Skilled immigrants preferred

Brussels. EU interior ministers signed off the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, a common set of principles regaarding the influx of non-EU nationals. The pact seeks to improve the management of legal immigration, tighten controls on illegal immigrants and construct a common asylum policy. EU nations would base legal immigration on workers or professionals whose skills are tailored to their particular labour needs, favouring those who would stay in their countries long term. The European pact on immigration and asylum will be submitted for adoption to the European Council of October 2008.

Refugees would be increasingly obliged to apply for asylum from outside — some 220,000 people did so last year — although the European Union would strive to better channel aid to those countries they are fleeing. The agreement is backed by millions of euro in EU funds to enforce the repatriation of unwanted migrants and to help developing countries persuade their citizens to stay at home. It also calls on governments to crack down on EU employers who hire illegal immigrants.

"This pact is a great step forward. It’s a political pact, but does not impose rules. This pact has the great virtue of allowing countries some flexibility" in the way they apply it, said Spanish Immigration Minister Celestino Corbacho.

The EU immigration pact has been criticised by some African and Latin American nations. Critics argue that the final, watered-down version agreed by ministers in Brussels is ineffective and gives too great voice to national governments.

‘The aim of the pact is to avoid the two obvious potential dangers: the creation of a European fortress, and the total opening up to illegal immigration,’ said French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, who chaired the council meeting as current president of the EU.