Key findings

International job matching: Challenges and intermediation tools

  • Labour migration of skilled professionals from third countries in the EU has remained below its potential. Absolute inflows are comparable in size to those in Australia, Canada and the United States. This is despite the larger size of the EU labour market and pressing demand for skills in many Member States.

  • The demand-driven labour migration systems of EU Member States – whereby admission of skilled workers from abroad is conditional on a job offer – put the cross-border matching between employer demand and the skills of migration candidates at the core of the migration system. Yet persistent information barriers and costs affect the transfer of human capital across borders and undermine the international job matching process.

  • Among the highest barriers to international job matching are obstacles to the recognition of foreign qualifications, insufficient language knowledge and cultural differences, limited opportunities for face-to-face interviews, unfamiliarity with migration and migration-related administrative procedures, and burdensome regulations. These obstacles affect both employers and migration candidates. On the employer side, they largely account for the widespread reluctance to hire from abroad, and explain why the European labour migration system underperforms.

  • Firms and potential migrants who look for employment matching across borders typically use private intermediation channels and established networks to bridge international recruitment divides. Existing platforms for employment matching – both public and private – are currently unsuited or unable to ensure smooth international job matching for the whole spectrum of skills profiles and firm sizes across the EU. Private intermediation actors operating globally (i.e. agencies or virtual platforms) are starting to offer solutions to fill this market gap. Yet, private intermediation cannot resolve bottlenecks related to the regulatory framework.

  • There is a case for public involvement in international job matching notably to service small markets, respond to demand for medium skilled workers as well as to better integrate the state’s exclusive prerogative over migrants’ pre-screening and admission. Complementarity to existing and expanding private instruments and enhanced fairness may justify the required investments of public funds and political capital.

  • Public authorities can expand opportunities for international job matching by offering reliable and no-fee matching and information tools, and/or creating the regulatory conditions for international labour demand and supply to spontaneously match. Going even further, some existing assisted recruitment programmes and skill mobility partnerships indicate the potential of direct public involvement in recruitment.

  • Buy-in from employers and skilled migration candidates is essential for the success of any public initiative in support of international job matching. However, this cannot be taken for granted. Publicly-led employment matching initiatives, at the national and international level, often suffer a negative reputation, for being skewed towards low-skilled client profiles, or designed to primarily serve other policy goals than employment matching. Hence, many such initiatives have been undersubscribed and failed to bring together sizeable and quality markets for international job matching. Existing success stories of industry-led international training and recruitment demonstrate the importance of involving employers from the outset and throughout all the steps of the design and implementation of the employment matching initiative.

The Expression of Interest system of migration management: Building blocks

  • The Expression of Interest system is the most recent innovation in skilled labour migration management. First introduced in 2004 in New Zealand and later adopted in Australia (2012) and Canada (2015), EoI is a complex tool. EoI uses a pre-application phase in which potential migrants file an expression of interest in different migration programmes. Candidates who meet certain pre-screening requirements are admitted to a pool, where they are ranked based on several criteria. Expressions of interest are regularly drawn by ranking and only then candidates are able to lodge a visa application for a given migration programme.

  • The pools have also been linked to job matching platforms, allowing employers or regional authorities to view the profiles of EoI candidates, or candidates to post their profiles in public job matching platforms.

  • EoI’s two-step selection procedure allows dynamic prioritisation of the most needed applicants according to different criteria (for instance, those with a job offer, or meeting certain labour market needs). It was introduced to respond to two objectives: reduce backlogs in migration systems offering permanent labour migration programmes – some of which do not require employer sponsorship – and enhance selection for skill demands.

  • In 2015, the EoI system was used to admit 87% of permanent economic migrants in New Zealand, and 53% in Australia. This amounts to approximately 26 000, and 68 500 migrants. In Canada, in 2016 89 500 migrants were granted permanent residence through the EoI. The available data suggests that EoI systems have been successful in reducing processing time without increasing costs, and have likely improved the employability of qualified candidates; however, evidence suggests that the job matching component has not played a significant role and could be improved.

