ImmigrationRoad.com: While immigration reform is going nowhere on Capitol Hill, leaving many highly-skilled but frustrated workers wondering whether they've made a mistake by coming to the U.S., the European Union has timely unveiled an ambitious plan to lure millions of skilled professionals to the continent. The EU-wide "Blue Card" program, named after EU's blue flag, is designed to attract the best and the brightest to its member nations by offering a standardized system and many benefits.
Facing an estimated shortfall of 20-million workers in the next 20 years, the European Commission wants to fix it early. One way, obviously, is to invite more immigrants. However, the United States, Canada and Australia have been the top destinations of the world's talent, with Europe lagging far behind.
To reverse the trend, the EU is counting on the blue card:
"With today's proposal for an EU Blue Card we send a clear signal: highly skilled migrants are welcome in the EU!" said Commission President José Manuel Barroso."
A blue card, similar to US green card in some ways, is a special residence and work permit that authorizes a non-EU national to legally work in the Europe. Key elements of the proposed program are:
A blue card allows its holder to reside and work in any of EU's 27 member nations. This single application procedure greatly simplifies and accelerate the application process for both employers and migrant workers.
Blue card applications must be processed within 90 days! Most people may not understand the significance of this requirement, but for people familiar with the US green card system, which can easily take more than 5 years to complete a case, it is unbelievable.
Blue card holders enjoy same basic socio-ecomonic rights as EU citizens, such as working conditions (including pay and dismissal), health and safety at the workplace, education, vocational training, recognition of qualifications, social security (including health care), export of pensions once they are paid, access to goods and services (including procedures for housing) and tax benefits. By acknowledging that legal immigrant workers contribute to the European economy the same way EU citizens do, the plan emphasizes on equal treatment.
Blue card holders can move to a second Member State for a new job once they have resided in the first state for two years, without the need to apply for a new work permit. All periods of residence add up toward permanent residence status that needs only 5 consecutive years.
The proposal would also make it easier for family members to join a blue card holder.
To stop employers from bringing cheap labor, thus deflating wages of citizens, the proposal mandates a salary of at least three times the national minimum pay of the particular country where the blue card is issued. EU companies must also show that they cannot find EU workers to fill the vacancies.
A blue card is valid for up to two years, but renewable at the end of its validity.
The Commission is also exploring the option of establishing a database to better match bluecard holders and EU employers needing specific skills.
The blue card proposal must be approved by governments of EU's Member States before taking effect. There will certainly be much debate on plan details and plenty of opposing voices from various sides, but we hope individual countries can eventually overcome their differences and make it happen.
Update: EU Commission Press Release on 23/10/2007