In an earlier post on this blog (here), I commenced my analysis of the recognition of professional qualifications of migrants at work in the EU by describing and reflecting upon those provisions of EU migration and asylum law governing such recognition. In this blog post, I complete my analysis of qualification recognition by describing and reflecting upon the policy measures which have been adopted by the EU pursuant to EU migration and asylum law. Specifically, art 79(4) TFEU provides that the Parliament and Council may adopt measures, excluding the harmonisation of laws, which provide ‘incentives and support’ to the Member states in facilitating the integration of third-country nationals legally resident in the EU.[1] There are a number of contemporary integration policy measures and funds which are relevant to the recognition of third-country nationals’ qualifications here outlined and analysed.

Policies and Initiatives concerning the Integration of Third-Country Nationals

A full background to all EU policies concerning the integration of third-country nationals is essentially extraneous to the purpose of this paper; useful and detailed analyses are available elsewhere.[2] It is, however, necessary to note that the importance of qualification recognition was not recognised in the EU’s earliest integration policies, namely the Tampere European Council Conclusions[3] and the Hague Programme.[4] Although the recognition of the skills of third-country nationals was taken into account on numerous occasions,[5] it was not until the adoption of the Stockholm Programme in 2009 that the European Council fully recognised the need to adopt ‘coherent immigration policies as well as better integration assessments of the skills in demand on the European labour markets’.[6]

In the Stockholm Programme, the European Council also invited the Commission and Council to evaluate existing policies that should ‘improve skills recognition and labour matching between the European Union and third countries and the capacity to analyse labour market needs (…) and skills matching in the country of origin’.[7] Subsequently, in the Conclusions of the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member states on Integration as a Driver for Development and Social Cohesion, the Council and Representatives recognised the need to ‘find new ways to recognise qualifications, training or professional skills and work experience of immigrants’.[8] The immediate follow-up to the Council’s analysis was the formulation of the European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals by the Commission, which emphasised, inter alia, the need to recognise foreign qualifications and support pre-departure qualification recognition measures in the migrant’s country of origin.[9] This theme was repeatedly echoed thereafter in the Commission’s Communications on Migration,[10] The Global Approach to Migration and Mobility[11] and An Open and Secure Europe.[12]

A recent report for the International Organisation for Migration provides extensive reflections on the practical implementation of these policies.[13] It first notes that while there is, strictly speaking, no clear legal basis for pre-departure qualification recognition measures at EU level, at least one broad interpretation[14] of the provisions of the Family Reunification Directive and the LTR Directive concerning ‘integration measures’ may permit the adoption of pre-departure qualification recognition measures by the member states. However, it would be preferable if this were clarified so that there was a clear legal basis upon which pre-departure measures could be developed.[15]

In January 2015 the European Economic and Social Committee (‘EESC’) organised the first meeting of the European Migration Forum (‘EMF’), ‘a platform for dialogue between civil society and the European institutions, on issues relating to migration, asylum and the integration of third-country nationals’.[16] The EMF replaced the European Integration Forum (‘EIF’), established in 2009 by the EESC, which met biannually. The EIF had briefly considered the issue of qualification recognition at its fourth,[17] eighth[18] and ninth[19] meetings—notwithstanding that it had been envisaged to constitute a significant aspect of its work from the outset[20]—but quite full consideration was given to the issue at the EMF’s meeting in 2018. Specifically, workshops at that meeting addressed, inter alia, (i) best practice in skills recognition and (ii) matching refugees’ skills with labour market needs.

