The European Commission on Dec. 21 unveiled new plans on economic migration to the European Union aimed at creating legal alternatives to illegal immigration.
In order to boost Europe's attractiveness to highly qualified workers, the Union is considering introducing an EU work permit, it added. The scheme would be introduced by one member state but be valid throughout the 25-nation bloc.
Immigration was one of the solutions to the challenge posed by ageing populations, but the Union first has to use EU nationals and third-country nationals already resident on the bloc's territory, the Commission said.
"Immigration has always been both an asset and a challenge," said EU employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla.
"Illegal immigration is a weapon of mass destruction against social standards, bringing large-scale social dumping," he added.
The EU was not planning to replace national government's quotas on legal migration, but to coordinate them, EU justice affairs chief Franco Frattini underlined.
"It will be up to each member state to decide whether and how many people are admitted every year, but Europe will deal with common standards," Frattini said.
Measures will also include a residence and work permit allowing seasonal workers from non-EU countries to work in the Union for a certain number of months annually for up to 5 years.
"Even in the presence of high unemployment, this category of immigrant workers rarely conflict with EU workers as few EU citizens and residents are willing to engage in seasonal activities," the Commission blueprint said.
New laws would facilitate the movement of corporate posted non- EU workers across the bloc, as well as regulate the entry and residence of paid trainees from countries outside the EU.
The Commission also plans long-term multi-entry visas for returning migrants and wants to facilitate getting a new residence permit which would allow returnees to extend temporary employment in the former host country.
Between 2010 and 2030, the number of employed people in the EU- 25 will decrease by 20 million, the Commission said, adding that the effect of net migration will no longer outweigh the natural decrease after 2025.
Member states such as Germany, Hungary, Italy and Latvia were already experiencing a decline in the working age population.
Migrants currently represent around 3.5 per cent of the total population in the 25-nation bloc, according to the Commission.
Last year, net migration amounted to 1.85 million people, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the total increase in the EU's population.
In April 2006, the Commission wants to set future priorities in the area of illegal immigration.