On 07 June the European Commission presented a proposal to reform the European system of residency and working permits for highly skilled migrants originating from countries outside the EU (under the EU Blue Card scheme) in an attempt to attract this cohort that is currently shying away from the EU.

This proposal (see also the European Commission factsheet) seeks to correct insufficiencies in the current system that is viewed as being too restrictive and overly complicated. Put in place in 2009; the ‘Blue Card’ scheme, which targeted facilitating the formalities and conditions needed to secure residency permits and work visas in a bid to attract highly skilled migrant workers from countries outside the EU, has fallen short of expectations. According to the European Commission, only ‘31% of highly-educated migrants to OECD countries chose the EU as a destination, meaning skilled workers are choosing other destinations which compete economically with the EU.’ The proposal thus aims to simplify and relax procedures so as to accelerate the provision of residency permits and work visas.

The main proposed changes aim to better harmonize access to the Blue Card scheme by replacing parallel national schemes where they both target the same types of manpower. In addition the European Commission proposes extending and facilitating access to the revised scheme by lowering the minimum access salary threshold. It will be up to the Member States to choose between the equivalent to or at the highest 1.4 times the average national salary, as compared to the current 1.5 times. Member States can facilitate access for recent graduates and workers in shortage occupations by way of applying a lower salary threshold of 80% of the average national salary, as compared to 1.2 times currently. The minimum duration of the employment contract will be lowered from twelve months to six months. Finally, the Member States should better recognize professional experience as being equivalent to higher education qualifications so that experienced workers can benefit from the scheme.

These workers will gain better rights, such as faster access to long-term residency status. They will also gain easier intra-European mobility rights and their family members will able to join EU Blue Card holders simultaneously.

Member States will have the final say over the number of Blue Cards they deliver for their own territories and they can adapt certain aspects of the proposal to address their own specific labor market challenges. The text still has to go to the EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament for debate.