Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton is a board member at the Permits Foundation, which promotes the improvement of work permit regulations for the spouses of intra-corporate transferees worldwide. The organisation is supported by over 40 major international companies.
She was speaking to EurActiv's Mark Grassi.
What is the added value for the EU to be acting in the field of migration of intra-corporate transferees and their families?
Global businesses need to move a small number of highly-skilled employees between their different country operations to transfer knowledge, skills and technologies and to develop international management expertise.
At the moment, European-wide legislation governing third-country nationals is in its infancy. The complexity and range of residence and work permit rules in the 27 member states leads to costs and delays for businesses when moving key personnel. A common base of Europe-wide regulations would facilitate Europe's competitiveness on the world stage by making it easier for businesses to expand and innovate. That will benefit everyone in the European Union.
Moreover, when businesses want to transfer highly-skilled people from one country to another, it is absolutely crucial to the success of the assignment that the family is able to go with them and, particularly, that the spouse or partner is able to work. This has been shown time and time again by HR managers' surveys as well as by the Permits Foundation's global spouse survey.
How does the spouse working impact on the success of the assignment?
First of all, the employee is more likely to accept the job. They are also more likely to settle down more quickly and complete the assignment. Their health, well-being and integration are all facilitated by their family accompanying them and their spouse being able to work.
What specific improvements to the Intra-Corporate Transferees Directive do you feel are necessary?
The spouses and partners of intra-corporate transferees should be allowed to work during the full term of the assignment. In a separate Blue Card regulation passed in 2009 for other highly-skilled employees, this was achieved by overriding a clause in an earlier Family Reunification Directive that had given member states a 12-month period to assess the labour market before allowing the spouse to work.
Overriding that clause effectively allowed the spouse of the Blue Card worker to start immediately. While it was a convoluted way to achieve a simple objective, we would expect an equivalent provision in the Intra-Corporate Transferee Directive.
Do spouses and partners bring benefits or drains to national economies?
They certainly benefit the host country. First of all, you get a highly-skilled employee coming to do an important job, bringing skills, knowledge and technology to help the companies and therefore the country. If the spouse is able to work, then they use their own skills and immediately contribute to the economy by paying taxes and having more income to spend. The whole family integrates more quickly.
Our survey shows that spouses are also highly qualified and most of them were working before they moved. If they are allowed to continue to work, it benefits both the host country and also their home country when they go back by having skills that are up-to-date instead of a gap where they are unemployed.
Do you think that the EU is missing out on a lot of highly skilled migrants?
Yes. The EU needs to position itself for the global economic upturn and cannot miss out on highly skilled people that businesses will otherwise transfer to the US, Canada or India, for example. All countries want to protect their local labour market, but governments that really want to succeed as a knowledge-based economy recognise that they need to attract the international skills that are good for business and good for the economy.
Do such schemes not contribute to the ‘brain drain' of developing countries, however?
No. Intra-Corporate Transferees are a special category of highly qualified, mobile employees who are not emigrating permanently. They usually spend between 2-4 years before moving back to their own country or on to another assignment. Companies regularly exchange key personnel between both developed and developing countries, so rather than contributing to 'brain drain' in the sending countries, these business transfers actually stimulate knowledge exchange and economic growth in all directions.
Given current economic conditions, should the number of spouses from outside the EU not be limited according to labour market needs in your opinion?
Most countries are now closing their borders to lower skilled migrants. By contrast, Intra-Corporate Transferees are exactly the people that can help to stimulate the economy. They also only represent a tiny proportion of the labour market, less than 1% on average. Allowing spouses to work will make it easier for businesses to transfer these key people We applaud the [European] Commission's intention to make a Directive offering a common approach to intra-company transferees across the member states, but believe they have missed a trick in not allowing the spouses to work as well.