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Opinion: FEANTSA opposes UK prime minister’s threat to expel EU migrant rough sleepers

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image001On 26November, UK Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an article in the Financial Times announcing a “crackdown” on EU immigration, vowing to restrict access to benefits and tighten the rules on free movement, as well as threatening the deportation of people sleeping rough or begging. FEANTSA opposes arbitrary and unlawful expulsions, calls for the respect of procedural safeguards acknowledged by the EU acquis on free movement and asks the EU and its member states to urgently set clearer rules which would ensure that no EU citizen exercising the right to free movement be left destitute due to lack of adequate support services.

For a small number of EU citizens who have made use of their right to free movement, the journey into an imagined better life abroad has not been successful.  In a number of European cities, such as London, Paris or Copenhagen, there is a significant proportion of EU migrants amongst the homeless population. Where access to basic support is denied by law, they are obliged to rely on relatives, to live in inadequate housing or to sleep rough.

Free movement is not only one of the founding pillars of the EU but also one of its most important achievements.  Prime Minister David Cameron in his article seems to forget that there is evidence showing that EU enlargements in 2004 and 2007 have had a positive impact on Member States' economies and have not led to serious disturbances in their labour markets.  Moreover, according to a recent study on the impact of mobile EU citizens on national social security systems, EU citizens from other member states use welfare benefits no more intensively than the host country's nationals.

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David Cameron said: “If people are not here to work – if they are begging or sleeping rough – they will be removed. They will then be barred from re-entry for 12 months.”

We want to remind the UK government that according to EU law, Union citizens can only be expelled if they become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system or on grounds of public policy or public security.  An expulsion measure should not be the automatic consequence of recourse to the social assistance system and the host member state should first examine whether it is a case of temporary difficulties and take into account the duration of residence, the personal circumstances and the amount of aid granted in order to consider whether the beneficiary has become an unreasonable burden on its social assistance system and proceed with his or her expulsion.

Moreover, before making an expulsion decision on the grounds of public policy or public security, the host member state should take account of considerations such as how long the individual concerned has been residing on its territory, his/her age, state of health, family and economic situation, social and cultural integration into the host member state and the extent of his/her links with the country of origin. Therefore, expelling people because they sleep rough or beg would be unlawful since they are not a burden on the social assistance system nor they are a threat to public security.

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Cameron also fails to realise that some people who sleep rough do have work, but are unable to find accommodation because of the difficulty of accessing affordable housing, and suggests that people choose to come to the country in order to sleep rough. Homelessness is very rarely a choice and if migrants become homeless it is usually because of a failing in migration policy to provide them with adequate opportunities and remove barriers to their full integration into society.

FEANTSA opposes arbitrary expulsions and calls on the EU and its member states to guarantee access to basic services and facilities, without imposing a threat of expulsion to those who are destitute and in need for emergency support. These basic services should include food, health care, accommodation and other homeless services, such as hygiene facilities, laundry and storage.  FEANTSA also believes that a long-term solution can only be achieved through adequate social policies which include access to services that would help people experiencing a personal crisis to get back on the right track.  This can only happen through collaboration between member states and with the support of the EU.

Economy

Reducing unemployment: EU policies explained

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After uneployment in the EU had steadily increased since 2013, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in 2020. Find out how the EU works to reduce unemployment and fight poverty.

Although EU labour market conditions and workers’ rights have significantly improved in recent years, the fight against unemployment and the consequences of the COVID crisis remain challenges for the European Union owhile working towards quality jobs and a socially inclusive Europe.

Find out more about how the EU protects jobs and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts have been made in a number of areas, including helping young people enter the labour market, combating long-term unemployment, upgrading skills, and facilitating workers' mobility in the EU.

EU unemployment rate

In April 2021, the unemployment rate in the eurozone was 8%, down from 8.1% in March 2021 and up from 7.3% in April 2020.

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EU vs member state competencies

EU countries are still primarily responsibe for employment and social policies. However, the EU complements and coordinates member state actions and promotes the sharing of best practices.

According to article nine of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU should consider the objective of a high level of employment when defining and implementing all of its policies and activities.

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European employment strategy 

In 1997 EU countries established a set of common objectives and targets for employment policy to fight unemployment and create more and better jobs in the EU. This policy is also known as the European employment strategy (EES).

The European Commission monitors and implements the strategy through the European Semester, an annual cycle of coordination of economic and employment policies at EU level.

