By Hakeem Babalola
I recently attended a conference in Brussels. Titled “Over-qualification of Immigrants: an acute manifestation of Europe’s larger labour market failings”, the two-day conference highlights the problems and solutions to end over-qualification syndrome among immigrants in Europe.
Whether the aims and objectives of the conference have been achieved depends on individual reasoning or looking at things. And I guess such reasoning or orientation cannot be taken away from each participant. What is important to me however, is the fact that such theme is being discussed at a higher level where European Policy specialists tried as much to arrive at something beneficial.
Consequently, one cannot overlook the threat such issue have on society. In a time like this, when our society needs people to work at their potential, it is a tragedy that any kind of over-qualification is taking place. Even it is a further tragedy (hyperbole?) hearing both immigrants and non-immigrants testifying to the fact that over-qualification is real.
As participants relate their horror experiences – of over-qualification – one wonders what Europe really wants to achieve in the near future. “Is it making the most of our Human Capital by 2020” or “Wallowing in labour market inefficiency as a result of prejudices?”
Arminda Delvalle who has degree in psychology said that she had to change her “upgraded degree” because she couldn’t get job. Fani Kalathaki, a journalist in Greece, put it thus: “I wanted to show that I can do it, but they put you down because of your accent”. Victor Adeleke explained that his degree which he obtained from Malta is not recognized in Spain on the excuse it was obtained from a private university.
This brings the subtle question: Is being qualified an obstacle in the labour market?
Obviously, when people work below the level of their qualifications, they contribute less to the economy. And that’s what it is. Over-qualification is not only bad for society as a whole, it has profound “personal and psychological” upshot for the underemployed themselves. In Europe, immigrants, young people and women are disproportionately over-qualified.
Statistics available at the conference states that “two thirds of employed high-skilled recent immigrants are in jobs for which they are over-qualified – versus some 19% of EU-born who have a tertiary level education and are over-qualified for their employment”.
The problem is described as massive and structural, affecting the entire labour market, with third country migrants being the most affected. Thomas Ljungquist, Non Discrimination Policies, DG Justice, European Commission said that 56% are discriminated against because of their ethnic origin, adding that there must be solid legal framework since discrimination is illegal.
In a situation whereby 50% of 50-64-year-olds are inactive and unemployed, the economic shrinks. The problem is more pronounced in Greece, Italy and Spain, which makes things more difficult for immigrants. Particularly it is heavier on more recent arrive and stronger with women.
It is shocking listening to participants from Belgium, England, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and Sweden as they presented the research they have conducted over the years. Xenophobia, racism, negative attitudes towards migrants, gender inequality, media prejudices are some of the findings fueling hatred against immigrants in Europe.
Although in UK, there seems to be positive experience hiring immigrants, immigration status is a set back for employer to hire qualified immigrants. In Hungary however, most migrants are self-employed, according to the research conducted by REALISE in the region. In Belgium meanwhile, immigrants are keen in working for the government or private companies instead of self-employment.
Above all, recognition of degree, value of qualification, and lack of proficiency in the language of host country are considered to be responsible for immigrants’ slow integration. Whether we like it or not, integration and immigration are needed, posited Jan Saver of Immigration and Integration Unit, DG Home Affairs, European Commission. I agree with this assertion.
Is tackling immigrant’s over-qualification in Europe an unsettled issue? Again it is a mater of perspective. Policy specialists at the conference articulated well; their analyses were convincing; in fact, they seem to have answer to every question asked. For instance, among others they all agreed that it is particularly urgent to find ways to make the most of the human resources of skilled third-country nationals living and working in Europe.
Yet something seems amiss. I mean if the policy specialists have answers to all questions put before them, why is the problem persists? A participant from Stockholm hit the nail on the head. Over-qualification is not a priority among policy makers because according to Yelena Drenjanin, we say one thing but do another thing. Do we even have the right candidate who access people?
Time will tell