging population and hard to fill jobs – is becoming fairly liberal about granting work permits … issuing 500,000 of them in a recent two year period.France and the Netherlands continue to see immigration as an especially difficult topic that gets entangled with national identity and freedom of religion issues, attributed in part fromc ontroversies with their large Muslim populations and some high-profile tragedies with culture clashes in the past several years.

Meanwhile, the issue of freedom of labor movement for new EU members is getting tied up with the EU’s efforts to curb illegal immigration on its southern front.

Recently, the European Union started a process to create job centers in Africa with the goal of providing a route to legal, temporary immigration for workers from the continent. In 2006, an estimated 30,000 illegal immigrants from Africa landed in the Spanish Canary Islands alone.

Working with governments of African nations, the EU hopes to place workers from Africa in hard to fill sectors such as agriculture, building and cleaning services. In exchange for cooperation, the EU plans to provide development aid to African nations to help reduce the need for migrants to leave Africa.This has caused the central and eastern EU member states to voice their opinions that lifting restrictions on their countries should come first, before making it easier for third-country nationals to find work in the bloc.

Some EU member states, such as Ireland, do require employers to look for Bulgarians and Romanians before looking outside the EU when trying to place hard to fill jobs.

In the case of the UK, the Sectors Based Scheme, a quota-based scheme originally aimed at third-country nationals and slated to be discontinued, was extended exclusively for Romanians and Bulgarians. Aimed at a difficult job market to find workers, the scheme allows Romanians and Bulgarians to come into the UK and work in the Food Manufacturing field … not exactly sought-after work for a highly skilled professional from Bucharest and Sofia.

The EU has seen a rapid expansion of its borders in recent years, and the repercussions are still being felt. Attitudes towards immigration have always been a sore spot for any country, especially in the strongly multicultural makeup of the European Union.

Not mentioned very often, some people see the restrictions as beneficial to the new accession states. If there were no restrictions at all, a “brain drain” could occur, where all the most educated and experienced citizens would leave, creating a downward spiral in the source country where the economic conditions would deteriorate even further.Perhaps the dust will settle in the future, after most nations lift restrictions on the new member states and the EU can stand by its principle of free movement of labor. By accession treaty, restrictions must be fully lifted no more than seven years after a new Member States joins.

For some, it is not soon enough. For others, it is too soon.

Opening borders has only had positive economic effects, says Commission

As a matter of fact, a number of statements made throughout the 2008-2009 period by EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimír Špidla underlined that those who maintain restrictions on the basis that opening borders will have a negative impact on national economies are making a mistake.

According to Špidla, the evidence from all the Commission’s reports and studies is that mobile workers from the countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 have had a positive impact on member states’ economies and have not led to serious disturbances in their labour markets.

“There is little evidence,” said Špidla, “that workers from the new member states have displaced local workers or driven down their wages in a serious way, even in those countries where the inflows have been greatest, although there have been some temporary adjustment problems in specific areas”.

Such findings have effectively debunked many of the concerns and, in some cases, fears that arose in the ‘old’ EU 15 at the dawn of the enlargement era. For example, as reported by EurActiv, the widespread myth in France of the ‘Polish plumber’ – that is, that a flood of Eastern workers would severely destabilise the country’s labour market – has now been disproven as a “hoax of political history” (EurActiv 22/10/09).


Treaty of Rome Legislation

The treaty of Rome is the first one major European legislation act concerning the Free Movement of Labor,Immigration.The treaty’s Article 48 explains that the Community should secure the free movement of workers. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:

to accept offers of employment actually made;

to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;

to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;

to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in implementing regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.

Article 49 issue directives or make regulations setting out the measures required to bring about, by progressive stages, freedom of movement for workers by ensuring close co-operation between national employment services; by setting up appropriate machinery to bring offers of employment into touch with applications for employment and to facilitate the achievement of a balance between supply and demand in the employment market in such a way as to avoid serious threats to the standard of living and level of employment in the various regions and industries.

2.2 Legislation concerning the free movement of people (Schengen)

With the Schengen Agreement was signed on July 1985 (supplemented in 1990 by the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement), the borderless area of the EU was created. With every newcomer it grew and now that borderless area covers an area of 4,321, 099 square kilometers and population of 400 million people. 25 member states (excluding Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus) have implemented Schengen (see Figure 1). Implementing the Schengen abolishes borders and “border control with other Schengen members while simultaneously strengthening border controls with non-member states .

