“To stop illegal migration, you can only close the door if you open up the door for legal migration"
14 October 2008: European Union’s Civil Liberties Committee will have to pass a crucial vote on the proposed European Blue Card scheme for skilled immigrants.
The Committee will vote in early November. The EU is facing a skills shortage of 20 million over the next two decades – especially in engineering and computer technology. The vote was postponed from 13th October at the last minute for procedural reasons.
Last October the Commission proposed the Blue Card scheme to make it easier for skilled migrants to come to Europe. At present there are 27 different visa regimes in place.
The card would act as a work and residency permit for 2 years and can also be renewed. Family members will also be allowed into the EU whilst individual countries would be able decide for themselves how many skilled migrants to admit. By way of comparison the US Green Card allows permanent residency for 10 years and allows people to work and travel freely in America.
Ewa Klamt of the EPP-ED group who is guiding the measure through parliament stressed the need for skilled migrants. She told the European Parliament Press that in her native Germany "there is a lack of 95 thousand engineers" and that "the education system had only produced twenty thousand."
She also warned of the need for Europe not to lose out on skilled labour saying that "50% of skilled migrants from Maghreb states go to the US or Canada, only 5.5 % come to EU."
On the wider political need for the measures she was emphatic: "we have always said we need the possibility of a legal migration. If you want to stop illegal migration, you can only close the door if you open up the door for legal migration."
Defining "highly qualified"
How to define a "highly skilled" individual is a key issue. MEPs on the Civil Liberties Committee support Ms Klamt’s view that there should be two possibilities. It could either a higher education qualification – meaning at least 3 years of studies – or higher professional qualification, attested by evidence of at least five years of professional experience. The report also rules out an upper age limit for migrants.
How to avert a brain drain
Many have voiced a fear that Europe will take the best and brightest from Africa and other parts of the developing world in a modern day "brain drain". Ewa Klamt said that “in areas and sectors vital to achieving the UN millennium goals – like health and education – which are vital to developing countries we must restrict ourselves from plundering their essential workers."
A possible compromise that could emerge is that EU countries may reject a Blue Card application to avoid brain-drain in sectors suffering from a lack of qualified personnel in the countries of origin.
Regarding the salaries to be paid to migrants, Ms Klamt said that "we have put down that it has to be 1.7 times of the gross monthly or annual average wages under national law which is different in each country."
In early November MEPs in the Civil Liberties Committee will give their vote on the Klamt report on the Blue Card. For this piece of legislation the parliament is involved under the Consultation procedure. In November the full parliament will vote on the agreement reached.