The MPF’s first cohort of pilot projects on legal migration have completed implementation. The final reports and project deliverables reached the MPF team in May 2022, and the last administrative steps for grant closures are being taken at the time of this article. It is an opportune moment to take stock of what remains of the pioneering work conducted by the MPF’s very first labour mobility initiatives.
While the origins of these projects date back to ambitions formulated in the EU’s Agenda on Migration back in 2015, their legacy feeds the newer ongoing policy context of EU Talent Partnerships and the Commission’s recent efforts to attract skills and talent to the continent. The EU strategies recognise the projects as “successful pilots” that the Talent Partnerships will “build upon.”
In the meantime, five new MPF pilots have started, IOM MATCH and THAMM are in full swing of implementation, and the MPF is getting ready for a new round of funding to be awarded to labour mobility initiatives by the end of 2022. Against this backdrop, this article looks at how the MPF II projects supported the EU’s external dimension of migration by experimenting with the creation and use of existing legal pathways to the EU and reflects on their achievements, challenges and next steps.
- Digital Explorers (DE) offered a career advancement programme in Lithuania to young ICT specialists from Nigeria. The mobility scheme paved the way for a new way of processing visa applications between the two countries and enhanced the Nigerian specialists’ skills and competencies, all while contributing to better connecting the digital economies of Lithuania and Nigeria.
- Pilot Project Addressing Labour Shortages through Innovative Labour Migration Models (PALIM) provided training to young Moroccan graduates to better prepare them for employment in the ICT sectors of Belgium and Morocco. While the mobility phase was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuing economic uncertainties in the EU, the project successfully enhanced cooperation between Moroccan and Belgian public employment organisations and strengthened their capacity to reap the benefits of labour migration. PALIM will continue in the context of the THAMM
- High Opportunity for Mediterranean Executive Recruitment (HOMERe) offered internship opportunities in France to students from Morocco and Tunisia. It contributed to enhancing the employability of students and improving cooperation among participating universities and companies across its regional consortiums set up in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
- Young Generations as Change Agents (YGCA) offered Moroccan graduates the possibility to pursue a master’s degree in Spain. The combination of intense pre-departure, accompanying language and entrepreneurship training, and extensive reintegration support for returning migrants enabled the participants to make important contributions to the development of their communities of origin.
All four projects were able to deliver extensive training that took place in both countries of origin and destination. Three out of four initiatives (DE, PALIM, YGCA) conducted pre-departure workplace awareness training, socio-economic and/or cultural information sessions to ease the arrival to the destination country, and two provided language courses. Two projects (DE, PALIM) deliberately trained a larger pool of candidates in the country of origin to mitigate brain drain and invest in local training capacities. Most skill enhancement trainings took place online due to COVID-19, and career development plans were drafted in half of the projects to allow for a smooth (re-)integration in the job market.
The four projects achieved public-private sector partnerships to different degrees. All projects reached out to the private sector and signed agreements with employers while simultaneously entering agreements with national and regional government authorities, including ministries of interior, foreign affairs, education and economy. Half (PALIM, YGCA) directly involved Public Employment Agencies (PES) in selecting candidates or reintegration support.
All projects prepared extensive research on labour market needs on both sides and mapped employers and relevant institutions in the country of origin and destination. They also developed documents on migration procedures for non-EU nationals arriving in their countries of destination.
Enabling Environment: Institutional Capacity Building, Investment
Capacity building for public institutions in the country of origin took place in three of the four projects (DE, PALIM, YGCA) through meetings and workshops on a variety of topics and targeting different stakeholders from PES (PALIM) to sector-specific regulatory agencies (DE). Study visits and exchanges were highly appreciated by participating civil servants and private sector representatives.
Digital Explorers directly resulted in corporate investment in the country of origin and thereby created job opportunities and growth prospects that reach far beyond the end of the project lifecycle. YGCA contributed to the capacity building in the country of origin by investing in migrants themselves, whose Master’s theses were financially awarded to support their roles as change agents.
Challenges, Lessons Learned and Next Steps
COVID-19 caused most projects to readjust initial plans, especially in mobility. Despite the logistical challenges, online training proved to be an effective tool for skill enhancement, highlighting the importance of staying flexible to changing migration and labour market environments.
In addition, most pilots reported challenges in relation to onboarding in the private sector. While it was easy to gain their interest in the initial stages of implementation, companies’ eventual commitment to hiring talents was relatively more challenging, particularly with the uncertainties around the pandemic. Pilots learned that understanding the private sector's needs was crucial, and thus engaging companies from the very design of projects will become essential for sustainability and scale-up in the next phases.
Strategies and lessons learned from the implementation of pilot projects have been shared through policy briefs and workshops hosted by the MPF and partners, feeding into the design and practice of the next generation of pilots. For instance, an overall focus on the ICT sector and high-skilled profiles was noted in this first cohort of MPF pilot projects. This has been diversified in the second MPF cohort, which includes the green economy (MOVE_GREEN) and agriculture (WAFIRA).
Gender was crucial in all projects – under MPF II, 52% of migrants who moved to the EU were women. Second cohort projects continue this effort to keep a strategic gender ratio across projects, including WAFIRA, which seeks to provide long-term socio-economic reintegration of female seasonal workers in their rural communities in Morocco through their own income-generating activities.
Moreover, the MENTOR II project continues working on the important component of regional cooperation through its territorial approach, which aims to build institutional networks and capacities among Italian, Tunisian and Moroccan regional authorities. As such, partnership building between public and private actors and among multiple stakeholders is a key added value of labour migration projects. Cooperation frameworks set up during pilot stages lay the foundations for deeper work and engagement on the topic. Given the complexity of coordinating diverse stakeholders with different needs, time flexibility is critical to allow for sustainable partnerships.
Lastly, practices and exchanges from the first generation of pilots mentioned here have laid the basis for the development of the Labour Mobility Practitioners’ Network – a dedicated forum to hone in on the experiences and lessons learned from pilot project implementation that is also open to those who are non-MPF project implementers.
And the learning from the pilots does not stop here. The MPF has recently commissioned an external evaluation that seeks to take a closer look at achievements, challenges and opportunities in implementing the first-generation pilot projects. Stay tuned for more information!
 WAFIRA, PEM-WECCO, Move_Green, MENTOR II, Digi Talents
 Topics include: data science and fundamentals of software programming, machine learning, etc. as well as soft skill workshops (Digital Explorers), entrepreneurship & employability (PALIM)
 Temporarily or permanently. When counting the overall number of people who either benefited from training or migration 39% were women.