Blue Card aims to lure the highly qualified

The European parliament in 2008 backed the adoption of a ‘Blue Card’ as an EU-wide work permit that would attract high-skilled non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union (EU), apart from Britain and Ireland.

The Blue Card was coined by the Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel and inspired by the US Green Card, with a reference to the blue European flag with 12 golden stars.

The EU parliament recommended safeguards to limit the brain drain from developing countries and advocated greater flexibility for its member states. But these suggestions were largely ignored and the legislation was subsequently passed in May 2009.

In addition to condemnation from some non-European countries, notably countries in Africa where there were fears that more postgraduates would depart, not all 27 EU countries have implemented the Blue Card programme, which was supposed to be adopted before June 2011.

Spain and Belgium initially refused to enact the law or give the rights promised to skilled migrants, while last year the European Commission warned Austria, Cyprus and Greece they faced consequences if they did not bring their laws into line with the EU legislation.

This established a fast-track admission procedure for skilled foreigners and a common set of social and economic rights, such as equal treatment with nationals with regard to working conditions and pay, as well as access to goods and services.

The commission said that to secure its economic prosperity, remain competitive and maintain its welfare systems, Europe needed more skilled immigrant workers.

At the time it issued its warning to the three recalcitrant countries, the commission also announced it would end proceedings against Malta, Romania and Luxembourg. They had been dilatory in implementing the Blue Card Directive, but by 2012 they had finally obliged.

Once an EU country grants a Blue Card to an applicant the card is valid for three years, allowing the person and any family member to live, work and travel in the EU, and apply for permanent residence after five years.

Those applying for a card must have a recognised diploma, evidence of at least three years' professional experience, and the offer of an EU job contract with a salary three times the minimum wage.

“Coupled with preferential rules for acquiring long-term resident status and for family reunification, the Blue Card scheme presents an attractive package to potential highly qualified migrants,” the commission says on its website.

“It is a demand-driven instrument, which does not grant a right of admission and respects member states' prerogative to determine the volume of labour immigrants entering their territory for the purpose of highly qualified employment.”

The EU's Blue Card directive does not prevent a country from having a separate system of national residency permits. But the commission says these cannot grant the right of residence in other states as guaranteed under the Blue Card Directive.