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Towards a long-term framework for migration governance

Submitted by on 13 Nov 2017 – 14:00

International Organisation for Migration Deputy Director General, Ambassador Laura Thompson says now is the moment to devise a long-term framework which would allow up-dating and interlinking the existing laws and policies as well as addressing the gaps between them

What made for the EU’s migration crisis in 2015, was not the number of asylum-seekers and migrants arriving at the shores of the Union nor a structural incapacity of its member states to adequately receive or host them.

It was the scale of their determination to reach the EU member states regardless of the risks and hardship of the journey. And it was the disparity of positions on how to cope with the influx, including the difference in interpretation of the principle of solidarity among member states.

It could be argued that the challenges posed by the new migration dynamics helped to map the fault lines and gaps in the EU’s migration policy vision and capacity.

Two and a half years and a number of instrumental response measures (global and regional) later – this map, combined with the experience of certain immediate achievements, could serve to inform the Union’s considerations for a comprehensive, long-term, proactive, evidence- and rights-based vision on how to govern migration.

Challenge turned opportunity

Since its inception and till the event of mass mixed flows, the EU’s migration governance, outside the field of asylum, was mainly two-pronged: the Schengen/EEA-internal dimension, driven by the free movement principles and the external dimension focusing on priority regions or categories of migrants (select highly-skilled or seasonal workers, students).

The EU’s border management was built on the Union and national visa and border codes – which foresaw regular border-crossings by persons falling into one of the pre-identified categories, while irregular migration mostly occurred through arrivals from Schengen-neighbouring countries or visa over-stayers.

The events of 2015 required, and in many ways received, an adaptive response at the EU and also global levels. The relative reprieve in the flows in 2017 and the forth-coming Global Compact on Migration in 2018 offer an important opportunity for the EU and its member states to consider.

If the EU is to remain a project of solidarity, unity and shared values and responsibilities, it needs a new migration governance vision based on the very same principles. One that would respond both to socio-economic (including labour market) and demographic needs as well as to the EU’s international obligations; to the needs and rights of migrants; and to the extent possible, to the needs of countries of origin and transit.

Importantly, this vision should also reflect the EU’s position as one of the global champions of human rights and of solidarity with international community in hosting refugees.

In the immediate aftermath of the rapidly evolving migration situation in 2015 and 2016, it was appropriate for the EU to respond with the revision of the existing instruments and mechanisms governing refugee protection and migration.

The reform of Common European Asylum System (the introduction of the draft resettlement legislation); the reform of the European Asylum Support Office into the Asylum Agency; the broadened mandate of FRONTEX to include coast guard support; and the mainstreaming of fundamental rights throughout the newly-revised legislation are all important developments towards addressing the existing gaps.

In response to demographic and economic needs, the recent EU Action Plan on Integration of Third Country Nationals is another welcome development, calling for valuing the skills and improving early employment prospects of non-economic immigrants.

But while it is paramount to ensure integration opportunities for refugees, it is unlikely that the current arrivals of people in need of international protection will suffice to fill all the workforce needs of European economies, nor that their qualifications and skills will effectively match all shortages.

In view of this and the forecasted labour and skill shortages in the EU in the short to medium term, introducing more viable legal migration avenues for economic immigrants must be necessarily part of the solution. It can further be argued that the lack of regular economic migration channels is one of the drivers of current spontaneous arrivals to the EU in the first place.

Thus, now is the moment for a shift from reforming individual legal instruments and policies (each reflecting responses to past migration realities) to devising a long-term framework vision, which would allow updating and interlinking the existing laws and policies as well as addressing the gaps between them.

Among those gaps are: additional legal and safe avenues of migration; visas on “humanitarian grounds”; a solidarity mechanism; and the new Union Integrated Border Management strategy which would expand to address the mixed flows, search and rescue (SAR) at sea,  and more.

Enhanced Partnership and Collaboration with Third Countries

With the EU’s migration governance focus having broadened to nearly all regions of the world, its collaboration framework with third countries has followed suit, most notably through the Agenda on Migration, the Valletta Plan of Action and the Partnership Framework to name a few.

However, with the EU’s immigration needs continuing to compare in importance with emigration needs of third countries, the nature of third country partnerships should further evolve towards one of balanced exchange, mutual interest and shared benefit.

Specifically, it should expand on a) long-term capacity-development support to the countries of origin and transit to manage migration and b) exchange of expertise and experience between the EU member states and partner countries in migration, border and asylum management.

It is equally important to rely on international partners – such as IOM and UNHCR, given their mandate, global footprint and expertise.