In respect of the first issue, participants recognised the significance of supplying migrants with information concerning skills’ recognition processes. The availability of a range of validation tools was supported, including visual and multi-lingual tools. Mentoring was also seen as an important skills recognition and enhancement strategy; a third-country national may better understand and develop their own skills through dialogue with a colleague. In respect of the second workshop, participants emphasised the importance, actual and potential, of civil society organisations and digital tools in matching skills. Best practices identified by participants included the need to move to different areas within a single member state to obtain work; fast-track training schemes; mentoring; and the possibility of changing status or altering the residence rights of asylum seekers.[21] While the Forum is quite obviously discursive in nature, it may nonetheless play an important role in facilitating an exchange of ideas and best practices between member state authorities and national civil society organisations. And while it is understandable that the EMF’s discussions focussed on asylum seekers and refugees given the occurrence of the European Migrant Crisis at the time, it is unfortunate that it did not take the opportunity to address the skills’ recognition needs of third-country nationals more generally.

At the EMF’s meeting in April 2019, ten recommendations were adopted, some of which are of particular relevance. Specifically, at a workshop entitled, ‘What is the Future of EU Legal Migration Policy?’, the EMF concluded that a single directive should be adopted harmonising the admission conditions and rights for all third-country nationals, including equal treatment and intra-EU mobility rights. Establishing a structured process for consulting with NGOs, local authorities and the social partners was also recommended at this workshop. At another workshop, entitled, ‘From global to local governance of migration: the role of local authorities in managing migration’, the possibility of collaboration and cooperation amongst local groups, such as NGOs and local authorities was also envisaged. Harmonising integration processes across the Union and providing targeted funding to facilitate same was also recommended.[22] Reference was further made in passing to the possibility of adopting a directive facilitating the recognition of qualifications of third-country nationals.[23] While it is clear that these recommendations are of value, it remains to be seen whether they will be acted upon by the EU and its member states.

The second measure of practical significance to be adopted was the European Dialogue on Skills and Migration, a platform for employers, public sector bodies and other stakeholders to discuss labour migration and labour market integration of third-country nationals. Thus far, two meetings have been held under the auspices of the Dialogue, at which two conclusions of relevance were reached. The first acknowledged that there is a need for improved qualification recognition across the EU. In particular, it was acknowledged that recognition of qualifications in one member state should be more easily recognised in another member state, without necessarily harmonising legislation on qualification recognition. The Dialogue emphasised the role that employers, public service providers and other stakeholders play in assessing qualifications, and the need for these stakeholders to create partnerships with equivalent third-country organisations. The possibility of compensation measures to make up for skills disparities between third-country nationals and member state standards was also recognised. The second key conclusion was the need to match employers’ needs and migrants’ skills and competences. While this conclusion was primarily targeted at refugees, company visits, orientation days, and ‘speed-dating’ arrangements between all third-country migrants and potential employers is envisaged as a positive strategy.[24] In general, these suggestions should be welcomed, generalised, systematised and institutionalised across the Union.

One important development emerging from the Dialogue which does seem very practical is Employers Together for Integration, an initiative which places employers at the centre of integration processes. Several large north European companies are participating in the programme, and are offering internship, apprenticeship and corporate degree programmes and scholarship opportunities to refugees.[25] This sort of active engagement with migrants should, from the perspective of freedom as non-domination, be welcomed and expanded to other categories of third-country nationals, not merely refugees. Given that it also not a systematic programme, it would however be better if a comprehensive approach were adopted.

A final and similar measure is the European Partnership for Integration,[26] a partnership between the Commission and the social and economic partners which aims to foster refugee integration as soon as possible, particularly through labour market access and participation. The Commission and social and economic partners agree to gather and share information concerning best practices in, inter alia, skills and qualification recognition and enhancement, providing feedback to public authorities on the success or failure of public policies in this area. The core activities of the partnership involve information exchanges, the establishment of networks and ensuring ‘synergies’ with other initiatives.