  • EoI systems differ in complexity and the number and types of supported programmes. They also differ in the selection methods used to enter in the pool and be invited to apply, in the use and design of point-based systems (PBS), in the importance of employer sponsorship, in the way the job matching platform is linked to the pool and in the role of employers and sub-national authorities.

  • The three countries’ experience demonstrates how EoI can be compatible with multiple selection methods and categories. Drawing on this experience, key design choices must be made. These include: the types of migration programmes supported; the extent of pre-screening of qualifications for pool admission; the selectivity of PBS for pool and/or programme admission and the weight of sponsorship; the way job-matching platforms are linked with the pool and the extent to which employers are allowed to access the pool. While EoI currently focuses on skilled labour migration, it can be extended to other types of programmes.

Scenarios for the adaptation of the EoI system to the European context

  • A direct application of the original EoI system of migration management to the EU would not be feasible, due both to constitutional and contextual differences. In the EU, actual issuance of residence permits is the competence of Member States, which also have the prerogative to define the number of labour migrants to admit to their respective labour markets. Further, immediate permanent residence, as granted under EoI examples, is almost unknown in Member State legislation, and not contemplated in the EU legal migration framework. More broadly, where EoI systems are in place, they have built upon existing migration and employment management systems, in more unitary and coherent legislative and institutional contexts than those found in today’s European Union.

  • A direct application of the original EoI system to the EU would not be useful. There are currently no queues of highly skilled migrants awaiting admission in Europe. All qualifying sponsored candidates are admitted.

  • However, an adaptation of elements of the EoI model would be highly relevant and could help improving the performance of the European labour migration system. Several scenarios – varying in terms of their possibility under the current legal framework and the resources and political capital required – can be identified for adaptation of the EoI model.

  • A basic scenario for adopting the most relevant part of the EoI would create an EU-wide pool of highly-skilled migration candidates, to serve existing skilled labour migration schemes (EU and/or national). Admission to the pool would be conditional on basic credentials and migration requirements – for instance the standard qualification requirements of the current EU Blue Card. Further to this, to enhance international job matching opportunities, the pool could either work as an employment-matching platform or such a platform would be created alongside the pool with similar entry criteria. Candidates receiving a job offer would be able to lodge their permit application under the qualifying national legal migration scheme. Different migration streams could be served.

  • The implementation of this basic scenario would not require changes in the European legal migration framework. It would nonetheless be conditional on the establishment of a complex and costly infrastructure, including an overall governing body responsible for design and oversight; separate bodies tasked with language and education pre-screening; employer accreditation; and a managing secretariat. Employer engagement would be required, in the expectation of an enlarged talent pool.

  • A second scenario – which would be an enhanced version of the basic scenario – would focus on one or more separate target sectors where credentials could be accepted – formally or on an industry-wide basis – throughout the EU. Enhanced pre-screening, prior validation of qualifications, matching and, possibly, intra-EU mobility features would be possible under this scenario. This variant would also allow for pooling demand (i.e., a fixed number of vacancies to fill), in light of uniform criteria, and for the creation of rosters of candidates who could be ranked and selected according to an optional points-based selection.

  • Certain sectors with uniform skills requirements and/or pressing shortages could offer a promising ground to pilot this scenario, especially where employers and industry are already actively seeking and certifying skills internationally to improve matching. This could be the case, for instance, in the IT sector, where access to practice is not regulated by a professional body and where credentials are fairly international. The health sector could also benefit from the creation of an EU-wide pooling and matching mechanisms for skilled health professionals from third countries. However, this would require the agreement among Member States and their competent regulatory bodies on the mutual recognition of qualification recognition decisions issued to third-country nationals in each Member State.

  • A skills development component could be added in such a scenario. For specific sectors in need of foreign labour, migration candidates could be trained from or for the pool using trusted and certified curricula. This variant could be implemented in the context of skills mobility frameworks, to ensure that the pool is populated with candidates holding sought-after skills. However, for the pool to cater to the whole Internal Market, the training curricula and the credentialing mechanism would have to be accepted all across the EU.

