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In our first article, we introduced the complex legal frameworks that govern the rights and responsibilities of migrant workers globally. We examined key international organizations like the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights, outlining their significant influence in shaping the standards and norms for legislation on migrant workers worldwide. Specifically, we delved into the legislation emanating from the Council of Europe that significantly influences the standards and norms concerning migrant workers. As we continue with this series, our second article will narrow the focus to examine the legislative frameworks and policies of the European Union (EU).

The EU occupies a compelling position at the crossroads of labour rights, immigration policy, and international law. Through principles like “direct effect,” the EU exercises considerable legislative power, enabling specific regulations and directives to become part of national laws without additional legislation. While the EU often aligns its policy goals with those of the UN, it nonetheless maintains its distinct legal system, crafted to address the specific needs and challenges faced by its member states.

In this article, we consider the EU’s legislative frameworks, its contributions and limitations in the area of migrant workers’ rights, and its interplay with other international bodies. Our aim is to shed light on how the EU’s laws and policies shape the experiences of professional migrants within its jurisdiction, both in theory and in practice.


European Union:

  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
    • Relevance: Directly applicable within EU Member States and provides strong employment rights that benefit migrants.
    • Example: A Ukrainian data analyst working in Ireland would be covered by this Charter, ensuring strong employment rights like equal treatment and protection from unjust dismissal.


  • Directive 2009/50/EC (Blue Card Directive)
    • Relevance: Aims to attract highly-qualified workers from outside the EU by providing them with equal rights and conditions.
    • Example: A skilled Brazilian software developer could easily move to Germany, encouraged by the benefits provided by the Blue Card, such as family reunification and mobility within the EU.


  • Directive 2014/66/EU (Intra-Corporate Transferees Directive)
    • Relevance: Offers a framework for third-country nationals who are transferred within a corporation.
    • Example: An executive from a Japanese company transferred to its French subsidiary would have his rights and protections clearly laid out under this Directive.


  • Directive 2011/98/EU (Single Permit Directive)
    • Relevance: Simplifies the process for third-country nationals to both reside and work in the EU.
    • Example: A South African chef relocating to Belgium would benefit from this Directive by obtaining a single permit to both reside and work in the country.


  • Directive 2014/36/EU (Seasonal Workers Directive)
    • Relevance: Addresses the often vulnerable situation of seasonal workers, who are frequently migrants.
    • Example: Seasonal farm workers from Morocco in Italy would be protected against exploitative conditions and would be guaranteed certain minimum rights under this Directive.


  • Directive 2003/109/EC (Long-Term Residents Directive)
    • Relevance: Discusses the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents and aims to provide them with a set of uniform rights.
    • Example: A Filipino caregiver who has been working in the Netherlands for several years would obtain a secure set of uniform rights that enhance her employment conditions.


  • Directive 2003/86/EC (Family Reunification Directive)
    • Relevance: Focuses on the conditions for the exercise of the right to family reunification by third-country nationals residing lawfully in the Member States.
    • Example: A software engineer from India working in Sweden could use this Directive to facilitate the process of bringing his spouse and children to live with him.


  • Directive 2019/1157/EU (EU Entry/Exit System)
    • Relevance: Focuses on entry and exit data and facilitates the identification of overstayers. Relevant to understand the practical considerations of migration.
    • Example: A Colombian journalist temporarily working in multiple EU countries would have her entry and exit data monitored, aiding in legal compliance.


  • Directive 2016/801 (Students and Researchers Directive)
    • Relevance: Concerns the entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of research, studies, training, voluntary service, pupil exchange schemes, or educational projects and au pairing.
    • Example: A Ph.D. student from China who has come to the UK for research could later convert her visa into a work permit more seamlessly under the provisions of this Directive.


The European Union (EU) has a multi-layered legislative framework that aims to regulate and safeguard the rights of migrant workers within its Member States. Starting with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the EU sets forth basic protections, such as equal treatment and prevention against unfair termination, which are directly applicable in all Member States. This core document is then complemented by specialized directives that target particular aspects of migration and employment.

For instance, the Blue Card Directive serves to attract highly-qualified non-EU workers by providing them with a host of benefits, such as family reunification and intra-EU mobility. The Seasonal Workers Directive focuses on the often precarious situation of temporary migrant workers, aiming to protect them from exploitation. Additionally, the Long-Term Residents Directive seeks to standardize the rights of migrants who have resided in the EU for an extended period. These legislative measures serve not only to ensure fair treatment but also to fill gaps in the labor market and bolster the EU’s global competitiveness.

However, these frameworks are not without limitations. One significant challenge is the inconsistent implementation and enforcement across Member States. Despite the goal of uniform application, variations in local interpretation and policy can lead to unequal treatment of migrant workers. Furthermore, while these laws provide robust structural protections, they sometimes fall short of addressing the nuanced challenges migrants face, such as cultural assimilation and accessibility to public services.

Beyond the EU’s borders, its legislative frameworks do not operate in isolation. The EU often collaborates with other international bodies like the United Nations. One example of this interplay is the influence of the International Labour Organization’s conventions on EU legislation, which serve as ethical and moral guidelines. These international frameworks, while not directly enforceable in the EU, do contribute to shaping the Union’s policy orientation and can add another layer of complexity to the rights of migrants as they navigate between different jurisdictions.

In conclusion, the EU has made noteworthy contributions to the legislative protection of migrant workers, offering a combination of fundamental rights and specialized directives that cater to various aspects of migration. However, the effectiveness of these laws can be compromised by inconsistent implementation and the complex interplay with international norms and conventions. As such, while strides have been made, there remains room for improvement in creating a more unified and comprehensive approach to migrant workers’ rights.


In the penultimate article of this series, we’ll focus on the United Nations’ legislative contributions to migrant labour rights, including key conventions and covenants.


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