Europe needs a mobility agreement for professionals with the US

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The EU needs to provide easy mobility to professionals seeking to work in the US, as trade is not possible without it. [Chatham House/Flickr]

Last week, the European Commission made a worrying statement about visa reciprocity with the US. Rather than creating more obstacles for transatlantic mobility, the EU should endeavour to make it easier to work and travel across the pond, writes Martin Jefflén.

Martin Jefflén is president of Eurocadres, a trade union that represents almost six million professionals and managers.

In its recently announced trade strategy, Trade for All, the Commission emphasises that the temporary movement of professionals has become essential for all sectors to conduct business internationally.

This is very true.  The mobility of professionals is a necessity in many trade and business situations and the mobility aspect in free trade agreements is essential for professionals and managers. On the one hand, professionals and managers need to have the opportunity to be mobile and would benefit from fewer obstacles between the EU and other countries. On the other hand, trade and interaction between third countries and the EU is not possible without the mobility of professionals and a highly qualified work force.

Skill gaps are a big barrier for economic growth. In the EU, there are several sectors where skills shortages hamper development. As one concrete example, the Commission itself points to a future EU-wide shortage of 825,000 ICT professionals by 2020. Short-term mobility can help bridging skills gaps and is therefore one of the components of a necessary solution.

The EU should therefore act and bring forward proposals that can promote increased mobility of professionals both from and to the EU.

The European Union is currently negotiating TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. In the free trade agreement between the US and Australia of 2005, the E-3 visa was established. This visa regime contains a quota system which applies to Australian nationals going to the US to work in a specialty occupation. One of the benefits of the system is that it also applies to spouses and children of the applicant, granting the right to the spouse also to work in the US.

As a part of TTIP, the EU should demand a mobility agreement with the USA, using the Australia-US free trade agreement as model. An annual quota of 100,000 professionals from the EU to the US should be established and US professionals should likewise be welcomed to the EU.

In setting up such a regime, it is important that such mobility is facilitated for all highly skilled groups of the workforce. Narrowing the scope could lead to leaving out certain groups, for instance, in the field of research, science and education.

The report adopted by the European Parliament on 3 February 2016 containing the institution’s recommendations to the Commission on the negotiations for the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) is a concrete example of a text which could lead to such a limitation.

When the commitments of free movement must only apply to highly skilled professionals, such as persons holding a university or equivalent master’s degree, we risk leaving out graduates from universities of applied science (polytechnics).

Mobility arrangements should not lead to developments which will create more complicated structures and rules. Making use of one’s right to mobility is complicated enough as it is. References to several EU Directives, for example, on intra-corporate transfers of third country nationals, on posting of workers, on the Blue Card, on recognition of qualifications, on visa admission and rules etc. make the whole area so complex that “ordinary” employers and professionals have difficulties in understanding the criteria and procedures.

In the light of the EU goal of “Better Regulation” this is anything but ideal. One important improvement would be to increase the transparency of mobility rules by providing easily accessible and clear information on the internet.

To help identify the important areas of improvement, it is necessary to establish a permanent dialogue between the European bodies of professionals and the EU institutions as regards the topic of free trade agreements and mobility of professionals. This would also increase transparency.

Trade unions across Europe have called for transparent and democratic negotiations of trade related agreements. Trade agreements should not weaken working conditions, quality of education or consumer and environmental protection.

Our organisation calls for a strong commitment from the  European Commission to enhance professional mobility, through a mobility agreement with the US establishing quotas for EU professionals to the US.

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