U.S. Green Card may soon have European competitor

GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images It was only a matter of time: The European Commission today unveiled its new “Blue Card,” modeled on the United States Green Card, in a bid to attract more skilled workers to the European Union. For several years now, the EU has been facing an increasingly serious labor shortage, which has spread ...

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598561_0710123_europe_05.jpg

GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time: The European Commission today unveiled its new "Blue Card," modeled on the United States Green Card, in a bid to attract more skilled workers to the European Union. For several years now, the EU has been facing an increasingly serious labor shortage, which has spread to "new" EU member countries in Eastern Europe. The EU believes it will face a shortfall of 20 million workers in the next two decades, a problem exacerbated by declining birth rates and an aging population. "The EU as a whole ... seems not to be considered attractive by highly qualified professionals in a context of very high international competition," according to the European Commission. But with easier access to jobs, and with the United States' H1B visa quota restrictions, this is likely to change.

So what benefits can prospective recipients of a Blue Card expect? Aside from being covered by a common set of standards across the EU, Blue Card holders would be able to live, work, and travel in the EU without additional restrictions; they could have their families join them within six months; and they would be treated in the same way as EU nationals in terms of tax benefits and many social-security benefits. After five years, card holders would automatically become eligible for permanent residency where they are working. In order to qualify for the card, applicants will need to have an EU job contract lasting at least a year that guarantees a salary of at least three times the minimum wage (or twice for applications under 30), plus health insurance—quite typical demands for working visas around the world.

GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images

It was only a matter of time: The European Commission today unveiled its new “Blue Card,” modeled on the United States Green Card, in a bid to attract more skilled workers to the European Union. For several years now, the EU has been facing an increasingly serious labor shortage, which has spread to “new” EU member countries in Eastern Europe. The EU believes it will face a shortfall of 20 million workers in the next two decades, a problem exacerbated by declining birth rates and an aging population. “The EU as a whole … seems not to be considered attractive by highly qualified professionals in a context of very high international competition,” according to the European Commission. But with easier access to jobs, and with the United States’ H1B visa quota restrictions, this is likely to change.

So what benefits can prospective recipients of a Blue Card expect? Aside from being covered by a common set of standards across the EU, Blue Card holders would be able to live, work, and travel in the EU without additional restrictions; they could have their families join them within six months; and they would be treated in the same way as EU nationals in terms of tax benefits and many social-security benefits. After five years, card holders would automatically become eligible for permanent residency where they are working. In order to qualify for the card, applicants will need to have an EU job contract lasting at least a year that guarantees a salary of at least three times the minimum wage (or twice for applications under 30), plus health insurance—quite typical demands for working visas around the world.

It seems like a win-win situation for prospective skilled migrants and their European host countries. Nonetheless, I’ll bet the Blue Card scheme won’t have an easy passage once trade unions and immigration opponents in Europe inevitably start to voice their complaints.

Prerna Mankad is a researcher at Foreign Policy.

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