It’s important to know that Schengen doesn’t give the right to settle down permanently in any given EU country. Generally, the Schengen Agreement makes it easy for EU citizens to study, work or travel in foreign European countries for a period up to 3 months. After this period of time the person who wishes to continue living in the country, must earn the right to stay. In order to do this, the person must be legally employed by an employer from the foreign country or to study in accredited institution there.

Although the citizens of EU are not required any specific documentation or explanation why they wish to visit any given country, they must carry with them their ID card in case of random border control. The border control is not eliminated in the case of airports.

One of the important Directives, governing the functioning of the Schengen is Directive 2003/86/EC from September 2003 also known as the Family Reunification Directive. It states that family members of third-country national can join their relatives, who reside legally in Schengen state. The Directive covers family members like spouse (polygamy is not recognized) or children (minor or/and adopted). Every member state has the freedom to make decisions about other family members like cousins, for example. Although there are no guarantees that the relative will be granted permission to join his/her relation, this Directive is essential, because it shows the respect that the EU has for family life and the right to live with the loved ones.

2.3 The European Economic Area (EEA) Legislation

The European Economic Area (EEA) was established on 1 January 1994 following an agreement between the member states of the European Free Trade Association(EFTA) and the European Community, later the European Union (EU). The EEA Agreement was signed in Porto on 2 May 1992 by the then seven states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the European Community (EC) and its then 12 member states.The EEA is based on the same “four freedoms” as the European Community: the free movement of goods, persons, services, and capital among the EEA countries. Thus, the EFTA countries that are part of the EEA enjoy free trade with the European Union.

According to Article 28 of the Eauropean Economic Area Legislation the:

1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured among EC Member States and EFTA States.

2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of EC Member States and EFTA States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.

3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health: to accept offers of employment actually made;

(b) to move freely within the territory of EC Member States and EFTA States for this purpose;

(c) to stay in the territory of an EC Member State or an EFTA State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;

(d) to remain in the territory of an EC Member State or an EFTA State after having been employed there.


Article 29 says that In order to provide freedom of movement for workers and self-employed persons, the Contracting Parties shall, in the field of social security, secure, as provided for in Annex VI, for workers and self-employed persons and their dependants, in particular:

(a) aggregation, for the purpose of acquiring and retaining the right to benefit and of calculating the amount of benefit, of all periods taken into account under the laws of the several countries;

(b) payment of benefits to persons resident in the territories of Contracting Parties.

In order to make it easier for persons to take up and pursue activities as workers and self-employed persons, the Contracting Parties shall take the necessary measures, concerning the mutual recognition of diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualifications, and the coordination of the provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in the Contracting Parties concerning the taking up and pursuit of activities by workers and self-employed persons.


International migration plays an increasing role in most Member States. Immigration brings both economic and social opportunities and challenges to countries receiving immigrants.At the same time, immigration is now at the forefront of European and national policy agendas.

This issue looks at three categories of immigrants in the EU-27 Member States :nationals, citizens of other EU-27 countries, and non-EU citizens, with particular regard to their age, sex and country of citizenship, as of 2006. Analysis of the figures shows the overall picture of immigration in the EU-27 and the different patterns of immigration in the Member States.

In 2006 about 3.5 million persons settled in a new country of residence in the EU-27, according to Eurostat estimates. After rather rapid growth in 2003 compared with 2002, the rise in immigration slowed in the last few years. The biggest rise in immigration was in Ireland and Spain. Compared with the small increase in total

immigration, more citizens of EU-27 Member States were migrating: the number of EU-27 citizens migrating to Member States other than their own country of citizenship increased by 10% per year.Spain, Germany and UK received more than half of all immigrants in the EU-27. While the vast majority of immigrants in the EU-27 settled in the big Member States, the scale of immigration was greater for smaller countries.

There were relatively more non-EU than EU citizens among immigrants: of some 3 million non-national immigrants to the EU-27, more than 1.8 million were not citizens of EU-27 countries. Poles and Romanians were the most numerous immigrants among citizens of EU-27 countries while Moroccans ranked first among non-EU citizens.