Of course, the major project undertaken by the Commission in this field of late is the Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals, issued after the beginning of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015.[27] The Action Plan sets out several tasks to be undertaken by the Commission and the member states in relation to third-country nationals generally. These measures addressed all the main stages in the migration and employment process, namely, pre-departure education recognition, labour market participation, access to basic services, active participation and social inclusion, and tools for coordination, funding and monitoring. Under these headings, the most important and relevant actions and measures were the following:

  • Launching projects to support effective pre-departure and pre-arrival measures under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund;
  • Providing Erasmus+ online language assessment and learning for around 100,000 newly arrived third country nationals, in particular refugees;
  • Promoting the upskilling of low-skilled and low-qualified persons in the context of the New Skills Agenda for Europe (previously discussed in the introductory chapter);
  • Developing a ‘Skills Toolkit for Third Country Nationals’ under the New Skills Agenda for Europe to support timely identification of skills and qualifications for asylum seekers, refugees and other third country nationals;
  • Improving transparency and understanding of qualifications acquired in third-countries, through the revision of the European Qualifications Framework (‘EQF’), that will enhance its implementation and extend its scope to include the possibility to establish links with qualifications frameworks of other regions of the world; and
  • Funding projects promoting ‘fast track’ insertion into labour market and vocational training.[28]

Setting aside funding for now, perhaps the most significant of these developments is the New Skills Agenda for Europe.[29] According to the Commission in its communication thereon, it shall take, inter alia, the following measures, namely,

  • a revision of the EQF which promotes the comparability of qualifications between countries covered by the EQF and other countries, such as countries in the European Neighbourhood Policy;
  • the development of a ‘Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals’; and
  • cooperating with national authorities to support the recognition of third-country nationals’ qualifications.

The EQF has been revised, and the Commission is now preparing to implement the changes.[30] The revised EQF recommendation makes little reference to professional qualifications, except to note that common training frameworks adopted under Directive 2005/36/EC on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications are to be based on EQF levels.[31] However, it is possible that the EQF may touch on the recognition of professional qualifications in one other way. It recommends that the Commission, in cooperation with the Member states, and stakeholders, considers the ‘development and application of criteria and procedures to enable, in accordance with international agreements, the comparison of third countries’ national and regional qualifications frameworks with the EQF’.[32] While there is thus no duty undertaken by the Commission as such, nor any action on the part of the Commission on this issue as of yet, it does support the possibility of increased recognition of skills in the future. This possibility may, eventually, provide a basis for third-country qualifications to be more easily compared and recognised with those obtained in the EU. Moreover, a number of comparative studies between the EQF and other frameworks have recently been undertaken, including between Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand.[33]

The second step proposed by the Commission, namely the development of a ‘Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals’, has been implemented.[34] The third step—cooperating with national authorities—is underway. Thus far, a repository of promising practices in aid of the social and labour market integration of refugees has been established by DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, and several of these are quite insightful and relevant to the recognition of qualifications.[35] Examples include the pilot project of the Austrian Public Employment Service “Skills check for the vocational integration of refugees” (AMS-Pilotprojekt “Kompetenzcheck zur beruflichen Integration von Asylberechtigten”) which involves a skills assessment, assisting applicants for recognition in undertaking the recognition procedure, a verification of skills on the basis of field trials and the writing up of a detailed CV for the purposes of labour market access.

Similar processes have been adopted in Germany under the “Every person has potential – labour market integration of asylum seekers (Early Intervention)” (“Jeder Mensch hat Potenzial – Arbeitsmarktintegration von Asylbewerberinnen und Asylbewerbern (Early Intervention)”) and Prototyping Transfer – recognition of professional and vocational qualifications via qualification analyses (“Prototyping Transfer-Berufsanerkennung mit Qualifikationsanalysen”) projects. A similar Dutch project is also quite advanced. “Recognition of Refugee Qualifications” (“Diplomawaardering voor vluchtelingen”) provides a number of useful services such as producing descriptions of the educational systems and qualifications of refugees’ countries of origin and organising workshops on the issue of qualification recognition for refugees. As these are pilot projects, however, we await a final, definitive systematic and institutionalised response by the EU and the member states.

