1st Dec 2023

Commission pushes ahead with EU green card scheme

  • An EU green card will alllow skilled workers from countries outside the EU to obtain work and residency permits to the union under a special fast track scheme (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has adopted a proposal to allow highly qualified foreign migrants the possibility to apply for Europe-wide work permits, allowing them to look for jobs anywhere in the European Union.

Justice commissioner Franco Frattini and employment commissioner Vladimir Spidla on Wednesday (21 December) presented an EU "road map" towards a common EU approach to legal migration.

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The package aims at ensuring all working migrants the same rights as EU citizens in terms of education, health service and freedom of circulation, and at creating legal alternatives to illegal immigration.

"Illegal immigration is a weapon of mass destruction against social standards, bringing large-scale social dumping," Mr Spidla told a press conference in Brussels.

The commission wishes to sharpen competition with the US, Australia and Canada over much-needed skills to industries experiencing a drain in workers, particularly in sectors in which shortages have already been reported, such as IT, health services, research and construction.

"For the moment, the US is attracting 54 percent of the high-skilled workers, whereas the EU attracts 84 percent of the low-skilled", justice commissioner Frattini said when presenting the plans in Brussels.

Following an American model, the EU commisison proposes to introduce a so-called EU green card, alllowing skilled migrants to obtain work and residency permits to the union under a special fast track scheme.

Mr Frattini also proposed a system of multi-year, multiple-entry permits that would encourage seasonal workers to return home after the working season, knowing they can return legally for other temporary jobs later.

The commission hopes that such permits will prevent tens of thousands of agriculture and construction workers from entering the EU illegally each year and working on the black market.

In January this year, the commission called for a new scheme to fast-track economic migrants into the European labour market, with a rapidly ageing workforce causing concern for a future shortage of skilled workers.

An additional 10 to 20 million workers will be needed between 2010 and 2030 to tackle the shortage, and holes cannot be filled only by workers from the new member states, experts say.

Migration a sensitive matter

Migration policiy is an extremely sensitive area in the EU, with member states insisting that immigration laws should be set by national governments only, and the commisison is likely to meet with resistance to the new migration package.

Past attempts to agree common immigration standards have boiled down to disputes on immigrant quotas.

On 27 October, a Parliament vote showed that MEPs were in favour of measures to promote economic migration, but that each member state should decide on quotas of immigrants to be accepted by each member state.

"It will be up to each member state to decide the number of admissions but it will be up to Europe to decide common standards," commissioner Frattini ensured member states on Wednesday.

Germany has been particularly concerned over EU quotas setting admission numbers, and Denmark, which has a permanent opt-out from EU immigration policies is not likely to let Brussels grab a bigger share of decision making without a fight.

An official from the UK home office announced on Wednesday that "We would have to decide whether to opt in or not. We need to retain the ability to control our own borders, which we believe is in our national interest", writes The Times.

The idea of a Green Card was also rejected by MEPs in October.

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