While 85% of unskilled labour migration goes to the EU and 5% to the US, only 5% of skilled labour lands in the EU, recent surveys show. According to a Permit Foundation survey, a quarter of international staff are said to have turned down jobs due to concerns over their partner's chances of working in the host country.
Whereas the EU 'Blue Card' scheme for highly-qualified migrants had scrapped a clause allowing member states to 'test the labour market' before permitting partners to work, the same provision is currently missing from the European Commission's draft Intra-Corporate Transferees (ICT) Directive, which covers the entry of 'high-end' migrants such as managers and specialists into the EU.
The certainty of being joined by their partner is "a crucial factor" for corporate transferees in deciding whether to accept a job. Those accompanied by spouses settle down more quickly and are more likely to fulfil the duration of their contract. "A transferee's health, well-being and integration are all facilitated by their family accompanying them," Van der Wilk-Carlton said.
Rules for accepting expats and their spouses vary across the EU's 27 member states and Van der Wilk-Carlton stressed the need for a common approach to boost EU competitiveness. She cited the UK and the Netherlands as models, due to their acceptance of both spouses and partners.
A boon to national economies
Corporate transferees' partners are not only highly qualified on average, but are also more likely to have a job in the EU host country than in their departure one, Van der Wilk-Carlton said, adding that partners would produce more wealth as they would pay taxes and spend their income in national economies.
Allaying fears of workers swamping national economies during a period of economic crisis, Van der Wilk-Carlton said that "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, and typically stay for only 2-4 years. This is not contributing to long-term immigration".
Whereas some countries typically seek to shield their economies from low-skilled migration, EU barriers to highly-skilled migration are now considered counterproductive, as several member states are already making provisions to allow partners to work in the host country, seen as a win-win situation for all.
"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. Rather than contributing to 'brain drain' in the sending countries, these business transfers actually stimulate knowledge exchange and economic growth in all directions."
The Foundation said it will lobby the EU to amend the proposed directive.