Many migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East often choose to travel to Europe through illegal routes with all the attendant dangers and frustrations. The fact is: there are ways they can do this without risking their lives on perilous journeys. What legal ways are there for migration to Europe? Sertan Sanderson reveals the various options available to prospective migrants to obtain legal residency status in Europe and how to overcome the obstacles in the process.
With the 2015 refugee crisis exposing the perils of illegal immigration to Europe, more and more individuals are seeking legal ways to start a new life abroad. The threshold to overcome visa regulations, however, can be quite steep.
What sets a legal migrant apart from an illegal one is mainly the process of having to be vetted before embarking on starting a new life in Europe. Prospective legal migrants who qualify have to apply for their visas many months in advance, undergoing thorough checks to ensure there is sufficient reason to grant them the right to remain and work in the country they seek to move to.
Visa applications from crisis regions are often subject to greater scrutiny, as the management of high volumes of mass migration from certain nations requires additional procedures. There are different reasons why certain immigrant visas can be granted and their stipulations and guidelines vary greatly from country to country, even between countries within the European Union. Those wishing to migrate are told to do their due diligence and research in which countries they may qualify for legal immigration, as visa applications are often lengthy and costly affairs, with no money-back-guarantees on rejected applications.
Furthermore it is important that if a migrant is granted a visa for one EU country, he may not move to another EU state to stay and work there.
No one-size-fits-all approach
The main option to attain legal migration status in Europe is qualifying for a work visa. These are usually granted to highly skilled workers from a field of great demand. Each EU country has different sets of critical skills for which it may be in the process of actively recruiting foreigners from around the world to fill desperate shortages.
While some nations need doctors and nurses, others seek experts in IT and finance. The European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) says that skills shortages are largely determined by the demographics and economics of each EU member state.
If a certain set of skill is in high demand in a particular country, the issue of language skills can become the next hurdle for prospective immigrants to overcome, with many governments preferring immigrants with some functional language skills over those who would otherwise need to spend months learning just basics in the language of their chosen destination.
Oftentimes however, it is a question of just how desperate the country is for a particular set of skills and how much language is an everyday aspect in carrying out those jobs.
Training to qualify for visas
Work visas also tend to be linked to specific positions as opposed to allowing highly skilled individuals to move about in their chosen field. In Germany for instance, migrants with critical skills usually need to have a job offer with a certain set minimum income in place before applying for such visas, commonly known as the EU’s “Blue Card” program. The threshold for these jobs is adjusted annually, with current figures in Germany stating a gross annual income of 50,800 euros (US$56,500) in most instances and 39,624 euros ($44,000) for jobs in greatest demand, such as doctors, engineers and mathematicians.
Blue cards are increasingly popular, with more than 15,000 estimated to have been given in Germany last year alone (according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, BAMF).
It makes sense for legal migrants to Germany and other EU states with similar immigration guidelines to look for such jobs first, if they work in such professions.
In certain occupations, people may seek to take up training and gain new qualifications in order to become eligible for work visas – usually within a matter of years. However, in addition to needing to be wary of the long-term commitment as well as the high expenses typically involved in going down this path, prospective migrants should also be mindful about seeking qualifications that will be recognized in the country they hope to eventually migrate to. Some have fallen victim to scams while others have spent years training for a new career only to learn that their qualification was not recognized outside their home country.
Those who do succeed in landing a work visa may still have to prove that they have the sufficient means to start a new life abroad; academics, for instance, have been asked in the past to prove that they had 8,000 euros ($8,900) in the bank before having their applications processed. Legal ways of immigration are subject to rules and regulations that no bureaucrat can temper with, often involving such high expenses at the onset.
With such a tall order to meet, there are many professionals who rather opt for immigrating illegally, often signing up for perilous journeys across continents to escape war and persecution in their home countries.
Academia: opportunities for students, lecturers, researchers and professors
Another option, however, is to secure placement at a German university as a student. This may be a less popular route to establish a legal base in Europe as opportunities to earn sufficient income while studying are typically severely limited. Unless a prospective university student proves excellence and secures funding by way of scholarship, hopes to succeed in getting a student visa may be rather dim.
However, for those excelling at academics, studying in Germany may indeed be a viable option, as after initial hardship they may qualify for a fast-tracked system of being granted permanent residency within two years upon their graduation.
Those who have already embarked on a successful academic career at a recognized university abroad may qualify for a visa to continue their research in Germany. Academics from crisis regions enjoy a solid support network in Germany and elsewhere in the EU, and are allowed to earn additional income from teaching opportunities while still working on their research. As with the vast majority of visa applications however, an offer on an open position is key to succeeding in getting the visa.
Start-ups and new businesses
With advances in digital economies and other areas, many EU countries are trying to make business start-ups easier for specialists from other countries who wish to establish new businesses in Europe. The downsides are that there will inadvertently be start-up costs involved that makes this option not accessible to everyone. The uncertainties of economic success also hover over the heads of those who try their hand at entrepreneurship in the EU.
But if successful, running a business as a means to immigrate can be rewarding, with some countries allowing permanent residence after three consecutively successful years in business.
Once again, regulations vary between EU countries, but the general rule of thumb is that an immigrant with a work visa will eventually qualify for permanent residence within a certain number of years. Individual life circumstances play a role as well. In most instances, Germany grants such permits after five consecutive years on a work visa, which later can even lead to naturalization as a German citizen.
With all visas, EU nations proactively support and even encourage family reunions in due course, which, however, come with their own sets of rules and stipulations. While acquiring language skills is a requirement in some instances, family reunions of immigrants to the EU typically involve fewer hurdles to overcome than any initial visa application.