The social and employment situation in Europe is evaluated in the context of the EU Semester and based on the Employment Guidelines, common priorities and targets for national employment policies. In order to help EU countries move forward, the Commission issues country-specific recommendations, based on their progress towards each goal.

How it is funded

The European Social Fund (ESF) is Europe’s main instrument to ensure fairer job opportunities for everyone living in the EU: workers, young people and all those seeking a job.

The European Parliament proposed to increase funding in the EU’s budget for 2021-2027. The new version of the fund, known as the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+), with a budget of €88 billion, focuses on education, training and lifelong learning, as well as equal access to quality employment, social inclusion and combatting poverty.

The Employment and Social Innovation Programme (EaSI) aims to help modernise employment and social policies, improve access to finance for social enterprises or vulnerable people who wish to set up a micro-company and to promote labour mobility via the EURES network. The European Jobs Network facilitates mobility by providing information to employers and jobseekers and also features a database of job vacancies and applications across Europe.

The European Globalization Adjustment Fund (EGF) supports workers losing their jobs due to globalisation, as companies may shut down or move their production to non-EU countries, or the economic and financial crisis, in finding new work or setting up their own businesses.

The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) supports member state initiatives to provide food, basic material assistance and social inclusion activities to the most deprived.

The updated version of the European Social Fund Plus merges a number of existing funds and programmes (the ESF, the EaSI, the FEAD, the Youth Employment Initiative), pooling their resources and providing more integrated and targeted support to citizens.

Fighting youth unemployment

Among the EU measures to combat youth unemployment is the Youth Guarantee, a commitment by member states to ensure that all young people under the age of 30 years receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education. The implementation of the Youth Guarantee is supported by EU investment, through the Youth Employment Initiative.

The European Solidarity Corps allows young people to volunteer and work in solidarity-related projects across Europe. The Your first EURES job platform helps young people aged 18 to 35, and interested in gaining professional experience abroad, find a work placement, traineeship or apprenticeship.

Right skills, right job

By promoting and improving skills acquisition, making qualifications more comparable and providing information on the demands for skills and jobs, the EU supports people in finding good-quality jobs and making better career choices.

The New Skills Agenda for Europe, launched in 2016, consists of 10 measures to make the right training and support available to people and to revise a number of existing tools, such as the European CV format Europass).

Challenge of long-term unemployment

Long-term unemployment, when people are unemployed for more than 12 months, is one of the causes of persistent poverty. It remains very high in some EU countries and still accounts for almost 50% of total unemployment.

To better integrate the long-term unemployed in the labour market, EU countries adopted recommendations: they encourage the registration of long-term unemployed with an employment service, individual in-depth assessment to identify their needs, as well as a tailor-made plan to bring them back to work (a job integration agreement). It would be available to anyone unemployed for 18 months or more.

Long-term absence from work often leads to unemployment and to workers leaving the labour market permanently. To retain and reintegrate workers into the workplace who suffer from injuries or chronic health problems, in 2018, the European Parliament formulated a set of measures for member states to work on, such as making workplaces more adaptable through skills development programmes, ensuring flexible working conditions and providing support to workers (including coaching, access to a psychologist or therapist).

Promoting workers’ mobility

Making it easier for people to work in another country can help tackle unemployment. The EU has a set of common rules in place to protect people’s social rights related to unemployment, sickness, maternity/paternity, family benefits etc. when moving within Europe. Rules on the posting of workers establish the principle of same pay for same work at the same workplace.

Find out more about what the EU does about globalization's impact on employment.

Find out more about EU social policies

Find out more 

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Economy

Labor shortage in Hungary leads government to seek workers abroad

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The usually immigrant-reluctant government in Budapest is looking for foreigners to help with labor force shortage, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

Hungary’s foreign minister said that companies will be allowed to recruit skilled work-force from non-EU countries. Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister, backed the move by saying that this will help with Hungary’s 5.5% growth target set for this year.

For example, one sector hit by labor shortages is the hospitality industry in Hungary which has recently voice strong concerns about the lack of cooks and cleaning staff. Tamás Flesch, head of Hungarian Hotel and Restaurant Association said during an interview that hotels owners in Budapest go to great lengths to secure the much needed workforce, offering the example of hotel manager needing to clean rooms themselves.

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Many other countries in central and eastern Europe have been struggling with workforce shortages amid a faster than expected economic recovery following the pandemic restrictions.

