In order to attract highly-skilled foreign workers to the European Union (excluding Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom), the European Commission has adopted a proposal to improve the EU Blue Card scheme. The new provisions must pass through the European Union’s standard decision-making process before adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
The European Commission consulted business and expert groups to address several weaknesses with the scheme, such as restrictive admission conditions and limited provisions for mobility within the European Union. Key improvements outlined in the adopted proposal are discussed below.
Relaxing Existing EU Blue Card Eligibility Rules
The proposal outlines the following relaxed conditions to open the scheme to more highly-skilled workers:
- Reducing the work contract or binding offer requirement to a six-month period from the current twelve months;
- Qualifying foreign workers without a higher degree for an EU Blue Card as long as they meet experience requirements;
- Reducing the minimum salary level to a maximum of 1.4 times the average national gross salary; and
- Reducing the salary threshold for workers in shortage occupations and recent graduates.
Improving Intra-Mobility and Other Rights
The proposal also suggests the following improvements to residence and work rights associated with the EU Blue Card:
- EU Blue Card holders would be able to change employers and participate in self-employed activities while they work for a sponsoring employer;
- Dependants would be eligible for residence permits immediately following the principal applicant’s EU Blue Card issuance and would have access to the labour market, subject to a labour market test;
- EU Blue Card holders would be eligible for an EU long-term residence permit after continuous residence of three years in one Member State; and
- EU Blue Card holders in one EU Member State would be able to conduct business activities in another Member State for 90 days within a 180-day period under the same EU Blue Card.
Lastly, the proposal suggests the following process improvements for the EU Blue Card:
- Implementing a mandatory standard validity period of at least 24 months, unless the work contract covers a shorter period;
- Allowing in-country applications if the applicant is legally present in the Member State;
- Reducing government processing time to a mandatory 60-day period; and
- Implementing a streamlined process for eligible employers.
What This Means for Employers
Employers in the European Union should benefit from the adoption of the proposal and should contact their immigration professional to discuss how it would affect their current immigration programs and the travel and work plans of their locally-hired foreign employees. Process and pricing changes may occur depending on forthcoming implementation details.