Green leader calls for undocumented migrants to fill staff shortages

Green leader calls for undocumented migrants to fill staff shortages
A protest march by undocumented migrants. The sign reads: "We live here, we work here, we pay into the economy. We have zero rights". BELGA PHOTO PAUL-HENRI VERLOOY

Jean-Marc Nollet, co-leader of Ecolo (Belgium’s French-speaking green party), has called for undocumented migrants to be allowed to work legally in sectors that are affected by staff shortages.

The measure would ease pressure on Belgium's job market (which currently has some 200,000 vacancies) and be an important step in overcoming the administrative barriers that face undocumented migrants.

A record number of job vacancies were announced in Belgium for this year, with many different sectors suffering from shortages.

In addition, the Federal Government has come under fire for being inefficient in processing migrants. In particular, this makes it very difficult for them to access the labour market, sometimes leading them to find employment on the black market.

To this end, Nollet proposed a new framework that could resolve two issues at once.

A net benefit

Taking the example of the service industry, Nollet explained in an interview with the newspaper L'Avenir that undocumented workers have much to offer the Belgian job market.

He stated that there are "skilled people, sometimes with diplomas, who have been living here for a long time but just don't have proper documentation."

The party leader cited Ukrainian refugees who have already been allowed to apply for vacant jobs and said that he wanted to see this measure extended to all undocumented migrants.

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Nollet claimed that "there are between 70,000 and 150,000 undocumented migrants who have been living in Belgium for a long time. Not all of them will be fit for the jobs that are available but at least half of them could."

The Green politician highlighted three positives to the proposal: Belgian employers in need of staff would benefit; it would help dismantle the underground economy that exploits undocumented migrants; it would help the State finance pensions as working migrants could pay into the economy.

Jean-Marc Nollet, co-leader of Ecolo, Belgium's French-speaking green party. Credit: Belga.

To address the chronic employee shortages in some sectors, the government is considering offering foreign employees a "single" residence permit.

Non-European nationals are currently permitted to work in Belgium for a period of more than 90 days provided they apply for this permit in the region where they reside.

Nollet criticised this arrangement, arguing that it applies only to job seekers who are still in third countries but have "job seekers must be in a third country to fulfil the (permit's) requirements on the basis of a request from a Belgian company."

He calls for the regulations to be adapted to allow undocumented migrants to apply for a job in Belgium. In his view, this would "provide a solution to a recurring and important problem."

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