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Foreign workers wanted, reason Europe


Several countries pass specific regulations to attract labor due to shortages in some key sectors. Spain and Germany are among those that push the most to attract employees, while the Netherlands or the United Kingdom opt for other strategies

Europe is looking for workers.

Now and in the future.

The data tells this story.

Unemployment fell to the minimum of the 21st century in October, 6%, says Eurostat;

the unfilled vacancy rate in the European Union is 3.1%;

in some thirty professions the labor shortage is profound;

and the European Commission calculates that if now 70% of the population is of working age, in 2070 the percentage will drop to 54%.

The translation of so many numbers is that companies need workers.

Faced with this situation, more and more European countries are actively seeking labor abroad, approving new regulations that expedite the arrival of workers.

The European Executive has also launched initiatives to alleviate the problem.

Some time ago he raised the revision of the directive on the blue card, which tries to attract highly qualified migrants.

"It mainly seeks to attract doctors, engineers and that type of profile," says Javier Moreno, a Spanish Socialist MEP who was a speaker in the processing of the directive.

It is too soon to see the results, he explains, because "it is still necessary to transpose them into national laws."

Moreno is also working on the new revision that has been raised on the single work permit and mobility directive, which tries to bring not-so-qualified profiles to Europe.

"The EU must address the shortage of labor in specific sectors and regions," says the communication presented by the European Commission in April and which makes its intentions clear from the title:

Attract skills and talent to the EU


There, it displays more practical and less complex legal and political proposals than the development of a regulation or a directive, which always clashes with the different national sensibilities and electoral periods on a subject as complex as migration.

But until these initiatives are deployed, Spain and other countries seek to tie up on their own the workers that their companies cannot find.

The worst unfilled vacancy rates are in the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic, which are close to 5%.

Germany is very close, with 4.5%, almost double that of France and Italy (around 2.5%).

Spain is in the tail, with 0.8%, which does not mean that the phenomenon is not noteworthy.

According to data from the National Institute of Statistics there are almost 144,000 unfilled vacancies, twice as many as in 2013, when the records began.

plumbing and nursing

Among the professions most in demand are plumbing, nursing, systems analysis, welding and the transport of goods by road, according to the main community report that analyzes the problem of vacancies prepared by the European Labor Authority, published in 2021. In total, the sectors with severe deficiencies employ 14% of the European workforce.

The actors participating in this debate (unions, employers and governments) differ on the diagnosis and the long-term solution, but the one that seems to prevail in several countries is to attract immigrant workers.

The one who has already taken the most decisive steps is Germany: it has reduced bureaucracy, facilitated the homologation of titles and allowed the arrival of people without a contract with temporary visas.

"We offer new and, above all, easier ways," summed up the Minister of Labor, Hubertus Heil.

Germany has already assumed the European leadership in this matter in other stages, such as the integration of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into its labor market.

France is preparing a new migration law that will facilitate the hiring of immigrants without papers and asylum seekers in sectors where there is a lack of workers.

“If employers have not been able to find the labor they need, they can bring it in legally,” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said.

Between 2007 and 2021, France has gone from granting 172,000 residence permits per year to 271,000.

Borne also explained that the increase is partly due to the arrival of skilled employees and scientists from outside the EU.

Belgium, for its part, has launched a single permit that combines work and residence authorization, while the Portuguese Executive recently implemented a new type of visa that grants 180 days of legal coverage, and another one especially aimed at digital nomads. (employees who telework and change their country of residence).

A nurse vaccinates a woman in Carmarthen, Wales, UK, in April 2021. POOL (Reuters)

Spain has also applied regulatory changes to facilitate the integration of foreign labor.

“You can see that lately companies are more interested in hiring foreigners.

Several have approached us to ask us,” explains Vladimir Paspuel, president of Rumiñahui, an Ecuadorian association in Spain.

From what he has observed in recent weeks, Paspuel believes that reforms such as the Spanish one (approved in summer) and those of other European countries "help" speed up hiring.

