The promotion of legal migration trajectories is – in line with European policy development - one of the six pillars of the Dutch ‘Integral Migration Agenda’, that was published in March 2018. These pillars are, respectively: (1) prevent irregular migration; (2) strengthen reception and protection of refugees and displaced people in the region; (3) a solidarity-based and robust asylum system within the European Union and the Netherlands; (4) less illegality, more returns; (5) promotion of trajectories for legal migration; and (6) stimulate integration and participation.
There is an increased interest in circular legal migration because of:
Its potential contribution to the control and management of migration flows through migration cooperation between third countries and the Netherlands.
The critical importance of international migration cooperation with third countries in the context of the negotiations regarding the European Commission Migration and Asylum Pact. An ‘internal deal’ between EU member states about a common European asylum system depends on an ‘external deal’ between EU member states and countries of origin and transit, based on common interests in controlling and managing migration (better return policies, better trajectories for legal migration).
The urgency of better international migration cooperation to curb irregular migration in the years to come in light of the expected increasing migration pressure due to structural factors, the economic aftershocks of the COVID-19 crisis, and political crises in several African countries.
The societal support in countries of origin and the Netherlands for managed legal migration (in contrast with rejection of irregular migration) and the potential of circular migration to accommodate societal concerns regarding legal migration.
The potential contribution of circular migration to economic development in countries of origin, as well as to recruit talent to address shortages in the Dutch labour market.
The financial support the European Commission offers to start pilot projects for circular legal migration between third countries and EU countries, and the availability of lessons learned by other EU countries (Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Lithuania) in previous pilot projects.
Against this background the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ has studied the possibilities for circular legal migration pilot projects between a number of African countries (Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria) to the Netherlands.
The objective of the research is to develop a holistic framework for the analysis of circular migration (taking into account the many interests and concerns of the stakeholders involved) and to explore the benefits, possibilities and difficulties, conditions and concrete content for effective circular migration programs between Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria as countries of origin and the Netherlands as a host country.
The research focuses on ten research questions, with each chapter dedicated to one of these questions:
Early 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic reached the Netherlands, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria. The pandemic and its socio-economic aftershocks will have a profound effect on international mobility and the potential for circular migration programs. This report takes the short-term and longer-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis into account. It concludes with recommendations for the preparation of future circular migration programs that can already be executed while international mobility is still problematic because of the pandemic.
Chapter 1 presents the analytical framework guiding the study. Effective circular legal migration requires a focus on the common interest, taking into account:
six context variables in the countries of origin (Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria) and the host country (the Netherlands) which determine the possibilities and limitations for circular migration programs: international migration cooperation, and the societal, economic, legal, political and institutional context; and
the aspirations and concerns of mobile workers, and employers (in the country of origin, and in the Netherlands).
Chapter 2 focuses on the benefit and urgency of circular migration programs in the context of international migration cooperation of the Netherlands with Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria. In light of expected increasing irregular migration pressure because of the economic aftershocks of the COVID-19 crisis and political crises in African countries, and the aspiration to improve return policies in the context of the new European migration and asylum pact, the Netherlands has to step up the promotion of trajectories for legal circular migration in order to strengthen migration partnerships with third countries based on common interests in controlled migration. Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria consider combating irregular migration and the strengthening of return policies as part of a migration partnership based on common interests in controlled migration. They can better legitimize those policies if they can refer to trajectories of legal migration to EU member states. The Netherlands played an important role before in strengthening the external dimension of these policies, by strengthening cooperation with third countries for reception and protection of refugees in the region. It can play a role again in strengthening the external dimension of the European migration policies, by promoting legal migration trajectories in the context of reinforced migration cooperation with third countries. It can cooperate in that context with EU member states that have already started pilot projects for additional legal circular migration trajectories.
Chapter 3 examines the societal aspirations, concerns and tensions around circular migration programs in the Netherlands, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria and ways to accommodate them. A majority of the Dutch population supports legal migration for work or study in the Netherlands. Circular legal migration can accommodate concerns regarding migration in the countries of origin (brain drain) as well as in the Netherlands (growth of the population, access to housing, permanent integration of migrants and their descendants). Participants of pilot projects will not establish themselves permanently, but reside temporarily in the Netherlands, whereas they will bring new skills, experiences and resources back home. Global skill partnerships can, moreover, be an addition to or alternative for circular legal migration: in this model the host country not only offers training to potential (circular) migrants from the country of origin, but also to candidates who will remain in the country of origin, thereby minimizing the risk of brain drain.
