EU plans migrant work permit relaunch, funding for Africa

A migrant from Sudan tries to warm up in the camp for migrants called the "jungle", in Calais, northern France, February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will present proposals on Tuesday to relaunch a little-used work permit scheme, similar to the U.S. Green Card, as part of efforts to curb irregular migration to the 28-nation bloc, officials said on Monday.

The weekly meeting of the executive European Commission will also flesh out plans to offer funding for African countries in ways intended to reduce incentives for their citizens to emigrate to Europe.

EU officials concede that the Blue Card system - launched in 2012 to attract skilled, high-paid workers to help replenish the labor force on an aging continent with low birth rates - has failed to flourish. In 2014, most recent data show, only 13,852 such permits to work in most EU states were granted, 87 percent of them by Germany.

Deaths in the Mediterranean and chaos across borders in the past year as more than a million refugees and economic migrants reached Europe have, however, seen a renewal of interest in the EU in offering ways for people to enter the bloc legally.

But many voters are unwilling to see greater immigration and the Blue Card scheme is unlikely to apply to a large proportion of people who would otherwise seek asylum. African governments have also voiced concerns in the past that European states might encourage a “brain drain” of their best-trained workers.

Tuesday’s proposals will also build on commitments made by EU leaders to African counterparts at a summit in Valletta in November to target investment at regions and problems that may have a particular effect in limiting emigration to Europe.

At Valletta, the Commission set aside 1.8 billion euros ($2 billion) from existing EU budgets for an Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. The Commission hopes to use the modest capital to draw in more money from public and private sources.

While attention has been focused on the arrivals of hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, European leaders are quietly more concerned about the long-term outlook for massive migration from the world’s poorest continent and are looking at a range of measures to try to limit movement in years to come.

They have made clear their impatience with African governments that receive significant aid from Europe but which are reluctant to take back their own citizens detained on EU borders and are looking for ways to speed such deportations.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald