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Press release

A European "blue card" for highly-skilled immigrants

Immigration - 05-11-2008 - 11:53
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The EU's "blue card" plan to attract highly-skilled immigrants to take jobs in EU economic sectors suffering from skill shortages, modelled on the US "green card" system, needs clearer definitions, said the EP Civil Liberties Committee on Tuesday. The committee proposed clarifications, and more flexibility for Member States, whilst urging them not to "steal" brains from third countries and reaffirming the "Community preference" principle.

The blue card, proposed by the European Commission, is designed to attract highly-qualified workers from third countries by giving them access to the 27 Member States. This card would not replace existing national systems, but would provide an additional channel of attraction, with a common grant procedure.
Most highly-skilled migrants prefer destinations such as the USA, Australia or Canada to the EU, due to the fragmentation of EU labour markets. The "blue card" would enable holders who have spent three years in a first EU country of residence to access other Member States thereafter. The card would therefore normally be valid for three years, renewable for a further two years. If a worker's contract is for a shorter duration, then the card should be granted for the duration of the contract plus three months, said MEPs.
Who should be eligible for a blue card?
In a consultation report drafted by Ewa Klamt (EPP-ED, DE) in co-operation with the Employment Committee and approved on Tuesday with 30 votes in favour, none against and 11 abstentions, Civil Liberties Committee MEPs sought to clarify blue card eligibility requirements: an applicant must have found a job in the EU, and have at least five years' experience in the sector concerned or a university qualification recognised by the Member State. The applicant's contract must guarantee an income of at least 1.7 times the average gross salary in the Member State of residence, add MEPs, who stipulate that this salary must not be lower than that of a comparable worker in the host country.
It must also be possible to grant the card to third country nationals already legally staying in the Union under other régimes, but it should not be granted to asylum applicants or third country nationals admitted to the Union as seasonal workers, as the latter are covered by a specific proposal for a directive, say MEPs.
Guaranteed access to social protection
The blue card will also entitle its holder to family reunification - his or her spouse would also be able to seek a job in the Union - and to social welfare coverage in the Member State concerned. A holder who loses his or her job should have six months to find another, rather than three as proposed by the Commission, say MEPs.
MEPs reiterate Community preference...
MEPs consider that Member States should be able to decide how many blue cards they wish to grant each year. The card should not be viewed as a "right" for migrants, and may be refused even where they meet the criteria. National authorities must also be able to reject holders of blue cards granted by other Member States in favour of a national or Community solution, they say.
... and seek to prevent a "brain drain"
MEPs also say that Member States should not actively encourage the "brain draining" of third countries through the blue card in sectors where these countries suffer from labour shortages, particularly in the areas of health and education. Moreover, Member States should grant the card only to the nationals of third countries with which co-operation agreements on immigration have been established, say MEPs.
Procedure: consultation -- Plenary vote: November (Strasbourg)
Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
In the chair : Gérard DEPREZ (ALDE, BE)
REF.: 20081103IPR41239