CWS 3.0: August 3, 2011 - Vol. 3.18

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Europe: Green Card, Blue Card

Winston Churchill once observed, “the empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” However, as the Economist pointed out, “he might have added that the battles of the future will be battles for talent.” The latest weapon in Europe’s armory in these battles is the Blue Card Directive, which is designed to attract highly talented workers by making it easier for them to come to Europe, move around and improve their status when they are in the region.

Passed by the European Union in 2009, the Blue Card (aka Blue European Labor Card) is an approved EU-wide work permit (Council Directive 2009/50/EC) that allows high-skilled non-EU citizens to work and live in most countries within the European Union. It is designed to harmonize the 27 different and sometimes conflicting admission procedures in the EU and help Europe compete with the American "Green Card" and similar programs in Canada and Australia.

The Blue Card proposal presented by the European Commission offers a one-track procedure for non-EU citizens to apply for a work permit, which would be valid for up to two-years and renewable for up to four years in total.

With this card, third-country nationals and their families can:

• enter, re-enter and stay in the issuing Member State and pass through other Member States;

• work in the sector concerned; and

• enjoy equal treatment with nationals with regard to working conditions, social security, pensions, recognition of diplomas, education and vocational training, for example.

After 18 months, applicants and their family may move to other Member States to work as a highly qualified employee. After two years of legal employment, they may receive equal treatment with nationals regarding access to any highly qualified employment.

In order to qualify for a blue card, an applicant must have:

• a work contract or binding job offer with a salary of at least 1.5 times the average gross annual salary paid in the Member State concerned (Member States may lower the salary threshold to 1.2 for certain professions where there is a particular need for third-country workers);

• a valid travel document and a valid residence permit or a national long-term visa;

• proof of sickness insurance;

• for regulated professions, documents establishing that he or she meets the legal requirements, and for unregulated professions, documents establishing the relevant higher professional qualifications.

It is up to the Member States to determine whether the application for an EU Blue Card must be made by the third-country national and/or the employer. The application may be rejected on the grounds of volumes of admission established by the Member State, ethical recruitment, or if the employer has been sanctioned due to undeclared work or illegal employment. The EU specifies that the application must be accepted or rejected within 90 days of filing.

Once granted, the EU Blue Card may be withdrawn if the holder does not have sufficient resources to maintain him- or herself and family members without social assistance or if he or she has been unemployed for more than three consecutive months or more than once during the period of validity of the card. Further, the blue cards do not apply to posted workers.

The Blue Card Directive was supposed to have been implemented in June 2011. However, the picture across Europe is mixed.

The Netherlands appears to have implemented the directive. It requires that the employee has a minimum one-year contract for highly qualified employment, earning at least €60,000 gross (in 2011). The employee must have completed a course of higher education lasting at least three years and submit a diploma to be assessed by Nuffic (Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education and Research).   For regulated professions, a competent authority will make admission decisions.

While Spain has incorporated the Blue Card into its national law (Ley Orgánica 2/2009, in effect December 13, 2009, and a revision of Ley Orgánica 4/2000), it does not yet accept Blue Card applications and has not yet made public what its requirements will be.

In France, the government is implementing the directive in its own fashion. In addition to requiring a salary of at least 1.5 times the threshold amount (€47,898 a year or €3,991 per month in 2008), the Carte Bleue Européenne will be limited to 3 years. Further, applicants must have a higher education of a least 3 years and five years’ experience in the highly qualified employment.

Belgium, which still has no government, has not yet been adopted the legislation. Germany is in the same position, although we understand that it’s almost finished preparing the relevant legislation.

The United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark have decided to opt out of the scheme in order to retain jurisdiction over their immigration policies.

In light of this, buyers of staffing services in Europe will want to ensure that they keep up to date with the changes of legislation within each country. We will highlight any relevant changes in the monthly Western European Contingent Workforce Legs & Reg Advisor, published by Staffing Industry Analysts (the publisher of this newsletter) in conjunction with Ius Laboris.

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