Chapter 4 identifies two sectors where there is a common economic interest between the Netherlands and the three priority countries to develop circular legal migration trajectories: agriculture / horticulture and ICT. There is considerable interest in the countries of origin as regards the development of these sectors, in order to diversify and modernize the economy, increase employment and attract foreign (among others Dutch) investment. In the Netherlands there are – despite COVID-19 – structural labour market shortages in the these sectors, especially in the ICT sector. The Dutch horticulture sector sees investment in African countries as a strategy to deal with challenges regarding energy shortages, sustainability, labour market shortages and production costs. The Dutch ICT sector already invests in African branches that provide remote / near shoring services for the Dutch and European market. Both sectors are a priority in Dutch development policy, and in both sectors other EU member states have already started circular legal migration trajectories, yielding experience and learned lessons on which a Dutch engagement could build.
Chapter 5 considers the needs, interests and concerns of employers in Tunisia, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the Netherlands regarding circular migration and ways to accommodate them. Employers in countries of origin and in the Netherlands are crucial actors when it comes to the effectiveness of circular migration programs. Circular migration trajectories need to match and fit with business processes of the employers involved in the country of origin as well as in the Netherlands. Business interests do not necessarily coincide with the societal and political contexts, so careful identification of the common interest in tailoring circular migration trajectories – involving employers at an early stage – is critical. Working with mobile workers also implies obligations for employers in terms of good employment practices and coaching of the circular migrants.
In the horticultural sector there is an interest on both sides for circular migration at TVET, professional / managerial and academic level (legal limitations in the Netherlands at TVET level are discussed in chapter 7). For the ICT-sector there is a common interest in circular migration at professional / managerial and academic level. Managers from third countries working in these Dutch firms in countries of origin could benefit from temporary intra-company circular migration for work or short studies in the Netherlands. Circular migration could serve as a catalyst, drawing the attention of (other) Dutch firms for the opportunities of investing in these countries. Circular managers from these countries of origin could act as liaisons and trailblazers. Dutch ICT firms already recruit developers in countries of origin who work remotely for the Dutch and European market. Periodical brief stays of developers in the Netherlands would be of added value as well, as this would allow them to get to know their company and colleagues better. A final possibility in the ICT sector is that African developers are recruited to work for companies in the Netherlands. If employers in the Netherlands prefer to work with more permanent migrants because of the labour market shortages, the abovementioned global skill partnership could be enduring a way to deal with concerns regarding brain drain. There is also an interest among universities in countries of origin and in the Netherlands to invest in research into common challenges in (the management of) agriculture and ICT through circular academic careers for students from African countries (sandwich-PhD, post-docs, etc.).
Chapter 6 investigates the aspirations, capacities and concerns of mobile workers and students regarding circular migration programs and ways to accommodate these.
New circular migration trajectories have to match with and accommodate aspirations, capacities and concerns of mobile workers and students in order to be effective. These crucial actors should therefore be involved at an early stage of policy design. If for political or societal reasons governments favor a program to be circular, then from a migrant point of view it is important that (1) there is a clear job perspective for the return phase of the program before the migrant leaves to the Netherlands; and that (2) the mobility cycle can be repeated in the future, either in the Netherlands or to other countries that are interesting from the migrant’s perspective. The prospect of being excluded from follow-up circular contracts in the host country is another way to prevent visa-overstay. Careful selection of candidates based on merits and discussion of motives and aspirations is essential.
Cooperation between training institutions and/or universities in the countries of origin and the Netherlands and employers from both sides can be a preparatory step in a longer-term commitment to build the infrastructure for future circular migration trajectories, focused on the right capacities and competences of migrant workers. International recruitment companies in the ICT-sector also fulfill this training role. This preparatory phase (tailoring curricula to the needs of employers in the Netherlands and the countries of origin) could be financed by the Orange Knowledge Program. Pre-deployment training as well as coaching and supervision during the migrant’s stay in the Netherlands and reintegration upon return in the country of origin are also essential.