Half of all immigrants were younger than 29 years old. Immigrants who were not EU citizens wereyounger than those who were EU-27 citizens(including nationals). There were more men than women among immigrants and the women were younger than the men. Compared with other countries women are more frequent among immigrants in the south of the EU.

Increase in migration has slowed

Total immigration in the EU increased over the last five years. In 2006 the number of immigrants was nearly a quarter higher than in 2002. The annual average increase was more than 100 000 during this period. However, in the last three years this increase has slowed, even turning into a decline in 2005.

The biggest rise in immigration was in Ireland and Spain: in Ireland immigration doubled in 2006 compared with 2002 while Spain received three quarters more immigrants in 2006 than in 2002. In absolute numbers, Spain had the biggest increase— 350 000 immigrants more in 2006 than five years earlier. By contrast, several countries including Germany,Austria and the Netherlands saw a decline in immigration over the whole or part of the period. In 2006, total immigration to these three countries was 14%, 17% and 11% respectively lower than in 2002.

Spain, Germany and UK received more than half of all immigrants

The largest numbers of immigrants to the EU in 2006 were recorded in Spain, Germany and United Kingdom . These three countries together received more than 2 million immigrants (including returning nationals). The total number of immigrants recorded in the national registers reached over 840 000 in Spain and over 660 000 in Germany. In the United Kingdom, the number of immigrants identified at the border as intending to stay at least one year was nearly 530 000, according to national statistics.

However, among these countries only Spain also had high immigration relative to its population size.The highest rate of immigration was recorded in Luxembourg, followed by Ireland, Cyprus and Spain. These four countries had significantly higher rates compared with other Member States, while for Germany and the United Kingdom, immigration per 1000 inhabitants was close to the EU-27 average.

Majority of immigrants were non-EU citizens

In 2006, of a total of 3.5 million immigrants to the EU-27 Member States, about 3 million (86%) were foreigners — i.e. they were not citizens of the country to which they migrated. The rest (14%) were nationals returning to their home country.More than half, or in absolute numbers more than 1.8 million immigrants, were not citizens of any

EU Member State. However, this does not mean that all non-EU immigrants were newcomers to the EU — the number includes immigrants both from outside the EU and from the other Member States.Slightly less than half of all immigrants, 1.7 million, were EU citizens, of whom nearly half a million were nationals returning to their own country.

Looking only at foreign citizens, 60% of immigrants were citizens of countries outside the European Union (non-EU immigrants), while 40% were citizens of other EU Member States. Non-EU citizens were made up fairly equally of citizens of European non-EU countries, Asian, American and African countries, ranging from 13% to 16%, with a few per cent from Oceania or without known citizenship.

Immigrants to Member States were of varied origin

Citizens of all countries of the world were represented among immigrants to the EU Member States. However, the citizenship composition of immigrants to different Member States varied greatly. In 2006, most Member States counted more non-EU than EU citizens among foreign immigrants. The exceptions were Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia and Belgium (in 2003), where more EU than non-EU immigrants were recorded. Returning nationals accounted for a minority of immigrants in most countries. However, Denmark, Lithuania and Finland recorded more nationals than non-national EU or non-EU immigrants.

The available data for all countries that received immigrants indicates that, among non-national immigrants, Polish citizens formed the largest group in the EU-27 in 2006. The estimated number of Polish immigrants to other.

Member States was more than 290 000. The second largest group was Romanians, with more than 230 000. Among non-national EU citizens migrating to other Member States, British and Germans were next in number though somewhat less numerous — the British at nearly 100 000 and Germans at 90 000.

The substantial numbers of British, German, and also French and Italian citizens (around 50 000 each) migrating to other Member States is explained by the population size of these countries. In relative terms, per 1000 nationals living in their home country of citizenship, these nationalities had significantly lower migration compared to migrating non-national EU citizens in the EU-27 on average. By contrast, Romanian and Polish citizens were numerous in both absolute numbers and relative terms, as were Bulgarian and Slovak citizens.

Among non-EU immigrants, the figures for Moroccan citizens were much higher than those for any other non-EU nationality in absolute terms, at some 140 000 in 2006, according to estimates. Thus, Moroccans were the third largest group of non-national immigrants in the EU-27 as a whole after Poles and Romanians. Ukrainians and

Chinese were the next most numerous among non-EU immigrants. Their numbers were close to the numbers of Britons and Germans migrating to other Member States.

