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European Union: Proposal for a “Blue Card” for Skilled Immigrants

(Nov. 2, 2007) According to the European Commission's estimates, the European Union will experience labor shortages that will reach their peak by 2050. Around that time, 25 million Europeans will reach retirement age and approximately one-third of the population will be over 65 years of age. As the EU Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini indicated, the EU has not been as successful as other immigration destinations in its quest to attract highly skilled foreign workers. Such workers account only for 1.7 % of the employed population in the EU, compared to seven per cent in Canada, ten per cent in Australia, and three per cent in the United States. For this reason, on October 23, 2007, the European Commission proposed a Directive on the Conditions for Entry and Residence of Third-Country Nationals for Highly Qualified Employment. It is intended to facilitate the conditions for entry and recruitment of qualified foreign workers by European companies. It provides for an EU work permit, the so-called Blue Card. This card, modeled on the U.S. green card, will offer employment to third-country nationals to work in any EU Member State. Such workers will be offered employment under expedited procedures. The criteria for admission include the following: a) a contract of employment; b) professional qualifications; and c) a minimum salary that must be at the minimum three times the level of the existing minimum wage offered at the national level.

The proposal also attempts to avoid the so called "brain drain" result in developing countries by including a requirement to follow ethical standards and to limit active recruitment in those countries. (Press Release, RAPID, Attractive Conditions for the Admission and Residence of Highly Qualified Immigrants, MEMO/07/423 (Oct. 23, 2007), available at

The proposal has not been immune from criticism. In particular, on October 26, 2007, 79 health ministers from African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries (ACP), in a conference in Belgium, voiced their concerns about the EU's luring the most qualified workers from around the world. They also urged the EU to respect ethical standards and to avoid causing a brain drain in the developing world, especially in the area of health workers. Other experts have called the new immigration measure "a new form of colonization." (African States Fear Brain Drain Through EU Blue Card, EUOBSERVER.COM, Oct. 29, 2007.)