EU says wants more foreign students despite downturn

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - The European Commission wants to speed up the visa process for foreign students and allow them to work in the 27-nation bloc despite record unemployment and a stagnating economy, arguing Europe has many skilled jobs that go unfilled.

The Commission proposed on Monday setting a 60-day time limit for EU countries to decide whether foreign students are eligible for an EU visa to end the current system that varies across countries and that Brussels says is complex and unclear.

Under the proposal, foreign students would also be allowed to remain in the European Union for up to one year after their studies end to try and find a job, rather than being required to have a work visa or leave the bloc.

Despite unemployment of 26 million people, many EU countries struggle to fill skilled positions, in areas including hospitals and hi-tech such as computer programming.

The United States, Australia and Japan all have better incentives to attract talented young foreign workers to their job markets, the Commission says.

"It is vital that we attract the brightest and best researchers and students because they contribute to a successful knowledge economy in the EU," Androulla Vassililou, the commissioner in charge of education, said in a statement.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled a crackdown on immigration on Monday, saying he wanted to rein in welfare benefits he believes lure foreigners to live off the British state.

The Commission will now present its plans to EU governments and hopes the new rules could take effect in 2016.

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