Funds supporting the Integration of Third-Country Nationals

The European Social Fund (‘ESF’)[36]

According to art 2(1) of the instrument establishing the ESF, the fund is designed to, inter alia, ‘promote high levels of employment and job quality, improve access to the labour market [and] support the geographical and occupational mobility of workers’. Article 2(3) thereof states that the ESF should ‘benefit people, including disadvantaged people such as the long-term unemployed, people with disabil­ities, migrants, ethnic minorities [and] marginalised communities’ (my emphasis). Article 10 provides for transnational cooperation, ‘with the aim of promoting mutual learning, thereby increasing the effectiveness of policies supported by the ESF’. In relation to migrants, this is currently achieved through the Thematic Network on Migrants, which facilitates discussion between the member states of their own integration projects, the coordination of projects between member states through the provision of online databases, networking and publications, as well as annual conferences.[37] The ESF also funds member state projects which further certain thematic objectives established in the Common Provisions Regulation, the most relevant of which are ‘promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility’, ‘promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination’, and ‘investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and life-long learning’.[38]

Some such projects appear to contribute to the recognition of qualifications. For example, EPIC, an Irish programme targeted at migrants based in Dublin, provides cultural and practical information on living and working in Ireland. EPIC works with Irish employers to deliver additional skills training, including social media training and participating in mock interviews, for migrants.[39] There are also a number of projects which are targeted directly at refugees. The Metal Engineering Qualifications programme in Germany, for example, provided an education programme for refugees, who, on successful completion of the programme, received a professional qualification, between May 2015 and October 2016.[40]

The Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (‘AMIF’)[41]

The AMIF supports integration and other programmes for the period 2014-2020, taking over from the Refugee Fund,[42] the Integration Fund[43] and the Return Fund.[44] The AMIF provides funding for actions supporting different categories of migrants, primarily on the basis of national funding programmes drawn up by the member states. Thus, for regular migrants, the AMIF supports pre-departure measures in third-countries as well as integration measures in the member states. Specifically, the AMIF supports, inter alia, the assessment of skills and qualifications, as well as enhancement of transparency and compatibility of skills and qualifications in a third country with those of a Member State.[45] In relation to forced migrants, by contrast, the only relevant actions which the AMIF may support are: the provision of material aid, including assistance at the border, education, health and psychological care; and the provision of support services such as translation and interpretation, education, training, including language training, and other initiatives which are consistent with the status of the person concerned.[46] An example of a project targeted at forced migrants which was funded by the AMIF is the Skills2Work project, which promoted the labour market integration of the beneficiaries of international protection in nine member states. The project supported the asylum reception framework by providing information and services concerning skills recognition and validation.[47] Finally, in respect of irregular migrants, the AMIF envisages funding ‘measures to launch the progress of reintegration for the returnee’s personal development, such as cash-incentives, training, placement and employment assistance and start-up support for economic activities’.[48] Thus, irregular migrants are not provided with opportunities for qualification recognition.


While many of the specific measures adopted to facilitate the integration of third-country nationals in the EU are precisely of the kind which this paper is most concerned with, they lack the institutionalisation, systematisation and formalisation which legal regulation can bring. This would be welcome going forward.

Of course, some of the proposals and measures here discussed are now largely historic in significance, particularly since the appointment of the new European Commission. For example, in September 2020, the Commission announced its New Pact on Migration and Asylum, a major plan of work in the field of EU migration and asylum law.[49] The changes envisaged are substantial and far beyond the scope of this entry. However, some brief comments are necessary. First, the Commission envisages revision and review of the LTR Directive and Single Permit Directive respectively. It is hoped that, in doing so, account will be taken of the need to at least clarify, if not enhance, the rights of third-country nationals to qualification recognition. Second, the Commission has launched a public consultation on attracting skills and talent which ended on 30 December 2020.[50] Finally, the Commission has adopted an Action Plan on integration and inclusion for 2021-2024, the successor to the Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals. Again, the Commission consulted the public on this issue until 21 October 2020.[51] In its new Action Plan, the Commission states that it will improve qualification recognition through

  • fostering cooperation between national authorities in charge of integration and national centres for the recognition of qualifications (ENIC-NARIC networks);
  • supporting transparent recognition practices of qualifications of refugees through the Erasmus Programme;
  • promoting exchanges between Member States on providing complementary/bridging courses for migrants;
  • providing information on recognition practices and on skills and qualifications for migrants using the full potential of the Europass portal; and
  • promoting the transparency of qualifications systems, including through the European Qualifications Framework.

