The Netherlands and many other EU countries increasingly face labour market shortages in certain sectors. In the next few years, the largest labour market bottlenecks in the Netherlands are projected to occur in technical professions, ICT, education and health care. ‘Shortage occupations’ in these sectors require mostly higher vocational or academic degrees, while medium-skilled technical professionals are also in high demand.

Do potential labour migrants from Africa and the Middle East possess the skills to fill projected vacancies in the Netherlands and the EU? On the one hand, demographics and economic development imply that the number of people interested in labour migration from these countries will grow in the foreseeable future. Many of the countries in this region face record high unemployment rates, especially for youth, women, and those with higher education. Moreover, educated migrants from countries near Europe often do specialise in fields in which Europe needs more workers (including engineering, ICT, and health related fields). On the other hand, the quality of education in many of these countries remains a challenge and diplomas are often not recognised. Having said this, there are opportunities for matches between demand and supply in the medium and higher vocational professions.

The experience of other countries with the recruitment of labour migrants from Africa and the Middle East provides several useful lessons for the Netherlands. In Germany, programmes to attract skilled Tunisians and Moroccans into scarcity jobs appear to have had positive results thus far, but have remained limited in scale. In Sweden, the experience with more open migration policies suggests that this does not necessarily lead to a sudden large demand from employers to hire labour migrants for filling shortage occupations. Another lesson learned is that a ‘fast track program’ to integrate asylum seekers into the labour market may not necessarily result in large numbers of labour migrants. Finally, international research suggests that cultural differences do not need to be a key barrier to labour market integration in the long term.

Scope of the study

In order to have a more informed, evidence-based debate on international migration, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested a report to investigate the extent to which there is a potential match between labour demand in Europe (with a focus on the Netherlands) and the supply of potential labour migrants from countries near Europe. The Ministry asked for a comprehensive overview of existing studies, evaluations and other information on (1) the labour market bottlenecks and skills shortages predicted for the Netherlands and the EU, (2) the extent to which labour migrants from countries near the EU possess the skills to fill these gaps, and (3) lessons learned from EU experiences with the recruitment of labour migrants from Africa and the Middle East.


The main report provides an analysis of Dutch and EU labour market shortages and an analysis of migration trends. In addition, the Annexes to this report present a number of case studies, a study on existing barriers and opportunities, and a list of relevant databases and literature. Annexes A,B, and C describe the education systems, labour market characteristics, and migration experiences of Nigeria, Jordan and Tunisia. Annex D discusses the existing legal and non-legal barriers and opportunities for labour migration and labour market integration. Annexes E and F explore lessons learned from recent migration policies in Germany and Sweden. Finally, Annex G contains the list of compiled migration databases and an extensive bibliography on the determinants of labour migration, with a focus on countries near Europe