Saturday

23rd Sep 2023

EU ministers flesh out foreign worker 'Blue Card' plan

  • Europe has so far failed to win many highly-skilled workers when compared to other parts of the world (Photo: EUobserver)

EU interior ministers have formally backed the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, a French-drafted plan on how the 27-nation bloc should cope with migratory flows.

"We have now reached a comprehensive agreement," French immigration minister Brice Hortefeux said on Thursday (25 September), adding that the aim was to avoid building a fortress Europe, but not open Europe unconditionally either.

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The pact sets out common political guidelines in areas such as regular and irregular immigration, border controls, asylum policies and cooperation with countries of origin and of transit.

First of all, it suggests that the organisation of regular immigration be based on a state's needs and ability to welcome people. Those staying in the EU without proper documentation could be forced to return to their home country.

Additionally, refugees seeking asylum will be to a greater extent need to apply for refugee status in advance of setting foot on European territory, although the EU claims it will also boost aid to those countries from which people tend to flee.

The agreement will now go to heads of states and governments when they meet next month (15-16 October) for final approval.

Blue card

Thursday's ministerial meeting was the first of its kind entirely devoted to the issue of migration, with Mr Hortefeux saying it shows how "important and vital" these issues are.

During the meeting, EU home affairs ministers have also endorsed the idea of an EU work permit, dubbed the 'Blue Card' after the US Green Card, allowing employment to non-Europeans in any country within the 27-nation bloc.

The only objection comes from the Czech Republic, minister Hortefeux said after the ministerial meeting, referring to Prague's key demand of abolishing labour restrictions for eastern Europeans.

Currently, Austria, Belgium, Germany and Denmark continue to protect their markets from cheaper labour coming from the post-communist bloc.

"Our citizens cannot be in a worse situation than non-EU states," Czech minister Ivan Langer told journalists.

Slovak minister Robert Kalinak also threw his weight behind the demand.

The Blue Card would be designed to attract specific types of foreign workers in the EU labour market, allowing "them and members of their families to enter, reside in and have access to the labour market" in sectors suffering from shortages.

In practice, an Indian engineer could enter an EU state after presenting a valid work contract or a binding job offer, with the work permit limited to a maximum 18-months stay at first.

Afterwards, he would be allowed up highly qualified employment in another EU state, although the Blue Card would not serve as a blank cheque.

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

Exceptions

The so-called new EU states have already secured one exception from the general deal - linked to salary conditions for Blue Card holders. In certain sectors, such as health care or education, they would not be obliged to earn 1.5 times the average wage, but only 1.2 times.

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.

But Europe has so far failed to win many highly-skilled workers when compared to other parts of the world.

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

Blue Card policy bad for EU schools, expert says

EU governments will tend to invest less in education if they can "import" high skilled workers from third countries through the so-called "Blue Card" scheme, aimed at matching the US Green Card, Aristide Zolberg, a professor at New York's New School University said at a conference in Brussels.

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