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Press release

Immigration: the Blue Card, an EU visa for skilled staff

Immigration - 26-06-2008 - 15:09
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The draft directive for a Blue Card, intended to overcome labour shortages in some sectors of the economy by attracting highly skilled staff from non-EU countries, was debated by MEPs and experts at a hearing of the EP Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday. What impact will it have on EU and non-EU countries? The risks of discrimination and of a brain drain were among the issues discussed.

Europe's population is ageing and many job vacancies remain unfilled.  Some sectors are even suffering from labour shortages. The European Blue Card is expected to attract highly skilled staff to the Union from other countries by creating a "Schengen visa" for employment, thereby opening up the 27 Member States.  But what will be the criteria for granting the card and what will be the consequences for the non-EU countries?
MEPs debated the draft directive on Wednesday with experts, trade unionists and Commission and Council representatives.  An EP report is being compiled and will be examined by the Civil Liberties Committee on 14 and 15 July. 
In the view of Ewa Klamt (EPP-ED, DE), who is drafting Parliament's report, "the problem is this: the EU is not regarded as attractive by skilled staff from non-EU countries". She said there was a shortage of 95,000 engineers in Germany, resulting in a €7 billion lost to the economy.   One reason was the existence in the Union of "27 different admission systems, which are unreadable, do not allow workers to move around freely within the EU and restrict the possibility of uniting families".  Given this situation, "we must act swiftly" by creating a simpler procedure and more attractive residence conditions and allowing for family unification, she argued.
Harmonisation of minimum wages: a tricky question
Sergio Carrera, of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), stressed "the major differences between Member States as regards minimum salaries" in the face of which harmonisation would be "particularly difficult". He also doubted whether the Blue Card could guarantee equal treatment across all Member States, since each state would be able to introduce measures that were more favourable than those in the directive. "The proposed directive could lead to the application of different rights and its sectoral approach could give rise to discrimination", he believed.
Sverker Rudeberg, of Business Europe, spoke in favour of the directive. He also argued that "this proposal must not prevent Member States from having more favourable rules" and that they must remain free "to determine the number of admissions" in the light of their needs.  He called for "a swift and transparent procedure that allows family unification". Like Sergio Carrera, however, he was opposed to a minimum wage "that was far too high and would exclude some people from jobs without any reason".
Preventing unfair competition
Catelene Passchier, of the European Trade Union Confederation, said ETUC "would have preferred a horizontal directive" rather than a sectoral one.  She asked "is it not risky to have different rules and different rights for workers?"  She also thought it was "difficult to explain that we are resorting to immigration when some countries have problems of unemployment. (…) People are concerned that high-level positions will be occupied by migrant workers who are paid less than Community citizens.  Equal treatment is very important, to prevent unfair competition", she said.
Among MEPs, Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler (PES, DE), believed the problem of skills shortages in certain sectors could be traced back to education systems in the Union.  "Why do some areas not attract students? We must look at our education system.  Our industries will not find those they need simply by looking to third countries", he said.  He was also concerned about the brain drain that could be caused by the Blue Card.
Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert (ALDE, NL), maintained that "economic immigration is not a panacea, nor the only solution to the problem of an ageing population".  In her view, the Blue Card would serve to "improve the Union's competitiveness and is thus a good thing in itself".
Risk of a brain drain?
Armando França (PES, PT) asked whether "attracting highly skilled workers from non-EU states does not undermine solidarity?"  It "seems paradoxical when we see that the Union has policies to support less developed countries (…) I have major doubts about this proposal", he said.  And should the application of the directive not be preceded by cooperation agreements with the non-EU countries from which the migrant workers came?"
Further doubts were expressed by Marian-Jean Marinescu (EP-ED, RO), who pointed out that workers in some Member States "are still subject to restrictions".  "Could it happen that some of them might have fewer rights than those coming from outside? How can we prevent that, in view of the principle of Community solidarity?", she asked.
Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
Chair : Gérard Deprez (ALDE, BE)
REF.: 20080623IPR32500