  • A third scenario for the EoI adaptation would consist in a more comprehensive scheme-specific option whereby access to an EU-wide legal migration channel – either demand or supply driven – would only be possible through the EoI process. Admission to the pool would reflect pre-qualification for a specific type of permit. Under this scenario, admission to the pool would require meeting the eligibility criteria for recognition of foreign qualifications, where applicable, and pre-certification of other eligibility criteria as vetted by a central body at the EU-level. Employers would know that candidates could be quickly recruited under the scheme. Candidates would be able to promote themselves as eligible for rapid and simplified recruitment.

  • The reference migration channel for the third scenario is the existing EU Blue Card scheme. As part of its review process, amendments could be introduced to make Blue Card issuance conditional on EoI selection. The third scenario could be expanded to include a new EU-wide job-search permit, which would mirror the supply-driven component of existing EoI systems. Introducing such a permit would require consensus among Member States for a substantial modification of the EU legal migration framework, which is unlikely to be achieved in the near future.

  • A variant of the third scenario, requiring less modification, would be the possibility of using a short or long-stay visa to create a supply-driven migration stream for highly-qualified candidates admitted to a dedicated EU-wide pool with shared entry criteria. A central body at the EU level would issue Invitations to Apply to selected pool candidates, which would offer grounds for visa issuance by the Member States. The visa would allow holders to seek work in any Member State. By permitting in-person contact with employers, the visa would eliminate one of the main information barriers and asymmetries. Visa-holders who obtain a job offer while on the job-search visa would be able to apply for a permit in the Member State of employment without having to leave its territory, even if the visa was issued by another Member State.

  • Overall, the scenarios add an enhanced matching tool where there is currently a gap. The third scenario and its visa variant are closest to the migration management mechanism under existing EoI models. Given the complexity of the EU legal migration competence framework and the level of interest from Member States in this area, the first scenario and the unregulated professions version of the second scenario appear most realistic in the medium term as they do not involve major policy and legislative changes.

  • By allowing for in-person contact between the qualified migration candidate and the prospective employer, the job-search permit or visa served by a pre-screening and pooling mechanism can be an EoI-type of tool on its own. This tool would be naturally suited to serve the third scenario. Yet its introduction in the first two scenarios may also be possible. Provided Member States’ consensus on the required legislative changes or automatic pool selection rules, the supply-driven tool could offer a powerful means to overcome stubborn barriers to international employment matching throughout the EU.

  • The development of an EU-wide matching tool for international recruitment will also allow experimentation of the settings and infrastructure necessary for integrating the platform into a migration management system, as a further step. Experimentation and evaluation are necessary for effective policy feedback.

  • Many of the elements of EoI were developed in a national context, where the portability of qualifications is provided for. Any EU-wide implementation of an EoI model would be conditional on progress in the portability of qualifications across the EU. There is currently a disparity of treatment between EU nationals and third-country nationals in this area. Under the EU Professional Qualifications Directive EU Nationals in most cases obtain de facto automatic recognition of qualifications acquired in one Member State in each other Member State, while recognised third-country qualifications become portable after three years of practice and under certain conditions. Conversely, third-country nationals having obtained recognition of either third-country or EU qualifications in one Member State and who subsequently wish to work in different Member States, must seek recognition in each Member State. Since qualification recognition procedures are often complex and cumbersome, the lack of portability of qualifications recognition decisions for third-country nationals across the EU sharply constrains the mobility of international talent in the EU Internal Market.

  • In the absence of progress in the portability of qualifications recognition decisions across the EU, adaptation of the EoI system to the EU cannot fully cater to the whole Internal Market. If mutual recognition of recognition qualifications decisions across the EU cannot be achieved in the near future, then EU-wide validity of assessments of equivalency of third-country educational credentials with national credentials (ECAs) should be pursued as a stepping-stone for the necessary advancement in this area.

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