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Clearing the path for foreign experts

1 December 2011.

Published in European Voice and Dagens Industri (SE)

Companies cannot always find the expertise that they need locally, writes EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. Photo: Istockphoto
OP-ED

Companies that try to bring staff to Europe from abroad currently face 27 different kinds of rules and red tape. As a result, it is remarkably difficult both to enter the Union and to move within it.

Common sense tells us that companies must have access to the right people, with the right skills, at the right moment. In times of crisis, this logic is even more important, as highly skilled professionals can play a vital role in the EU's economic recovery.

But companies that try to bring staff to Europe from abroad currently face 27 different kinds of rules and red tape. Well over a year ago, the European Commission outlined proposals to get rid of these problems for so-called intra-corporate transferees.

The idea is fairly straightforward. Companies cannot always find the expertise that they need locally. Specialists must sometimes be recruited from outside the EU, be they ICT managers from India, agricultural experts from Argentina or environmental specialists from Japan. And multinational companies simultaneously doing business in many EU countries should be able to move their experts to the EU country where their knowledge is needed the most.

But a company that wants to bring a highly qualified foreign employee to Europe, or transfer him or her to a subsidiary in another EU country, faces a plethora of overlapping national regulations, cumbersome application processes and piles of paperwork. The methods of applying for a work permit differ greatly between countries, as do the national rules for transferring employees. As a result, it is remarkably difficult both to enter the Union and to move within it.

Last year, I proposed a common set of rules introducing a combined residence and work permit for these categories of workers – managers, specialists and graduate trainees – and a new fasttrack entry procedure according to which a permit application must be processed within a month.

With these rules in place, specialists and managers would be able to stay in Europe for three years on a single permit; graduate trainees for one year. I also proposed a system for easier mobility across borders for these intra-corporate transferees. The number of people accepted each year would still be a matter for member states to decide upon.

And let me be very clear: these specialists do not grab job opportunities from Europeans. They bring knowledge and experience that would not end up here otherwise. They fill important posts, meeting a demand in situations where there are no alternatives but to recruit from abroad. They help create jobs by boosting European competitiveness, investments and exports.

The Commission proposals have been stuck in negotiations in the European Parliament and in the Council for over a year. This month, the issue will be discussed by member states in the justice and home affairs council.

I urge the Parliament, the Council and the incoming Danish presidency of the Council of Ministers to speed up the negotiations. It is high time that the Commission's proposals were adopted.

In fighting the economic crisis, we need the right tools to turn the ship around. If we are serious about strengthening our competitiveness on the global stage, bringing the right talent to Europe is an issue where we cannot afford to wait any longer.