How do migrant sending and receiving countries both get more of what they want — without the receiving countries committing to a new stream of permanent migration? The European Union thinks it may have found an answer in the concept of "mobility partnerships," formally announced in a European Commission Communication this May.
Mobility partnerships essentially mean that sending countries (mainly in Africa) agree to take certain actions, such as discouraging illegal migration to EU countries and readmitting their own nationals caught in the destination country, in exchange for what they really want: legal migration opportunities and short-term visas to study in or visit a Member State. In a nod to the importance of migration as a development tool (see Issue #9: Migration and Development Issues: No Longer a Novelty in Policy Discussions), sending countries may also ask for measures to address the risk of brain drain or to improve circular migration.
The Commission Communication makes clear that exact terms of any mobility partnership would depend on the sending and receiving country involved. In addition, mobility partnerships would be based on the EU's existing framework for legal movement — no new laws required.
The European Commission has dipped its toes in these waters already. For the last few years, it has funded pilot projects from Morocco to the Caucasus that help sending countries address their illegal flows to Europe, strengthen their own institutions related to employment, develop systems for managing seasonal workers, and reintegrate those who return. However, none of the projects has included the actual movement of people from one country to another to work on a temporary basis.
Thus far, the Commission has set no definite date for implementing mobility partnerships. The Communication in May said only that the Commission "will recommend that exploratory contacts be initiated with a limited number of potentially interested third countries."
Although the mobility partnerships themselves have yet to materialize, several EU Member States have been signing modestly sized bilateral worker agreements with countries beyond the European Union.