Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poor Third Country Nationals - A Third Category of EU’s Immigration Policy?

By Lidija Knuth, a research fellow at the Kirwan Institute

Where is European Union (EU) migration policy heading? Currently, the EU’s migration policy is focusing on making it more difficult for immigrants to enter Europe through a Pact on Immigration and Asylum which the European Council adopted in October 2008. The fundamental principles set out in the Pact are reflected in a series of measures which will have to be implemented immediately at both EU and national level. Moreover, these principles will also inform the future work programme of the EU, which will be proposed by the Commission in May 2009. One of the Pact’s objectives is to take joint measures against irregular migration. The proposal for the Pact includes speeding up the expulsion of foreigners who are irregularly on the territory of any member state and promoting new agreements with third countries that ensure they will take back their own citizens and also those persons who crossed their territory on the way to an EU state and were found undocumented in a member state. Furthermore, it contains compulsory integration contracts for immigrants aimed at determining whether they have adopted national and European values in addition to the possibility to undertake language tests. It also foresees the collection, retention and use of increasing amounts of biometric data on foreigners to determine where foreigners are at specific times of control.

It must be noted that there is one main exception to this ever stricter approach to third country nationals which is the category of highly skilled and qualified migrants. For this category, the more severe rules are less likely to apply due to the fact that the EU suffers from demographic ageing and will need larger migration flows in the future to minimize this trend.

This latest actions at EU level are necessary but the overall development is troubling. NGOs and civil society organizations working on immigration issues are already concerned about the fragmentation of EU communities along the lines of nationality. On the one hand, it is necessary that they focus their work on the issues raised by the newly proposed Pact and on the clearly exclusionary approach the EU is demonstrating toward third country nationals living in the EU or seeking to come to the EU.

On the other hand, in the debate about migration the EU, consistent with European values of respect for human dignity, equality and respect for human rights, should include the contribution made to Europe’s economy, society and culture by migrants. The denial of rights to many migrants, including asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, and others, not only has a negative effect on the individuals concerned, but also denies European society the added value of their participation in all spheres of society, including civic, political and cultural life.

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