The European Union is proposing a blue card to attract skilled workers to Europe in the face of an aging population and a declining birth rate. From London, Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA, the 27-nation bloc is trying to compete with the U.S. "green card" system and programs in other Western countries to get the best-qualified migrant labor.
The European Union says it will need 20 million skilled migrant workers during the next 20 years to plug labor gaps in the developed world. The so-called Blue Card would lure the workers by making easier for them to work in another E.U. country, have their family join them, receive public housing and get long-term residency status.
To qualify for a blue card, a migrant would need an E.U. job contract of at least two year guaranteeing a salary of at least three times the minimum wage in the country to which they are applying and health insurance.
The plan aims to attract information technology specialists, engineers, doctors, nurses and other highly-qualified workers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, who have been flocking to North America and Australia.
In a recent speech, Franco Frattini, European Commissioner for Justice, Freedom, and Security and the architect of the plan, said it is essential for the European Union to "become a real magnet for highly skilled immigrants."
A spokesman for Frattini, Riccardo Mosca, told VOA the intention is to fast track the process. He said the card will give skilled workers a grace period to look for another job once their contracts expire. It would also make it possible for employees to go back to their countries to work for a while without the fear of losing their blue cards.
But Marco Manacorda at the London School of Economics said to persuade workers not to go to countries like the United States, the European Union has to make some changes to the current plan.
"I am wondering to what extent Europe might truly be competitive with the United States in terms of attracting skilled migrants to the extent that the premium to being a skilled worker in the United States are much higher than they are in Europe where the wage distribution is much compressed so whether that is going to be a successful policy that is hard to know now," said Manacorda.
According to the European Commission, about 25 million Europeans are expected to retire and one third will be over 65 years of age by 2050.
The proposals have already faced opposition from trade unions, who fear the blue card could undermine training opportunities for E.U. workers. The Commission has said, however, that E.U. citizens will continue to have priority access to the labor markets of other member states.