“But they fall short.

You can go further to integrate more workers”.

Why are there workers missing?

Each country has its own circumstances, but aging is, according to all the experts consulted, the main cause of the lack of labor in Europe.

Currently, for every person over 65 there are only three people of working age.

And this is getting worse.

"The potentially active Spanish population is reduced every year as a result of the continued drop in the fertility rate," says Ramón Mahía, professor of Applied Economics at the Autonomous University of Madrid, who in 2020 prepared a report for the Ombudsman on the contribution of immigration to the economy.

Added to general aging are reasons typical of the revolution experienced by the labor market.

“Specific profiles are sought, a consequence of the transition in the world of work to the digital and ecological universe.

It is important to note that there are demanding sectors that are not necessarily highly qualified (such as transport, logistics, retail and accommodation)”, adds Wouter Zwysen, a researcher at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI, for its acronym in English).

Zwysen adds a characteristic of the post-covid world: “The recovery after the pandemic was slower and lower in the worst paid sectors and with the worst working conditions (long or inflexible hours, insecure, more intense contracts)”.

Workers in these sectors, such as in the hospitality industry, for example in the case of Spain, had to look for other options.

And they found them.

Hence, now their old jobs are free and uncovered.

Germán Hurtado, coordinator of the labor area at Accem (NGO that works with migrants and asylum seekers), perceives, especially since the pandemic, that its programs for the insertion of immigrants and asylum seekers in the labor market are increasingly successful: "Companies ask us for workers because they can't find enough."

Mahía believes that another decisive reason in Spain is the "mismatch" between the labor supply of certain profiles, for example certain Vocational Training (FP) studies and STEM studies (acronym in English for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). ) and the high and growing demand for these employees.

It is a problem that employers have been denouncing for years and that Salvatore Petronella, an expert on migratory flows from the organization Labor Mobility Partnerships, extends to other countries: "Only with local employees there is not enough workforce for existing needs."

A Spanish truck driver, in a parking lot in France after crossing the English Channel, in October 2021.Samuel Sánchez

Benito Castillo, a Filipino and member of the Barcelona association to help migrants Eamiss, assures that part of the problem also lies in the lack of agile recognition in Europe of foreign vocational training or university studies.

“It is very difficult in Spain and in other countries.

I have fellow engineers who are forced to work as waiters or babysitting.

Has no sense".

Martin Hofmann, a researcher at the International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), insists on this problem: “Europe needs plumbers, welders and other trades that its citizens do not study to the extent required by the market.

You have to recognize that knowledge when it comes from abroad.”

That is exactly what the Spanish employers' association, which associates plumbers and other similar professionals, is asking for.

“There are many immigrants from Eastern Europe or America who have the knowledge, but not the qualifications.

It seems good to us that the arrival of workers is encouraged, but in the end the important thing is that they have the required training, whether they are foreigners or Spaniards”, explains the general secretary of the National Confederation of Associations of Installers and Fluids (CONAIF), Antonio Pantoja .

The Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE) adds one more reason to explain the shortage of workers in some sectors in Spain: “There is little culture of internal geographic mobility for work reasons.

Permanently moving to another region for work is rarely contemplated.

This has meant that even in years of great job creation in some areas of Spain, unemployment levels remained high”.

The unions usually oppose this argument with the differences in the rental price, triggered in areas that require labor.

Another reason to explain the unfilled vacancies in Spain, Portugal or Italy is the low salaries in certain sectors.

“In the hospitality industry or in the countryside there is not only a problem of shortage of supply, but of wages and working conditions.

It is increasingly difficult for companies to find workers who are trained and willing to assume certain working conditions because they are sometimes frankly unaffordable”, says Mahía.

"This is also observed in other more qualified sectors (medicine, new technologies,...), where the shortage of professionals is compounded by working conditions that are not competitive with those that can be achieved in other countries."

