Meet the new star of the C-suite: The Chief Mobility Officer

Later this week, 300 million EU citizens will be able to vote in the European Parliament elections, and what they decide could have profound repercussions for years to come.

A key battleground appears to be immigration policy. Recent polling by Ipsos has shown that 59% of respondents claim that the EU’s efforts to combat irregular migration is a key issue for them, ahead of concerns like unemployment and climate change.

A number of political parties are seeking to capitalise on this interest at a time when voter disenchantment with the EU’s track record in this area is high: another Ipsos poll reveals that 51% of Europeans have a “negative” assessment of the EU’s impact on migration policy, whilst only 18% have a “positive” view.

The European Commission has been pushing initiatives to harmonise migration policy, believing that these can help member states tackle important common challenges such as caring for an ageing population or competing in the global fight for highly skilled or STEM talent, which may prove crucial in tackling fundamental problems like climate change.

Anticipating the shifting political landscape, we have already seen the EU prioritize certain immigration initiatives such as revamping the Single Permit Directive, which is designed to help employees change sponsoring employers while offering more security for unemployed third-country nationals.

But while the trend over the past decade has been towards closer cooperation on labour migration, member states have often in practice shaped policy as independently as practicable.

For example, the much-heralded EU Blue Card Directive, introduced in May 2009 as the European equivalent of the US Green Card, failed to deliver an EU-wide application category for highly qualified workers from outside the EU. Instead, most member states kept their own national versions, with faster processing times and lower salary thresholds, to attract skilled labour.

Despite the recast version of this Directive, which took effect at the end of 2023, we continue to see divergence in implementation among member states. For example, the largest party following a recent election in an EU member state, pledged in its manifesto to halt labour migration and implement a work permit requirement for EU nationals. While this policy will likely be difficult to implement in practice as it contravenes one of the fundamental tenets of EU law (freedom of movement), it highlights how the EU’s goal of harmonisation is threatened by more protectionist approaches adopted by member states.

How this tension plays out remains to be seen, but it is likely that in the coming year, further distinctions will be made between highly skilled migrant workers, who countries prize, and mid- to low-skilled migrant workers who are often portrayed as a challenge to the local labour force or welfare system.

As a result, it may be that member states will be more enthusiastic about implementing the EU Blue Card Directive changes to facilitate highly qualified migration, while being less favourable to separate changes that grant additional rights to holders of other employment permits.

This would have a marked impact on employers in sectors with lower-paid or less-qualified workers, notably agriculture, healthcare, and logistics. These are the same sectors where several EU member states currently face significant shortages. For example, Germany’s construction industry is grappling with a shortage of an estimated 250,000 workers, a gap expected to widen as the sector grows and current workers retire.

This challenge will be for businesses to navigate this shifting terrain when migration rules can become increasingly complex as enforcement measures and divergence become more common. Younger, highly mobile, and highly skilled workers already expect their employers to navigate this unmapped territory for them. And companies are beginning to appreciate how this skill set will move beyond the operational to the strategic. Those that can deliver for their employees may have an advantage over their competitors when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

The era of the Chief Mobility Officer may just have arrived.


Sharan Kundi
Partner and Global Immigration Leader, Vialto Partners

Hugo Vijge
Director, Immigration, Vialto Partners

Marijan Vrhovac
Senior Associate, Immigration, Vialto Partners

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