The American Green Card which allows a foreigner to live and work in the US is known by most of us. However, not everyone knows that the European Union has a similar permit, called the Blue Card. The Blue Card, which was first announced in late 2007, allows highly skilled workers from third countries to work in the EU area.
The reason for the initiative was, as José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, said, the ever-increasing demand for labour force in Europe. As locals get older, the need for foreign workers becomes all the more evident. The Blue Card is currently reserved only for the most qualified since the conditions for obtaining the card demand that the applicant be expected to get hired with a salary at least 1.5 times as big as the national average, though the threshold can be lowered in fields where the system is needed the most.
Along with a work permit, Blue Card holders enjoy a couple of other privileges. They include the possibility of family reunification and the right to move across national borders in the countries taking part in the initiative. José Manuel Barroso said in his speech that by the Blue Card, “we send a clear signal: Highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the European Union.” These benefits are part of making the foreign workers feel welcome in their new home.
The number of Blue Cards given has varied considerably between different nations. The card was introduced in Germany on the first of August, 2012, and a little less than a year later the country announced that nearly 10,000 Blue Cards had been issued. Even though some were dealt to foreigners already living in Germany, the number is comparably big: in a query made in the autumn of 2013, no country who announced clear numbers came anywhere close to Germany’s figures. In some countries, only a handful of cards had been issued, which was partially caused by differences in how quickly the EU directive concerning the card was implemented.
Statistics published by the European Commission in the year 2014 still show that Germany is way ahead of other EU Member States in the Blue Card project. Nine countries were reported to have invited two or fewer workers by handing out Blue Cards. As for those who got their Blue Card, their top countries of origin were India, China, Russia, the United States and Ukraine. The number of Russian and Ukrainian workers gives the initiative another meaning as a European project, an initiative which affects all of Europe and not only the EU. Nearly 700 Europeans were told to have received a Blue Card in the EC communication.
According to Steve Peers, Professor of EU Law at the University of Essex, one of the reasons why the Blue Card initiative has yet to gain success in more member states than what it has at this point is the existence of similar national schemes. A possible solution could be to put an end to such national projects since, as Peers notes, each nation would still be allowed to set quotas on migration if they deem it necessary. Another problem with the implementation of the European project has been the long deadline for decisions, which Peers suspects could be on purpose so as to decrease the number of applications.
In addition to internal policy issues, the Blue Card has caused some concern abroad. Shortly after Barroso announced the scheme, African countries expressed their fear of losing the few highly qualified workers they have to the EU. The danger of brain drain was pointed out by inter alia the South African Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who was worried about the labour market situation in her own sector. The European Commission noted the threat when presenting the idea in 2007, saying that recruitment in fragile sectors in developing countries would be limited.
The 2014 statistics concerning the Blue Card show that brain drain from Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, hasn’t occurred to a notable extent so far. Only 78 workers came from that region and, as the list of the biggest countries of origin shows, many of the Blue Card holders hail from developed countries. Unfortunately the EC report cannot provide information about the occupations of the card holders. In the future, if the Blue Card manages to attract more workers from third countries, the restrictions concerning recruitment in developing countries may be put to a test but it’s possible that countries like China, Russia and the United States which all have sufficient resources of their own will remain on the top of the list.
The Blue Card addresses a real problem, the foreseeable labour shortage. Nevertheless, certain issues, including the implementation of the idea, need to be fixed before the EU can make the most of the possibility. Maybe the nations that have failed should have another look at the initiative to see it as a feasible solution or at least part of a solution to improve the sustainability of their national economy. Sustainability will of course have to be kept in mind when viewing the scheme from a global perspective so that Europe will live up to its reputation as an ethical actor in the world of the 21st century.