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EU Parliament vote on Blue Card

Great Britain keeps out and applies the PBS instead 17 November 2008. On Wednesday 19 November, the European Parliament will debate the proposed blue card scheme and vote on it a day later. MEPs on the Civil Liberties Committee backed the scheme on 4 November.

British and Irish government decided not to opt-in to the Blue Card scheme. In January 2008, the UK decided not to participate in the adoption and application of the Legal Migration Directives including the Blue Card. One of the main reasons for this decision being that it is at odds with the UK’s Points Based System (PBS) and with managing migration on the basis of a national assessment of labour market needs.

Recently, the EP Civil Liberties Committee proposed clearer definitionts on the U’s "Blue Card" plan to attract highly-skilled immigrants to take jobs in EU economic sectors suffering from skill shortages, modelled on the US "Green Card" system. The committee’ clarifications seek not to "steal" brains from third countries and reaffirm the "Community preference" principle.

The Blue Card, recommended by the European Commission, is designed to attract highly-qualified workers from third countries by giving them access to the 27 Member States. This card would not replace existing national systems, but would provide an additional channel of attraction, with a common grant procedure.

Most highly-skilled migrants prefer destinations such as the USA, Australia or Canada to the EU, due to the fragmentation of EU labour markets.

The "Blue Card" would enable holders who have spent three years in a first EU country of residence to access other Member States thereafter. The card would therefore normally be valid for three years, renewable for a further two years. If a worker’s contract is for a shorter duration, then the card should be granted for the duration of the contract plus three months, say MEPs in the committee.

An applicant for the Blue Card must have found a job in the EU, and have at least five years’ experience in the sector concerned or a university qualification recognised by the Member State. The applicant’s contract must guarantee an income of at least 1.7 times the average gross salary in the Member State of residence, add MEPs in the committee, who stipulate that this salary must not be lower than that of a comparable worker in the host country.

It must also be possible to grant the card to third country nationals already legally staying in the Union under other regimes, but it should not be granted to asylum applicants or third country nationals admitted to the Union as seasonal workers, as the latter are covered by a specific proposal for a directive, say MEPs in the committee.

The Blue Card will also entitle its holder to family reunification – his or her spouse would also be able to seek a job in the Union – and to social welfare coverage in the Member State concerned. A holder who loses his or her job should have six months to find another, rather than three as proposed by the Commission, say MEPs in the committee.

The EP Civil Liberties Committee considers that Member States should be able to decide how many Blue Cards they wish to grant each year. The card should not be viewed as a "right" for migrants, and may be refused even where they meet the criteria. National authorities must also be able to reject holders of Blue Cards granted by other Member States in favour of a national or Community solution.

MEPs in the committee also say that Member States should not actively encourage the "brain draining" of third countries through the Blue Card in sectors where these countries suffer from labour shortages, particularly in the areas of health and education. Moreover, Member States should grant the card only to the nationals of third countries with which co-operation agreements on immigration have been established.

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