The European Commission is about to issue a directive to introduce accelerated visa clearance for researchers from countries outside the European Union and from the candidate states that will join the community in May.
Delay in obtaining visas is one of the barriers to the mobility of researchers. Others include bureaucratic rules obstructing the recognition of qualifications, differences in work-permit regulations and the lack of a mobility tradition in some disciplines.
Raffaele Liberale, the commission's research directorate official, told a Lisbon conference on early career mobility that despite "fragmentation" across Europe, a majority of member states were moving towards changes that would improve the situation.
Later this year, guidance on observing best practice in the employment of researchers will emerge from Brussels, but individual member states will not be compelled to comply.
The commission also intends to issue a European Researchers' Charter as part of the drive by Philippe Busquin, the research commissioner, to kickstart Europe's knowledge economy in the face of competition from the US and, potentially, from China.
The commission calculates that Europe will need 700,000 researchers to meet its aims of spending the equivalent of 3 per cent of gross national product on research by 2010. France, Ireland and the UK have introduced fast-track visa clearance for non-EU researchers. Ireland has also adopted automatic work permits for spouses of researchers and other high-demand skill groups.
This summer, a network of mobility centres will offer advice to researchers on local conditions.