Rules to make it easier for companies to transfer thousands of non-European Union workers into the EU have moved a step closer, with businesses hopeful that the European Parliament’s ‘family-friendly’ stance on the issue will be accepted by member states.
MEPs, who will soon start negotiating with the Council on a proposed directive for ‘intra-corporate transfers’, have amended the European Commission’s initial proposal to give spouses and partners of employees the right to work in the EU.
The proposed directive is aimed at making it simpler for multinational companies temporarily to transfer skilled workers who are not from an EU member state to subsidiaries in the EU – a process that already involves thousands of workers every year but is expected to grow significantly if made easier.
The EU wants a harmonised set of rules for all member states instead of the existing fragmented system. Under the plan, national authorities would have a 30-day window to grant or reject a residence and work permit for non-EU skilled workers. If the permit is granted, the employee would also be entitled to remuneration and work conditions comparable to those of national workers. The permit would be valid for a maximum of three years in the case of managers and specialists, and one year for graduate trainees.
However, MEPs are determined to make the legislation more family-friendly. Two changes to the Commission’s initial proposal would, if adopted, make it easier for employees’ families to arrive in the EU together. Member states would be obliged to process requests for relatives at the same time as applications from workers. More significantly, spouses and partners would be allowed to be employed or self-employed during the length of the employee’s assignment.
The move was welcomed by Kathleen van der Wilk-Carlton, a board member of the Permits Foundation, which is backed by more than 40 multinational companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Shell and Ericsson, and has been lobbying on the issue for a decade.
She said that making it easier for companies to transfer their workers into the EU would boost the European economy. “Highly-skilled employees – who generally have a highly-skilled partner – and the companies that want to transfer them would really welcome giving the accompanying spouse and partner the ability to work,” she said. “It simply makes it easier for employees to accept a job.”
According to research carried out by the Permits Foundation, about a quarter of intra-company transferees turned down a previous assignment on the grounds that their partner would be unable to work in the new location.
Salvatore Iacolino, an Italian centre-right MEP who is in charge of the Parliament’s work on the directive, said that the Parliament’s stance had “strengthened workers’ protection”. He said that “mutual trust” between member states was necessary to give “the right flexibility for competitiveness and growth for companies established in the EU and ensure family reunification”.
The Parliament’s civil-liberties committee voted in favour of Iacolino’s report on 26 January. The Parliament’s negotiators are now waiting for member states to agree a common position. Although some are fearful of a loss of sovereignty over migration issues, EU officials say that many member states could be willing to accept modifications to the Commission’s proposal in line with the Parliament’s approach.
Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, said at the time of her initial legislative proposal in July 2010 that the new rules would enable multinational companies to gain access to “the right people with the right skills at the right time”, which was crucial to the EU economy.
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