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24 August 2012

EU Labour Migration in Troubled Times

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The debate on the free movement of labour within the EU has gained new momentum in the wake of the economic crisis. A new ETUI publication written by a team of experts from across Europe sheds light on the critical issues raised by internal labour mobility within the EU in the context of economic crisis and labour market pressures. The book's chapters tease out the links between economic developments, regulatory frameworks and migration patterns in different European countries. A central focus is on issues of skills and skills mismatch and how they relate to migration forms, duration and individual decisions to stay or return.

The book edited by ETUI senior researchers Béla Galgóczi, Janine Leschke and Andrew Watt demonstrates that migrants of the ten new EU member states were harder hit in the majority of EU15 countries and at least partially acted as labour market buffers. This appeared in a generally stronger decline of employment rates and higher increases of unemployment rates for EU10 migrants than nationals. Paradoxically, however, due to stronger influx of EU10 migrants to EU15 labour markets during the crisis, their absolute numbers grew, while employment of nationals generally decreased.

Based on detailed analysis of European and national-level sources, the results presented clearly contradict assumptions about a "knowledge driven migration". Rather, over-qualification and the corresponding under-utilisation of migrant workers' skills emerge as a pervasive phenomenon.

This phenomenon can be seen also as a failure of migration related policies to improve the efficiency of cross-border labour mobility. As far as single policy elements are concerned, the implications of transitional measures at least seem to be controversial. Whereas they contributed to a quantitative geographical shift of east-west migration flows that also seem to be maintained after their lifting (possible network effects) they were not able to improve labour allocation, especially in the sense of tackling the under-utilisation of migrant labour. At the same time transitional measures also contributed to qualitative divergence in terms of working conditions with higher rates of own-account (and potentially bogus) self-employment being observed in countries that uphold transitional measures.

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Béla Galgóczi Senior Researcher bgalgoczi@etui.org

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