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Labor Mobility and Circular Migration: What are the challenges of the Stockholm Program?

Sonia Plaza's picture

I recently gave a presentation and participated in a conference organized by the Swedish Presidency of the European Union(EU) on “Labor Migration and its Development Potential in the Age of Mobility"on October 15-16. The conference focused on two main themes: a) Labor immigration, and b) Circular migration and its development potential.

Speakers and participants discussed the importance of improving labor mobility in Europe given demographic changes. New players such as China and India are competing for global talent. The EU should become an attractive market for immigrants if it wants to remain competitive in the coming decades.  Within this context mutual recognition of skills and accreditation becomes key for developing countries. (See my previous post)

Circular migration is not a new concept. Participants agreed that there is a need for more data and research on circular migration to develop policy evidence approaches. There has been an increase in “Mobility Partnership Pacts” but there is no assessment of what these mobility pacts are trying to achieve. For example, Moldova signed a mobility partnership agreement in 2008. Moldova was interested in repatriating it's citizens back to the country. On the contrary, Cape Verde’s mobility partnership program is focused on better visa policy and border control. India has just initiated discussions with the EU to have a labor mobility agreement. The agreements that India is signing are more biased towards exporting high skilled professionals in the health care sectors, information technology, biotechnology, hospitality, etc. These agreements are different from those that Spain has signed with Ecuador, Senegal and Mauritania, and from France’s co-development agreements. However, there has not been a systematic analysis on these different agreements. In order to draw lessons in expectations for further proliferation of these type of agreements, it will be important to do more evidence based research.

After the conference, the Swedish Presidency of the EU presented the first draft of the  Stockholm Program  that “specifies the framework for EU police and customs cooperation, rescue services cooperation, criminal and civil law cooperation, and asylum, migration and visa policy for the period 2010-2014”. This program will be presented to Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs and Foreign Ministers in December, prior to adoption by the European Council on December 10-11, 2009.


Submitted by VEDiCarlo on
While I understand the nature of the proposed immigration to be circular, I cannot help but be skeptical that these policies will indeed close the loop and enforce the return of highly educated and intelligent innovators to their home country. This skepticism is especially heightened 1) given the far greater number of educational/technological/social opportunities in developed countries, and 2) the ever growing influx of illegal migration out of developing countries and into "safer" countries. I am in favor of "mutual recognition of skills and accreditation," however would it not be more beneficial to developing countries to establish incentives for keeping the best and brightest within their home country? If the world really is becoming more flat in the sense that technology allows global participation in innovation and education, would it not be wise to look at how to keep brain power at home, so to speak, instead of encouraging migration?

Thanks for your comments. It seems that developing countries are responding to the following developments in developed countries' labor markets: 1) Until recently, immigration policies in the majority of EU countries have tended to be “skill blind”.  Now, the trend of re-directing migration policy towards economic (largely skilled) immigration, initiated by Australia, New Zealand and Canada, is being followed by the UK and other EU countries (e.g. blue-card, points system).   2) The objective is to make the EU more attractive to highly qualified workers and further facilitate the reception of students and researchers and their movement within the EU. However, high skilled workers from developing countries will find very difficult to compete in the EU labor markets if they need to fulfill several of the requirements (qualifications,wages at least 1.5 times more than the average gross annual salary in the country they will work in, etc). In addition, the Bologna process (to establish the European area of higher education) will make difficult for professionals trained in developing countries to obtain the accreditation of their degrees and mutual recognition. 3) Since the failure of Doha, some countries (e.g. India) have moved to sign bilateral agreements, which some view as more advantageous for the free movement of labor. It seems that bilateral labor agreements are the new tactic for labor mobility instead of trade agreements. 4) Increase protectionist measures regarding movement of labor. Yes for developing countries will be more beneficial to create jobs at home. Migration does not replace development strategies of developing countries. However, the demographic changes (mainly in Sub Saharan Africa, Middle East and South Asia) given the increase in youth population over the next decades, will present a challenge for developing countries to create jobs at the same pace of their population growth and to compete for global talent. Sonia

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