The year is 2029, my robot Axela hovers over to me and brings me my tablet and a steaming cup of coffee. The newspaper app is buzzing with one new notification after another, the most eye-catching being: “Malta deports all irregular immigrants”.
Finally, what so many have apparently been waiting for. This is certainly a headline many wish to see in the news. I, however, have a very different take on this so before you rush to criticise, let me explain myself.
I am a firm believer that each human being deserves to have equal opportunities to succeed in life. It makes no difference whether they are Maltese or not. No human being is different to the other, or more entitled.
I also believe Malta cannot continue to accept migrants the way we are doing right now. We simply do not have enough space, work or infrastructure to cope with such a growing population.
As I contemplate this, my thoughts go to setting up a Migrant Rehabilitation and Disbursement initiative. Essentially this would see a special dedicated centre set up to offer rehabilitation, assessment, training and accommodation within a decent and dignified living space.
How would something like this work? We would seek European investment in this programme, this being a service offered to Europe. Malta would continue to take irregular immigrants and rehabilitate them, physically, mentally, socially and emotionally.
Yet, rather than grant all of them the right to stay in Malta, their skills, experience and competencies would be evaluated after which they would be placed on this programme. This would help them find work and opportunities from Malta within other European and international countries better equipped for the volumes we are currently experiencing.
Like this we would still be aiding those very much in need of help. But we would also be controlling the flow of migrants into our tiny island. Not only, but we would be giving them the right foundation to succeed in their life outside of Malta.
Malta would continue to take irregular immigrants and rehabilitate them, physically, mentally, socially and emotionally
Of course, this is not something Malta can do alone: we must look to Europe for complete funding.
Now, I am in no way saying Malta has done nothing so far. There are already structures in place to educate migrants.
There is a Migrants Learners’ Unit, established by the Ministry for Education, where newly arrived learners are helped to integrate into the education system. Here they learn linguistic and sociocultural competences.
But we need more. What we need is a system where those past school age, and probably already very qualified individuals, are given the right education and certification that would enable them to perform fulfilling jobs.
The government also has plans for the future. Its Migrant Integration Strategy and Action Plan features a vision for 2020. The plan sees a stronger framework set up for the integration of migrants who are already working, living and sending their children to school in Malta.
This is a laudable and much-needed plan of action. Yet, I believe more needs to be done in terms of skills development.
The benefits of the programme I am proposing are manifold. Done properly, it would not just address the current skill shortages but also future ones. This would help fill gaps in jobs that lack enough workers.
This is a known and studied problem that affects the whole of Europe. In fact, four in 10 businesses in the European Union report difficulties finding staff with the right skills. This was reported by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training in 2015.
Despite high unemployment in this post-crisis era, there still remain unfilled vacancies.
Germany is one such country. It has around 1.2 million job places unfulfilled. The gaps are in professions that include doctors, physiotherapists, nurses, IT specialists, to name a few.
To tackle this, last summer the country passed a new law, the Skilled Labour Immigration Act. This will come into effect in 2020. The aim is to bring in 25,000 skilled workers to Germany each year.
The law will allow those who do not have an employment contract, but who can prove that they have the qualified professional training, to work under a number of circumstances.
The initiative is a great one but will Germany find all the right employees it needs? This is where Malta could come in. We could work with Germany, for example, to help provide the necessary training to fill their many gaps.
There is a lot of work to be done to put such a project in motion. But we need not necessarily reinvent the wheel. Let us look to other countries that have already done the same.
There are also studies of what has and has not worked. For instance, a study by the Migration Policy Centre, entitled From Refugees to Workers, closely analysed nine countries and nearly 100 measures adopted in these countries.
The study found how the biggest problems are admin-related. Also, a one-size-fits-all approach never works. Specific tailor-made measures are needed. At the same time, there is no time to lose.
It emerged that the sooner support happens, the faster labour market integration will take place.
Yet, despite differences between cultures, labour market structures and support measures, there are a lot of similarities across countries.
The challenges, policy trade-offs and choices in the labour market integration of refugees and asylum seekers are relatively similar across countries. This means there is real scope for collaboration.
Now this is just a small facet of a much larger concept, but certainly something we can potentially all be looking at together.
Justin Anastasi is a political opinionist with a background in human resources within the gaming sector.