More than half of all migrating Polish citizens settled in Germany, while a large part of the rest went to the United Kingdom. For Romanians, the most attractive destination countries were Spain and Italy (the latter according to 2003 data). Nearlyhalf of British citizen migrants went to Spain, while German, Italian and French citizens had less preference for one particular country of destination,settling more often in neighbouring countries or in

other large countries in the EU-27.

Among non-EU immigrants, Moroccans ranked firstin flows to Spain and Belgium (the latter according to 2003 data) but were also numerous in France and Italy. Of nearly 100 000 Ukrainians migrating to the EU, three quarters migrated to the Czech Republic and Italy; other attractive destinations for Ukrainians were Spain and Portugal. Chinese citizens most often migrated to Spain and to the United Kingdom but also to several other countries.Albanians migrated to neighbouring countries —Greece and Italy. US citizens had the United Kingdom and Germany as their favourite destinations but migrated to many other Member States as well. Turkish and Russian citizens were frequent immigrants to several Member States, too.Many Turks migrated to Germany and Austria but France and the Netherlands were also popular.Russians were the largest group of immigrants to

Finland and Latvia. Many Russians migrated to Germany. By contrast, some citizens were significant among immigrants to one country, e.g.Indians to the United Kingdom, Bolivians and Brazilians to Spain.

More men than women among foreign immigrants

In 2006, the sex ratio of foreign immigrants to the European Union was 114 men to 100 women1. The male prevalence was general, with a few exceptions. In particular, there were more male than female immigrants to most countries in the eastern part of the EU, while women were more likely to predominate in the south. The highest male prevalence was observed in Slovenia, where men represented more than 80% of the total number of registered foreign. immigrants. This was due to the large number of male immigrants from the Western Balkan countries. In Lithuania and Slovakia, nearly two thirds of foreign immigrants were men, while in Romania, the Czech Republic and Germany, the prevalence of men was also significant.

The few exceptions were Cyprus, Portugal and Malta, to which a large proportion of immigrants were women. In Cyprus, this was mainly due to female immigrants from Sri Lanka and Philippines, while in Portugal significantly more women than men came from Brazil and Eastern European countries. France and Poland also recorded more women than men in 2006, as did Belgium and Italy according to 2003 data. In 2006, only the Netherlands had equal numbers of men and women among foreign immigrants.

The difference between two citizenship groups of foreign immigrants — non-national EU immigrants and non-EU immigrants — was significant. The proportion of males among non-national EU citizens immigrating to other Member States was much higher than that of non-EU immigrants: 125 male for every 100 non-national female EU

immigrants and 108 male for every 100 non-EU female immigrants.

Thus, non-EU immigration seem to be better balanced in terms of sex distribution. Still, looking at the gender composition of non-EU immigrants by destination country, very big differences can be observed: alongside huge male or female prevalence in some countries like Slovenia (up to four times as many men) and Cyprus (almost twice as many women), the gender composition of non- EU immigrants to many countries was quite

balanced. Thus relatively low male prevalence among non-EU immigrants in the EU-27 as whole was actually the result of varying tendencies in individual Member States.

Concerning returning nationals, less extreme differences between the number of men and women were observed. Still, male prevalence was more or less noticeable in most countries. Only Austria had an exceptionally high male ratio: twice as many men as women. By contrast, a number of countries such as Cyprus, Ireland, Finland,Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom reported practically equal numbers of male and female immigrants with national citizenship.

Among working age foreign immigrants (15 to 64 years old) the sex ratio was even more in favour of men compared with that of immigrants of all ages. In all 14 Member States that supplied immigration data separately on non-national EU citizens and non-EU citizens, significantly more male than female immigrants of working age were observed in both citizenship groups. Only in the Netherlandswas the ratio almost the same for immigrants of all ages and of working age. By contrast, in Portugal,where more female than male immigrants were recorded in both citizenship groups, the predominance of women among immigrants of working age was even larger. Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands had the same tendency among non-EU immigrants.

While there are likely to be more men than women among working age migrants, when one looks at total migration and at migration in old age, the age composition of the population of origin is reflected: there are fewer men than women among old people, which explains the prevalence of women among migrants in this age group.