With respect, it is difficult to see how this goes much further than the work which the Commission and other bodies discussed above is already doing. More onerous is the (non-binding) obligation on the member states to “that procedures for recognising foreign qualifications are quick, fair, transparent and affordable.” Again, however, without real and substantial change at the level of EU migration and asylum law, member state migration and asylum policy is unlikely to be sufficient to alleviate the domination which third-country nationals may face in seeking work in the EU.

[1] Klára Fóti, ‘The role of the EU in integrating asylum seekers and refugees: limitations and opportunities’ (2019) 25 Transfer 121.

[2] Jan Niessen and Thomas Huddleston (eds), Legal Frameworks for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals (Nijhoff 2009); Micaela Malena and Sonia Morano-Foadi, ‘Integration Policy at European Union Level’ in Sonia Morano-Foadi and Micaela Malena (eds), Integration for Third-Country Nationals in the European Union: The Equality Challenge (Edward Elgar 2012); Clíodhna Murphy, Immigration, Integration and the Law: The Intersection of Domestic, EU and International Law Regimes (Ashgate 2013) ch 6; Blanca Garcés-Mascareñas and Rinus Penninx (eds), Integration Processes and Policies in Europe: Contexts, Levels and Actors (SpringerOpen 2016); and Pierre Georges Van Wolleghem, The EU’s Policy on the Integration of Migrants: A Case of Soft-Europeanisation? (Palgrave Macmillan 2019). In respect of asylum seekers and refugees specifically, see the special edition of (2019) 25 Transfer 13-129.

[3] Tampere Presidency Conclusions, 15-16 October 1999.

[4] Brussels Presidency Conclusions, 5-4 November 2004; Council, ‘The Hague Programme: Strengthening Freedom, Security and Justice in the European Union’ [2005] OJ C53/1.

[5] Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusions, Common Basic Principles on Immigrant Integration, Council Document 14615/04, Brussels, 19 November 2004, Common Basic Principle 3; Commission, ‘A Common Agenda for Integration: Framework for the Integration of Third Country Nationals in the European Union’ (Communication) COM(2005) 389 final, 16; Commission, ‘A Common Immigration Policy for Europe – Principles, Actions and Tools’ (Communication) COM(2008) 359 final, 6; and Commission, ‘Strengthening the Global Approach to Migration – Increasing Coordination, Coherence and Synergies’ (Communication) COM(2008) 611 final, 4.

[6] European Council, The Stockholm Programme—An Open and Secure Europe serving and protecting citizens (Brussels, 2 December 2009) 63.

[7] ibid.

[8] Council of the European Union, Conclusions of the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member states on Integration as a Driver for Development and Social Cohesion (Brussels, 4 May 2010) 4.

[9] Commission, ‘European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals’ (Communication) COM(2011) 455 final, 7, 10-11.

[10] Commission, ‘Migration’ (Communication) COM(2011) 248 final, 16.

[11] Commission, ‘The Global Approach to Migration and Mobility’ (Communication) COM(2011) 743 final.

[12] Commission, ‘An Open and Secure Europe: Making it Happen’ (Communication) COM(2014) 154 final, 4.

[13] Alin Chindea, Headstart to Integration: A Global Review of Pre-departure Support Measures for Migrants (IOM 2015).

[14] That of Sergio Carrera and Anja Wiesbrock, Civic Integration of Third-Country Nationals: Nationalism versus Europeanisation in the Common EU Immigration Policy (Centre for European Policy Studies 2009).

[15] See generally Kees Gronendijk, ‘Pre-Departure Integration Strategies in the European Union: Integration or Immigration Policy?’ (2011) 13 EJML 1.

[16] EESC, ‘European Migration Forum’ <> accessed 17 April 2018.

