The EU is piloting a new guest worker scheme for Africa which aims to kill two birds with one stone - boosting the economies of developing countries through foreign wages and stopping illegal immigration in the process.
Many flee extreme poverty in Mali for Europe without a plan on how to support their new life
The European Union plans to open a job centre in Mali, in an experiment aimed at boosting the migration to the EU that is skilled, legal and temporary immigration from Africa to the EU. The scheme was announced on Jan. 22 by the EU Immigration Commissioner Franco Frattini.
"It will be something flexible which will coordinate job offers and job hunters between Mali and the EU," Frattini told the European parliament. EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel will discuss the pilot project during a trip to Mali's capital Bamako on Feb. 8.
The project is aims at boosting the EU's aging workforce and assist the economies of developing countries, by allowing their workers to develop skills and earn money - both of which it is hoped they will bring home.
Frattini advocates circular immigration
However it's also part of an EU strategy to combat illegal immigration. In return for assistance with legal "circular immigration" Frattini expects Mali to boost its cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration to the EU and to sign a treaty with the EU on the repatriation of illegal immigrants. Nationals from Mali, along with Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania often make the perilous journey to Europe illegally in rickety boats looking for better lives.
The new guest workers
Mali has been chosen from the sub-Saharan countries for the pilot because the former French colony already has a national employment agency and a history of bilateral migration agreements, including an accord with France.
The scheme will cover farm labourers, construction workers and seasonal tourism employees and is modelled along the line of a project in Spain's southern Huelva province, which receives 1,000 agricultural workers from Morocco for six months each year.
If successful, the EU will establish a network of job centres across Africa. Before that can happen though, the EU commissioner will now need to find job quota offers from member states for Mali workers. "We don't intend to impose workers on countries that don't want them," he told the parliament.
Swelling a greying population
The EU has no common immigration policy and Frattini has said that in October he would propose the creation of a new type of work permit for the most qualified applicants, such as engineers. Such a European "green card" would allow people to travel in several EU countries and not just one, as is the case with current visas. He added that at the end of next month or in early April he would present an EU-wide plan for minimum penalties for illegal immigrants.
The bloc has discussed creating a joint immigration policy for years but the effort has bogged down due to the complexity of aligning national rules and major disagreements between EU countries about how to deal with illegal immigration.
Thousands from Africa attempt to reach Europe every year
The issue has gained political urgency amid a rising wave of arrivals in overcrowded boats of destitute Africans to southern European nations, particularly Spain and Italy.
Old solution, new problem
In the 1960s Germany introduced a similar scheme for Turkish 'guest workers' who came to do the jobs no one wanted and became the unsung heroes of the post-war economic miracle. However the scheme never became the 'circular migration' that the German government envisaged, and tensions erupted when Turkish migrants, many of whom were born and brought up in Germany, demanded citizenship rights.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble told reporters he backed the new scheme because if the countries in question were going to help stem the flow of illegal immigration "you have to give something in return". EU members France and Spain have recently signed such accords with Senegal, the jumping off point for many desperate immigrants heading for Spain's Canary islands.