This week the EU Council adopted EU-wide unified regulations for highly qualified third-country workers. Since the European Commission put forward its proposal in October 2007, it had been highly controversial. The Directive will now come into effect from 2011. Each Member State will continue to have sole decision-power as to who will be admitted. Great Britain, Ireland and Norway are not required to apply the Directive; hence they are able to use their right to opt out pledged to them by the EC Agreement.
EU Blue Card versus US-American Green Card
The EU Blue Card is to contribute to tackling the shortage of labour by promoting the admission and mobility of third-country citizens for the purpose of pursuing highly-qualified employment. This at least is the wish of the EU Commission and the Council. The aim is also to increase the appeal of the Community for highly qualified workers from all over the world and to strengthen its competitive edge and economic growth. Whether the EU Blue Card will be a rival to the US American Green Card, which has completely different acquisition requirements and is not exclusively geared towards highly qualified workers, remains to be seen.

Minimum salary determined as an important criteria
The gross salary, which is determined by the monthly or annual salary indicated in the employment contract or the binding job offer, may not be lower than the minimum salary, determined by the Member States for this purpose, which is at least equivalent to one and a half times (1.5) of the average gross annual salary in the relevant Member State. This represents the crux of the Directive and at the same time a significant improvement of the original proposal of the EU Commission, which only specified the triple social security benefit rate of the Member State as minimum salary. AK had pointed out this problem as far back as 2007. Although the regulation is now clear it still requires practical implementation.

Member States have sole say about admission
It was also determined that each Member State can decide for itself who will be admitted as a highly qualified third-country citizen. There are neither quotas per Member State nor a unification of national with the EU Blue Card process in place - an original request of the Commission, which, however, was not complied with by the Council. The EU Blue Card is valid from one to up to four years and can be renewed. The Member State, which issued the Blue Card, will treat its holders in some areas, such as labour conditions, including payment and dismissal, as well as occupational health and safety, freedom of association as well as membership and activities in trade unions, general and vocational education, recognition of diplomas, examination certificates and other certificates of qualification as their own nationals. It remains to be seen how the EU Blue Card will be embraced in reality and whether the wishes of both Commission and Council will be fulfilled.

Further information:

AK Position Paper on EU Blue Card

Press Release of the Council on the EU Blue Card including the adopted Directive

Policy making process of EU Blue Card