European Union: Broader, more flexible EU Blue Card Directive proposed

What is the change? After a review and public consultation, the European Commission has proposed a new EU Blue Card Directive that would make it significantly more flexible for high-skilled workers who are non-EU nationals to work, settle and move within Europe.

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What does the change mean? Among the proposed reforms, the directive would make the EU Blue Card accessible to a wider group of high-skilled workers, lower the salary threshold, make it easier for EU Blue Card holders to make business trips within Europe or move to another member state, and improve procedures for accompanying family members. A Trusted Employer program would allow low-risk employers to benefit from streamlined EU Blue Card procedures.

If adopted, the directive would replace the current EU Blue Card Directive as well as any national schemes for high-skilled workers that are parallel to the new directive. Member states would have two years after the date the directive enters into force to transpose the directive into their national laws. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom do not participate in the Blue Card program; Ireland and the U.K. may opt into adopting the proposed measures.

Proposed reforms:

  • Eligibility and duration. High-skilled workers would still be required to have an employment contract or binding job offer, but the requisite duration of the contract would be reduced to six months (from the current 12 months). Member states must recognize an applicant’s equivalent professional experience as an alternative to higher education qualifications (currently it is optional). The Blue Card would be issued for at least two years and would be renewable for at least two years.
  • Procedures. High-skilled workers may apply for the EU Blue Card within Europe or from overseas, and applications must be decided within 60 days (shortened from the current 90 days).
  • Lower salary threshold. The EU Blue Card salary threshold would be lowered from the current amount of 1.5 times a country’s national average salary. The threshold would be set by each country, but must fall within a range between the national average salary and 1.4 times the national average salary. For recent graduates (within three years of graduation) and shortage occupations, the mandatory minimum salary would be 80 percent of the threshold.
  • Greater mobility. EU Blue Card holders would be able to conduct business activities in other EU member states participating in the Blue Card scheme for 90-day trips within a 180-day period without further visa procedures (including Blue Card-participating states that are not Schengen members). After a Blue Card holder has resided in the first member state for one year, he or she may take a job and move to another member state and undergo fewer procedures to obtain a new Blue Card. The Blue Card holder may then move to other member states after only six months of residency in the second state.
  • Family members. Family members who apply simultaneously with the EU Blue Card applicant would obtain residence permits at the same time so they can travel together. Family members who apply for family reunification after the EU Blue Card is issued would be granted resident permits within 60 days of application.
  • Permanent residence. EU Blue Card holders residing in one member state continuously for three years would be eligible for EU long-term residency. Alternatively, an applicant would qualify for EU long-term residency if he or she lived among various member states for five years and lived continuously as a Blue Card holder for the two years immediately prior to the application in the member state in which the applicant seeks residency.
  • Trusted employers. Member states may adopt Trusted Employer programs that recognize low-risk employers eligible for simplified EU Blue Card procedures. Simplified procedures would include 30-day processing of EU Blue Card applications.
  • National safeguards. Individual EU countries would continue to set the number of non-EU high-skilled workers it will accept. In times of high unemployment, individual countries may impose labor market testing.

Background: The Commission is looking to reform the EU Blue Card scheme to address skills shortages in Europe and future competitiveness. According to the Commission, the information technology sector alone will have 756,000 unfilled vacancies by 2020.

The existing EU Blue Card system has been ineffectual in attracting high-skilled workers; besides low overall numbers, a single country, Germany, accounted for 90 percent of the cards that have been issued since 2012. The Commission estimates that the proposed measures will attract 32,000 to 137,000 high-skilled workers per year and €1.4 billion to €6.2 billion in annual economic benefits.

BAL Analysis: By harmonizing the current patchwork of regulations, simplifying procedures, and increasing intra-EU mobility for high-skilled workers and their families, the proposals would make the Blue Card a more attractive route for European companies to recruit and retain non-EU professionals. BAL is following these developments, and will report additional details as they become available.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact uk@balglobal.com.

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