'Blue card' to attract top talent from outside EU
As part of efforts to fulfil Europe's need for highly-qualified workers, Brussels is set to issue an EU-wide work permit allowing employment to non-Europeans, in any country within the 27-nation bloc, EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said in an interview with EUobserver.
The idea of an EU work permit – dubbed the 'blue card' after the colour of the European Union flag – is to be formally tabled in September.
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Mr Frattini hopes it will make Europe a more attractive work destination than the US, Canada or Australia and cut down on the severe labour shortages facing the bloc due to its aging population and declining birth rates.
"It is up to me - up to Europe - to promote and encourage highly-skilled migrants to come, if needed and where needed", Mr Frattini said. He added he would also suggest the "possibility of intra-EU movement" under certain conditions.
Under the plan, an Indian doctor working in a Belgian hospital, for example, would be allowed to move to another EU member state after an initial period of two years, if he found legal employment there. He could subsequently move to another member state after another year.
In addition, the card will enable a specialist to return to their home country and to re-enter EU territory after four or five years, without having to start all the administrative procedures from scratch.
Brussels believes this could prevent foreign immigrants from outstaying their welcome in Europe, as well as counter the devastating effect of "brain drain" from the world's developing countries.
"The blue card is not a permanent card like the American green card", the EU commissioner said.
The card "will make it possible to encourage highly-skilled workers to come and to avoid brain draining at the same time," he added.
Until now, migration has proved to be a highly sensitive issue within the bloc, but Mr Frattini believes there may be "broad consensus" among EU capitals, as they will maintain control over their labour markets.
"I am offering a simplified procedure, facilitating the access of people who are needed...but it is up to each member state to determine how many [non-European] experts they need", he said.
"While member states are particularly reluctant concerning low-skilled or seasonal workers, they are very keen to attract highly-skilled migrants – engineers, doctors, researchers", he concluded.
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.