European Union – Proposal to Revamp the Blue Card Scheme

On June 7, 2016, the European Commission presented a proposal to revamp the European Union (EU) Blue Card scheme, aiming to improve the EU’s ability to attract and retain highly skilled workers, following a public consultation on the existing scheme carried out in 2015. The proposal was launched alongside an Action Plan to support Member States in the integration of third-country nationals

The proposed new version of the Blue Card scheme will have more flexible and inclusive qualifying criteria, standardized procedures across the EU, faster processing and enhanced benefits.

The existing Blue Card scheme, adopted in 2009 and implemented in most EU Member States over the last 7 years, entitles the holder to live and work in an EU Member State for up to four years (United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland have opted out of the scheme).

However, the European Commission admits that restrictive qualifying criteria and the existence of parallel procedures for highly skilled workers in various Member States has limited the success of the Blue Card. According to the latest available data, fewer than 14,000 Blue Cards were issued EU-wide in 2014, the vast majority of them by Germany. Only 31% of highly-educated migrants currently residing in OECD countries chose the EU as their destination, while more than half (57%) are in North America.

The proposed changes include:

  • Unified system
    • The revived scheme establishes a single EU-wide scheme, replacing parallel national schemes for the purpose of highly skilled immigration to provide more clarity for applicants and employers and to make the scheme more visible and competitive.
  • Flexible and inclusive criteria
    • A lower general salary threshold, set nationally and equivalent to or at most 1.4 times the average national salary;
    • Facilitated access for recent graduates and workers in shortage occupations (decided nationally) for whom a lower salary threshold of 80% of the average national salary can be applied;
    • The minimum required duration of the employment contract or job offer is reduced from 12 months to 6 months to align with labour market realities;
    • Highly skilled beneficiaries of international protection will be able to apply for a Blue Card;
    • The new scheme guarantees equivalence between professional experience and skills and formal qualifications.
  • Faster and less restrictive procedures
    • It will be possible to submit applications either abroad or from within the EU (currently the latter is rarely allowed);
    • Maximum processing time is reduced from 90 to 60 days;
    • Member States may offer a fast-track procedure for trusted employers with fewer conditions.
  • Enhanced benefits
    • EU Blue Card holders will be able to carry out short-term business trips without having to obtain any authorization other than the EU Blue Card. Currently, there are diverging practices across Member States, which hampers legal certainty and thereby the ease of conducting business trips;
    • EU Blue Card holders will be able to take up highly skilled employment in a new job in a second EU country after 12 months of residence in the first Member State (compared to 18 months under the existing rules) and after 6 months of residence in second, third and further Member States;
    • The worker does not have to prove again that they have sufficient qualifications;
    • Evidence of sickness insurance or address will not have to be provided in the second Member State;
    • Access to long-term residence after three years continuous residence in the same Member State (or five years residence, as previously, if spent in several Member States);
    • Self-employment on the side will be permitted.

The proposal (including any amendments introduced in the coming months) will now have to be debated and approved by both the European Council and the European Parliament. Once the directive is adopted, it is proposed that the EU Member States will have two years to implement measures to fulfil the directive.