Understanding free movement and migration in the European Union
Factors in labour immigration policy
The design of national labour immigration policy normally requires a state to decide on three fundamental issues:
- How to regulate the number of migrant workers to be admitted; for instance, through quotas or caps;
- How to select migrants. This may be based on ‘skill’ as defined by qualifications or salary, but may also include other factors such as age;
- What rights to grant migrants after admission. For example, are they to be granted temporary or permanent residence? Will they be able fully to access the labour market and the welfare state?
Under the current rules for free movement, EU citizens can move and take up employment in any other EU country and — as long as they are ‘workers’ — enjoy full and equal access to the host country’s welfare state. This combination of unrestricted intra-EU migration and equal access to national welfare states for EU workers is an important exception to the tension and trade-off between immigration and access to social rights that characterises the labour immigration policies of many high-income countries. Free movement also challenges long-standing theories and claims about the alleged incompatibility of open borders and inclusive welfare states. REMINDER research suggests that the tension between unrestricted immigration and equal access to national welfare states exists also in the case of free movement, and has been at the heart of recent political debates and disagreements between EU Member States about whether and how to reform the current rules for free movement.