The government in Budapest has been reluctant until now to opening its doors to foreigners amid Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-immigrant policies that have sparked frequent clashes with the European Union.

Another sector where Hungary’s labor shortage makes its presence felt is agriculture. Hungarian farmers are struggling to find enough workers to harvest their fruits and vegetables, with more than 190 million euros worth of goods being destroyed in the last year alone.

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Experts believe that the best way to attract people to work on farms is to increase wages. They believe the industry will need at least a decade to recover from job losses and reorient itself to a new way of doing business.

And probably the most surprising sector impacted by workforce shortage in Hungary is online retail. The labor crisis is restricting e-commerce, with many online stores being forced to suspend online advertising because they cannot cope with higher demand. Kristof Gal, founder of Klikkmarketing, an online marketing company based in Budapest, estimates that between 30 and 40% of online stores could be affected by this problem.

Szijjarto said new legislation, including on temporary workers, aimed to "help the fast restart of the economy, to be the fastest to restart in Europe".

As Hungary’s economy is doing better than expected in the first quarter of this year despite coronavirus lockdown measures, the government in Budapest announced other measures including easing bureaucratic burdens on small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as cheap loans to help Hungarian companies expand abroad or invest in green projects.

The government in Budapest has been criticized repeatedly by the EU for its stance regarding migrants, attacks on press freedom and against LGBT community. The European Commission and the European Parliament have previously launched a "rule of law" action against Hungary regarding civil freedoms. MEPs are asking the European Commission to move ahead with legal action, and to even refuse Hungary access to the €750bn Covid-19 pandemic recovery plan, if Orban's government does not reverse course.

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Employment

Only 5% of total applications for long-term skilled work visas submitted in first quarter came from EU citizens, data shows

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The figures released by the UK Home Office give an indication of how Britain’s new post-Brexit immigration system will affect numbers of EU citizens coming to the UK to work. Between January 1 and March 31 this year EU citizens made 1,075 applications for long-term skilled work visas, including the health and care visa, which was just 5% of the total 20,738 applications for these visas.

The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “It is still too early to say what impact the post-Brexit immigration system will have on the numbers and characteristics of people coming to live or work in the UK. So far, applications from EU citizens under the new system have been very low and represent just a few percent of total demand for UK visas. However, it may take some time for potential applicants or their employers to become familiar with the new system and its requirements.”

The data also shows that the number of migrant healthcare workers coming to work in the UK has risen to record levels. 11,171 certificates of sponsorship were used for health and social care workers during the first quarter of this year. Each certificate equates to a migrant worker. At the start of 2018, there were 3,370. Nearly 40 percent of all skilled work visa applications were for people in the health and social work sector. There are now more migrant healthcare visa holders in the UK than at any time since records began in 2010. Although the number of sponsor licences for healthcare visas dropped to 280 during the first lockdown last year, it has continued to rise since, a pattern which was unaffected by the third lockdown this winter.

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Conversely, the IT, education, finance, insurance, professional, scientific and technical sectors have all seen a drop in the number of migrants employed so far this year, despite rallying during the second half of 2020. The number of migrant IT workers is still significantly lower than pre-Covid levels. In the first quarter of 2020 there were 8,066 skilled work visas issued in the IT sector, there are currently 3,720. The number of migrant professionals and scientific and technical workers has also dipped slightly below pre-Covid levels.

Visa expert Yash Dubal, Director of A Y & J Solicitors said: “The data shows that the pandemic is still affecting the movement of people coming to the UK to work but does give an indication that demand for skilled work visas for workers outside the EU will continue to grow once travel has been normalised. There is particular interest in British IT jobs from workers in India now and we expect to see this pattern continue.”

Meanwhile the Home Office has published a commitment to enable the legitimate movement of people and goods to support economic prosperity, while tackling illegal migration. As part of its Outcome Delivery Plan for this year the department also pledges to ‘seize EU exit opportunities, through creating the world’s most effective border to increase UK prosperity and enhance security’, while acknowledging that income it collects from visa fees may decrease due to reduced demand.

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The document reiterates the Government’s plan to attract the "brightest and best to the UK".

Dubal said: “While the figures relating to visas for IT workers and those in the scientific and technical sectors do not bear this commitment out, it is still early days for the new immigration system and the pandemic has had a profound effect on international travel. From our experience helping facilitate work visas for migrants there is a pent-up demand that will be realised over the coming 18 months.”

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