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New immigration plan favours skilled workers

European Union leaders adopted sweeping new immigration guidelines seeking more effective border controls and favouring skilled workers over refugees, angering human rights groups.

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European Union leaders adopted on Thursday sweeping new immigration guidelines which have angered rights groups for focussing on skilled workers rather than refugees.

"This pact was adopted unanimously. Europe now has a real immigration policy," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters, after hosting an EU summit in Brussels.

The European Pact on Immigration and Asylum -- a document of political intent but not binding laws -- sets out principles for managing migration, fighting illegal immigration and forming partnerships with countries people leave or travel through to get to Europe.

It also seeks to make border controls more effective while building better asylum policy, with refugees increasingly obliged to apply for asylum status from outside the EU.

Some 220,000 people made applications last year.

Immigration will be based on criteria like "Europe's reception capacity in terms of its labour market," with the emphasis on controlling would-be immigrants rather than encouraging people to come.

The pact also insists that nations take the "interests" of their neighbours into account when formulating immigration, integration and asylum policies -- shorthand for avoiding the mass handout of residency permits.

Italy and Spain have angered some of their partners by giving papers to some 700,000 people in recent years.

"This common policy must be founded on proper management of migratory flows, in the interests not only of the host countries but also of the countries of origin and of the migrants themselves," the leaders said in a statement.

They pledged to make the pact the subject of an annual debate.
 

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