EU (Parliament Politic Magazine) – In recent years, a significant European economy has witnessed a substantial decrease in immigration from EU member states. In response to this, the nation has relaxed its immigration regulations for individuals coming from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).
In 2022, more than twice as many work permits were issued to non-EEA nationals compared to 2016. Surprisingly, the country I just described is not the UK post-Brexit but is, in fact, Germany.
Germany is not an isolated case within the EU member states. To illustrate, data from the 2022 Irish census reveals a 24% decline in the Polish national population since 2016, while the Indian national population in Ireland has surged fourfold. This trend closely parallels the developments seen in the UK since Brexit, even though Ireland has maintained its EU membership.
Initial Work Permits Issued to Non-EEA
Throughout the EU (excluding the UK), the number of initial work permits issued to non-EEA nationals has tripled over the course of a decade. This surge points to a growing demand for labor that cannot be met from within the EU.
One contributing factor to this heightened demand is the aging population across EU member states. All EU nations have birth rates falling below the replacement threshold of 2.1 live births per woman. Specifically, in countries like Malta, Spain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Cyprus, this rate is even lower, standing below 1.4.
An aging population leads to a situation where the number of individuals entering the workforce is fewer than those retiring, creating challenges for employers in filling job vacancies. Additionally, an aging population places greater demands on the healthcare and social care sectors.
Without immigration, taxes would need to increase to support the pensions of a growing population of retirees, as there would be a declining number of workers contributing to the funding. Another key factor contributing to the heightened demand for workers is economic growth.
The Southern European economy has experienced a robust post-pandemic recovery, with tourism playing a significant role in driving this economic expansion. Furthermore, countries in Central and Eastern Europe have enjoyed substantial economic growth since their accession to the EU.
Economic Growth Leading to Surge in Non-EEA Immigration
Economic growth has led to a surge in non-EEA immigration to the EU for two primary reasons. First, this growth has directly amplified the demand for labor in Southern, Central, and Eastern European regions. Second, it has notably diminished the emigration flow from these areas to the wealthier nations in Northwestern Europe.
Consequently, Northwestern European countries have found themselves increasingly reliant on recruiting workers from non-EEA countries, as opposed to relying on labor from other EU member states.
The EU member states experiencing the most substantial rise in the issuance of initial work permits are primarily located in Southern Europe, including Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Portugal. Notably, Poland is the only country that has observed a decline in the number of first work permits granted, but it still grants a considerably higher number than any other EU member state.
Poland’s shift in its overseas labor recruitment strategy can be attributed to the conflict in Ukraine. In 2016, a vast majority of Polish work permits, accounting for 94%, were issued to Ukrainian nationals, but by 2022, this percentage had fallen to 48%. The most significant increase has been seen in work permits granted to Belarusian nationals.
Long Term Residents Enjoy Benefits
The European Union is currently in negotiations for the liberalization of two other directives governing immigration. The proposed revisions to the Single Permit Directive aim to streamline the process for obtaining a combined work and residence permit, reducing processing times, and granting non-EEA national workers who lose their jobs more time to secure new employment.
Similarly, the proposed amendments to the Long-Term Residents Directive are designed to simplify the process of obtaining permanent residency, especially for individuals who have lived in multiple EU countries or who initially moved to the EU as students or asylum seekers. Long-term residents enjoy rights similar to those of EU citizens, including freedom of movement.
In response to labor shortages, several countries have also relaxed their work permit regulations. Italy, for instance, has increased the annual cap on work permit allocations from 30,850 in 2016 to 75,000 in 2022. There are plans to further raise this annual quota to 165,000 by 2025.