31st Oct 2020

EU proposes 'blue card' to attract skilled immigrants

  • Labour shortages will peak by 2050 when 25 million Europeans are expected to retire from work (Photo: European Commission)

As part of efforts to fulfil Europe's hunger for highly-qualified workers, Brussels has formally tabled the idea of an EU work permit - dubbed the blue card - allowing employment to non-Europeans in any country within the 27-nation bloc.

"We are not good enough at attracting highly-skilled workers nor are we young enough or numerous enough to keep the wheels of our societies and economies turning on our own", European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said after the executive body had given its go-ahead to the plan on Tuesday (23 October).

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"With the European blue card, we send a clear signal: highly-skilled workers from all over the world are welcome in the European Union", Mr Barroso added, underling it would be "absurd" to address the problem of ageing population and labour shortages at a solely national level.

The blue card is designed to attract, and where necessary to retain, foreign workers in the EU labour market, which Brussels has described as a "need" scenario.

According to commission estimates, labour shortages will peak by 2050 when 25 million Europeans are expected to retire from work and one-third of the population will be over 65 years of age.

EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini, author of the proposal, pointed out that Europe had so far failed to win highly-skilled workers when compared to other immigration countries.

While in Europe, non-European highly-qualified workers make up only 1.7 percent of the employed population, they account for nearly ten percent in Australia, over seven percent in Canada and over three percent in the US.

According to Brussels, this is the result of several bad practices - migrants face 27 different admission systems and do not have the possibility of easily moving from one country to another for work.

How EU blue cards will work

But the European Commission said the blue card would not be "a blank cheque" to all highly-skilled workers.

In practice, an Indian engineer will be allowed to come to an EU state after presenting a valid work contract or a binding job offer. At first, the work permit will be limited to a maximum two-years stay, followed by the possibility to move to another EU state, so long as there was a valid work contract available.

It will remain an exclusive competence of member states to set specific numbers of economic immigrants entering their territory in order to seek work.

On the other hand, Brussels envisages harmonization of admission rules as well as guaranteeing newcomers the same social and economic rights linked to health-care, taxes or pensions as those of their national counterparts.

This proposal is an instrument for those who want to attract foreign workers, EU commissioner Frattini said, adding if a member state feels that it does not need workers, Brussels will not force them to take migrants.

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