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EU: Blue card for highly skilled foreign workers

The EU adopts immigration programme aimed at bringing in highly skilled foreign workers 26 May 2009 – Punish those who hire illegal migrants and attract highly skilled workers. These are tracks along which move the two European directives adopted by the EU Council of Ministers on Monday.

Swifter access to work permits will be reserved to highly skilled workers from non-EU countries by means of a special permit, dubbed the Blue Card.

It will allow foreign workers to be employed in any EU member state except Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark and enjoy limited social and welfare rights for themselves and their family members for a renewable period from one to four years.

They will grant Blue Card holders equal treatment with nationals when it comes to "working conditions, including pay and dismissal", recognition of qualifications, the right to participate in trade unions and limited social security and pension rights, as well as access to housing and counselling.

The permit allows for restricted movement between member states. After one and a half years, the EU Blue Card holder will be free to move to other member states, along with his or her family, for the purpose of highly qualified employment.

The 24 member states who have signed up for the scheme now have two years to transpose it into national law.

The original proposal, initially tabled in 2007 by the European Commission, was watered down after concerns by member states that it would allow Brussels to interfere too much in their national labour markets.

New member states also pointed out that the Blue Card would discriminate against their own workers, who still face restrictions in some old member states like Germany.

The second directive approved by the ministers establishes a set of common standards and sanctions against employers – both individuals and companies – who illegally hire foreign workers devoid of a permit of stay.

The new rules aim to "put an end to abuses by unscrupulous employers who make contracts with illegally-staying [workers] providing them in the labour market with low salaries and poor labour conditions."

Employers will need to check the status of their employees and notify national authorities when they hire a non-EU national.

Failure to comply will be punished with fines, proportional to the number of illegally employed foreigners, as well as the payment of the return costs for the illegal non-EU employees.

Harsher sanctions could see employers of illegal workers excluded from public funding schemes and participation in public tenders.

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