Age of immigrants varies across Member States

Age composition, while corresponding to the typical age pattern of migration, varied between Member States. Denmark had the youngest total immigration, with half of the immigrants younger than 25 and 80% younger than 35. The Netherlands and Sweden also received relatively more young immigrants than others — 70% were younger than 35. However, the proportion of younger immigrants in these countries was not as

high as in Denmark: the median age was nearly three years higher than in Denmark (27.8 years in both). In these three countries migrants of all citizenships were relatively young.

By contrast, in some countries like the Czech Republic and Slovenia more than half of the immigrants were older than 30. According to Slovakian data, half of the people immigrating to this country were even older than 32. In Slovenia,this was mainly because of relatively older non-national EU immigrants, while in the Czech Republic, returning nationals were older. In Slovakia, EU citizens (nationals and non-nationals) migrated at an older age compared with those from other countries.Thus, immigrants’ age composition varied markedly across the Member States, particularly in relation to their citizenship. Therefore, it is rather difficult to find any common features among Member States.Bear in mind that different definitions of migrantused in different countries can also have an impact on the data on age composition: if only migrants taking up permanent residence are counted, the age figures may be considerably higher because this type of migration can be counted only after a certain period of temporary stay.

The median age of non-EU citizens immigrating to Member States was distributed over nearly eight years (Figure 10): from the lowest in Denmark (24.1 years) to the highest in Lithuania (31.9 years). The groups of countries with younger or older non-EU immigrants were rather selective:in the ‘old’ Member States (EU-15), non-EU immigrants were generally younger than in Member States that joined the EU more recently.

Among non-national EU citizens, the difference between the lowest and highest median age was even greater: nearly nine years, with Denmark at 24.9 and Slovenia at 33.8. Non-national EU immigrants in northern parts of Europe were relatively younger, while those who immigrated to countries in the south and east of the EU were

relatively older.The median age of nationals returning to their home country was over 30 in several Member States. In Austria, returning nationals were, on average, oldest (with a median age of 35.4). The median age of Spanish, Slovakian and Czech nationals migrating to their home country was about 33, while half of German nationals migrating

to Germany were also older than 31.

In 2009Q4, the number of persons in employment (seasonally adjusted) in the EU-27 fell to 220.8 million,0.3 % less (-0.7 million) than in 2009Q3. This was the sixth quarter-on-quarter reduction in a row. Since the peak reached in 2008Q2, employment has fallen by 6.0 million persons.Between 2009Q3 and 2009Q4, employment fell in most EU Member States. The largest drops were recorded in Latvia (-4.0 %), Estonia (-3.4 %) and Lithuania (-2.3 %). However, in the four biggest EU countries employment remained stable (in Germany and the United Kingdom), or decreased less than the EU average,(-0.1 % in Italy and -0.2 % in France). Employment remained unchanged also in Portugal, while it grew slightly in Austria, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg.In 2009Q4, unemployment (seasonally adjusted) in

the EU-27 continued its upward trend and reached 22.6 million. It rose by 2.3 % (0.5 million people) on 2009Q3, and by 40.2 % (6.5 million) compared to its lowest level in 2008Q1.

In 2009Q4, the highest quarter-on-quarter increases in the number of unemployed were observed in Bulgaria (+15.1 %), Denmark (+13.2 %),Slovakia (+11.2 %) and Lithuania (+10.0 %). In Hungary, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain and Estonia the rise was below the EU-27 average. The number of unemployed persons remained unchanged in Slovenia, while it decreased in Portugal,Malta, the United Kingdom and Austria, for the first time after several quarters of growth, and in Germany for the second quarter in a row.

In addition to shrinking employment and rising unemployment, another phenomenon observed in the EU labour market is a gradual reduction in weekly hours actually worked by employed persons.According to the results of the EU labour force survey, the actual weekly working time in all jobs for an average person in employment has been falling since the second half of 2008 in the EU-27 (year-on-year; see Chart 2). In 2009Q4 the reduction from 2008Q4 was 2.0 %, which brought the average down to 33.6 hours (not seasonally adjusted). The reduction in the weekly working hours is partly due to an increase in the share of persons absent from work3, e.g. in the context of flexible working time arrangements or because of temporary lay-off. This share has been rising year-onyear since the beginning of 2009, and reached 9.0 % in the fourth quarter, up by 0.8 percentage points from o

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