[17] EESC, ‘Summary Report: Fourth Meeting of the European Integration Forum, Brussels, 6-7 December 2010’ 2 available at <> accessed 18 April 2018.

[18] EESC, ‘Summary Report: Eighth Meeting of the European Integration Forum, Brussels, 16-17 October 2012’ 6 available at <> accessed 18 April 2018.

[19] EESC, ‘Summary Report: Ninth Meeting of the European Integration Forum, Brussels, 4-5 June 2013’ 6 available at <> accessed 18 April 2018.

[20] Commission, ‘An Area of Freedom, Security and Justice serving the Citizen’ (Communication) COM (2009) 262 final, 25.

[21] EESC, ‘European Migration Forum—4th Meeting’ <> accessed 17 April 2018; and see the downloads available on the same page which provide a summary of the event.

[22] EESC, ‘The 10 recommendations adopted by the Forum’ <> accessed 11 December 2019.

[23] EESC, ‘European Migration Forum’ (10 April 2019) available at <> accessed 11 December 2019.

[24] This summary is based on information here: DG Migration and Home Affairs, ‘European Dialogue on Skills and Migration’ <> accessed 16 April 2018.

[25] DG Migration and Home Affairs, ‘Employers together for integration’ <> accessed 16 April 2018.

[26] Commission, A European Partnership for Integration: Offering opportunities for refugees to integrate into the European labour market (20 December 2017) <> accessed 18 April 2018.

[27] Commission, ‘Action Plan on the Integration of Third Country Nationals’ (Communication) COM(2016) 377 final.

[28] ibid 18-21.

[29] Commission, ‘A New Skills Agenda for Europe: Working together to strengthen human capital, employability and competitiveness’ (Communication) COM(2016) 381 final.

[30] Council Recommendation on the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning and repealing the recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2008 on the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong learning [2017] OJ C189/15.

[31] [2017] OJ C189/15, recital 20.

[32] [2017] OJ C189/15, art 13.

[33] See, for example, GHK, Study on the (potential) role of qualifications frameworks in supporting mobility of workers and learners: European Commission and Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Joint EU-Australia Study (DEEWR and DG EAC 2011).

[34] Commission, ‘EU Skills Profile Tool for Third Country Nationals’ <> accessed 24 January 2018.

[35] DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, ‘Repository of Promising Practices’ <> accessed 25 January 2018.

[36] Parliament and Council Regulation 1304/2013/EU on the European Social Fund [2013] OJ L347/470.

[37] Commission, ‘ESF Transnational Cooperation: Migrants’ <> accessed 16 April 2018.

[38] Regulation 1303/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 [2013] OJ L347/320 (Common Provisions Regulation), art 9.

[39] Business in the Community, ‘Are you a Jobseeker?’ <> accessed 26 January 2018; Commission, ‘Projects: ‘EPIC’ Outcomes for Migrant Jobseekers in Ireland’ <> accessed 26 January 2018.

[40] Commission, ‘Projects: Metalwork qualifications for young refugees’ <> accessed 26 January 2018.

[41] Regulation 516/2014/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund [2014] OJ L150/168 (AMIF Regulation).

[42] Decision 573/2007/EC establishing the European Refugee Fund [2007] OJ L144/1.

[43] Decision 435/2007/EC establishing the European Integration Fund [2007] OJ L168/18.

[44] Decision 527/2007/EC establishing the European Return Fund [2007] OJ L144/45.

[45] AMIF Regulation, arts 8-9.

[46] AMIF Regulation, art 5.

[47] Skills2Work, ‘About the project’ <> accessed 26 January 2018.

[48] AMIF Regulation, art 12(e).

[49] Commission, ‘A New Pact on Migration and Asylum’ (Communication) COM(2020) 609 final.

[50] Commission, ‘Legal migration—public consultation’ <> (accessed 21 October 2020).

[51] Commission, ‘Integration of migrants: Commission launches a public consultation and call for an expert group on the views of migrants’ <> (accessed 21 October 2020).

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