Cristina Antoñanzas, UGT deputy general secretary, agrees: “How is it possible that there are Spaniards who are going to grape harvest in France but then there are so many foreigners in the national campaign?

Because we have a salary problem.

Germany, with very low unemployment, may need foreign workers in many sectors.

But Spain, with three million unemployed, only needs them in very specific areas where training is lacking.

And let us bear in mind that this training could be encouraged in unemployed people”.

More information

"I take six pills a day to hold on": this is how it is to work cleaning crowded hotels

community coordination

The general factors have their own nuances in each country, such as Brexit in the United Kingdom.

This diversity, added to the proliferation of new regulatory frameworks, can generate competition between European countries, according to sources from the Ministry of Inclusion, Social Security and Migrations.

"As long as there is no single European migration policy, as happens in other economic areas, each country will obviously try to cover their needs in the best way they can, obeying their own interests," these same sources add.

Hofmann believes that, due to the particularities of each EU Member State, it is positive that each one decides on its strategy for attracting foreign workers.

"But it is important that there is real coordination, that the countries communicate their needs," adds this expert.

Petronella assures, however, that "hiring immigrant workers is not going to completely solve the problem."

“However,” she adds, “it is a key strategy.

Many countries know this and are starting to do it.

Those who opt for these models today will be in a better position in 20 years.”

Mahía sees the solution as somewhat myopic: "If it were up to me, I would concentrate my efforts on qualifying the job offer and guaranteeing a balanced job placement."

“But the essential underlying issue”, concludes Mahía, “is the demographic imbalance.

Although the phenomenon is somewhat irreversible, few measures are taken to alleviate it.

Since it is a long-term issue and politics is geared towards short-term electoral cycles, it seems that some politicians don't care about this issue.

Immigration is necessary to guarantee economic growth, but it barely alleviates the real demographic problem and certainly does not by itself correct the structural imbalances in the labor market”.

A political issue

Other European countries that also suffer from the problem of unfilled vacancies approach it differently.

This is the case of Italy, where the Government of Giorgia Meloni does not seem to have this issue among its priorities.

The center-left group +Europa has criticized the Executive for focusing the migration debate on rejecting NGOs that rescue immigrants at sea, instead of focusing on the legal entry of foreigners.

The previous government approved at the beginning of 2022 the arrival of 70,000 foreign workers, but the figure, due to bureaucratic problems, has not been reached.

In fact, hundreds of workers trained in African countries with Italian and European funds in order to join the Italian labor market have been stranded because their files have not been processed on time. 

The need for foreign labor also affects the UK, especially since Brexit.

1.5 million workers are missing in key sectors.

However, the recent migration crisis in the English Channel has tied the hands of the new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who has put the search for a solution to this issue at the forefront of his agenda before relaxing the entry of labor.

In the Netherlands, the central strategy is, according to the Executive, "to stimulate technological innovation, and encourage an increase in hours worked, together with a boost to the daycare system."

It also advocates improving the productivity of part-time workers and renewing the system of job offers.

"Offering good working conditions serves to attract candidates," adds the Executive of the Netherlands.

Right now,

Salvatore Petronella, an expert on migratory flows from the organization Labor Mobility Partnerships, believes that politics plays a fundamental role: “Germany and Spain are leading the regulatory changes to ensure economic growth.

But this is also a political issue.

In Italy, after the general elections (which the extreme right won), or in Finland, sharing a border with Russia, it is becoming more complicated.

Immigration is a very heated debate.”

However, Petronella believes that all European countries, driven by ageing, will end up accepting the openness approach: "A good example is the Czech Republic, a country always perceived as anti-immigration that has recently taken steps to promote labor mobility."

With information from

Elena Sevillano


Marc Bassets


Silvia Ayuso


Isabel Ferrer


Tereixa Constenla


Lorena Pacho

(Italy) and

Rafa de Miguel

(United Kingdom).

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Source: elparis

All business articles on 2023-01-08

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