Chapter 7 deals with the legal framework for circular migration programs. A circular migration program for the horticulture sector at TVET-level would require an adjustment of Dutch legislation. This is not the case for new mobility programs for higher-educated people in the ICT- and in the horticulture / agriculture sector. However, the required minimum salaries of the so-called ‘Highly skilled migrant’ program are likely to pose an obstacle in the agricultural sector. This is not the case in the ICT sector. Apart from more facilitated and accelerated visa issuance, it is important that other required documents (like diploma’s, birth certificates, certificate of good conduct) are collected and reviewed in an effective manner. African countries and the Netherlands can cooperate in capacity building of (digitalized) public employment agencies for that purpose.
Chapter 8 examines the key political documents and statements pertaining to the development of new circular migration trajectories. The Netherlands, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria have developed a political discourse in which normative expectations towards and conditions for circular migration programs have converged. In the Netherlands these guidelines can be found in the Coalition agreement, the Integral migration agenda (IMA), the periodic progress reports of the IMA, the ‘Broad societal rethinking’ exercise, and the letter to Parliament regarding the EU migration and asylum pact. The promotion of legal migration is standing policy in the Netherlands. There is consensus in the Netherlands and in the three countries of origin that there is a common interest in better management of migration. The effectiveness of return policies can be improved by intensifying the bilateral relationship, including the development of legal circular migration trajectories. It is important to provide political guidance in the new Coalition agreement after the Dutch general elections of March 2021, and to give priority to reinforced bilateral cooperation for better management of migration, including legal migration trajectories, and more effective return policies. A continual focus on the common denominator between various perspectives dealt with in the previous chapters is needed, but within those boundaries a clear priority should be given to the bilateral migration cooperation.
Chapter 9 deals with the institutional infrastructure that is present for circular migration programs. Institutional capacity is critical for sustainable migration partnerships and effective circular migration trajectories. A first strategic step should focus on institution building in the Netherlands – to develop a common policy theory with all stakeholders involved –, and a proposal for a Dutch pilot project in the context of the Migration Partnership Facility of the European Commission. The Dutch knowledge institutions which have engaged in commissioned research in this field for the Dutch government could play a facilitating role here to organize a series of strategic working conferences based on these commissioned reports, involving key stakeholders and sectors (agriculture, ICT).
The negotiations on the European migration and asylum pact have given new political momentum to strengthened EU coordination of the external dimension of these policies and have bolstered the development of international mobility programs. An EU-partnership coordinator is called for, comparable to the EU return coordinator that the Pact proposes to appoint.
Chapter 10 identifies the steps necessary to develop new circular migration programs between the Netherlands on the one hand, and Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria on the other hand. Our report pinpoints a clear common interest in legal mobility programs. However, because of the many interests and perspectives of stakeholders involved, and because of lacking institutional capacity, the development of effective programs is complex. Investing in sustainable bilateral partnerships is therefore essential. We conclude from lessons learned from previous circular migration pilot projects that identification of a limited number of sectors is crucial, and should be based on the common denominator between the perspectives dealt with in the previous chapters. For these sectors (in this study we focused on horticulture / agriculture and ICT) a relevant stakeholder community can be built. In the European context a certain division of labour can be pursued, within which the Netherlands could cooperate for institution building for circular migration trajectories in the ICT sector with Belgium and Lithuania, and with France in agriculture. These EU-member states have already been implementing legal migration pilot projects during the past years. Likewise, Belgium has joined Germany who had already built institutional infrastructure for legal migration in the health care sector with Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
Institution building is essential in the Netherlands, in the country of origin, and in the context of the bilateral relationship. An important institution is a public employment office in the country of origin, with which the Netherlands can cooperate in the fair recruitment and training of candidates, that can facilitate pre-deployment training of candidates and the trajectory of international mobility and the return phase. As a preparatory step a program could be directed at strengthening these public employment offices, by coordinating learning processes among the institutions involved in Tunisia, Ethiopia and Nigeria, and by knowledge sharing with private recruitment service companies.
Against this background, this last chapter elaborates on ten steps towards sustainable migration partnerships to facilitate circular migration trajectories: (1) knowledge dissemination in the Dutch stakeholder community, towards a shared policy theory, development of pilot project proposals; (2) political direction; (3) institution building in the Netherlands; (4) European coordination and division of labour; (5) bilateral institution building; (6) institution building in the countries of origin; (7) mobility program agricultural / horticultural sector; (8) mobility program ICT; (9) knowledge building as an integral part of the development of mobility programs; (10) first steps: forming and connecting stakeholder communities.