14th Apr 2024

MEPs back foreign worker 'blue card' plan

  • It is expected that the scheme enters into force in 2011 (Photo: European Commission)

The European Parliament has 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.

On Thursday (20 November), MEPs adopted a "consultation" report on the issue, with 388 votes in favour, 56 against, while 124 lawmakers abstained.

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"This report shows that Europeans are open to immigration flows and that we are welcoming to nationals from outside Europe," EU home affairs commissioner Jacques Barrot said in the parliament.

"I hope we will show through this policy that Europe is not inward-looking," he added.

However, MEPs have tabled additional - but non-binding - ideas for member states to consider when they deal with the topic next week.

Among other things, they have suggested that the applicant's contract guarantees an income of at least 1.7 times the average gross salary in the host member state - an increase compared to salary conditions agreed by EU home affairs ministers in September.

According to the ministerial deal, blue card holders should earn 1.5 times the average wage, although in certain sensitive sectors - such as health care or education - they would be obliged to be earning only 1.2 times the average salary.

Eurochambres, the association representing some 19 million European companies, has said that the increased minimum pay level could discourage recruitment of new immigrant workers. It may be "prohibitive for small and medium enterprises," it said in a statement.

In addition, it has urged for more a ambitious scheme so that the 27-nation EU is capable of responding to the growing skills gap in its labour market.

Only 5.5 percent of highly qualified migrants from the Maghreb states come to Europe, while about 54 percent opt for the US or Canada, Eurochambres' Arnaldo Abruzzini argued.

The blue card is designed to attract specific types of immigrants to participate in the EU workforce, 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-month stay at first.

Afterwards, he would be allowed to take up highly qualified employment in another EU state, although it would remain the exclusive competence of member states to set specific numbers of economic immigrants entering their territory in order to seek work.

It is expected that the scheme will enter into force in 2011.

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