New measures would help EU countries better manage the flow of immigrants, meet their need for new workers and prevent abuses.
Free movement is a fundamental right for all EU citizens. However, immigration pressures on the bloc's external borders need to be effectively managed, at the same time as encouraging the legal entry of skilled workers.
Addressing skills gaps
A low birth rate and ageing population means Europe will become increasingly dependent on immigrant labour. Active management of migration flows, the strengthening of legal migration opportunities together with measures to address irregular migration have a positive impact on both the EU and its partner countries.
By 2060, Europe will have 50 million fewer workers if historical immigration levels are maintained. If they are not, there will be 110 million fewer workers than today to help fund current levels of welfare spending, especially pensions.
By 2020 there will be an estimated shortage of about one million professionals in the health sector alone. Immigrants can help fill these and other jobs.
To this end, the Commission is proposing new measures to better manage the flow of migration from its neighbours in North Africa. These open up more legal ways for workers with in-demand skills to enter the EU.
The EU wants to develop "mobility partnerships" to help Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt develop recruitment programmes for the EU. The plan includes a way to recognise comparable professional and academic achievements.
EU countries should, in turn, benefit from the inward migration of suitably skilled workers to address their labour shortages.
The EU would also provide repatriation programmes for those wishing to return to their country of origin.
The partnerships also include the prospect of making it easier for students, researchers and businesspeople to get EU visas.
As part of the deal, the countries sending immigrants will be asked to boost their capacity to deal with illegal migration, improve border management, and fight smuggling and human trafficking.
Changes to the EU's visa rules are also on the table, allowing for the temporary reintroduction of requirements for non-EU nationals in exceptional circumstances. These include the arrival of large numbers of illegal immigrants or bogus asylum seekers.
The proposals will be discussed by member countries during the next EU summit in Brussels on 24 June 2011.