EU proposes "blue card" for high-skilled migrants

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BRUSSELS, Oct 23 (Reuters) The European Union is planning a ''blue card'' to lure highly skilled migrants by offering financial and housing benefits, and cutting red tape.

The 27-nation bloc is trying to compete with the US ''green card'' system and schemes in other Western countries for the best-qualified migrant labour which is increasingly important to plug labour gaps in the ageing developed world.

The scheme, proposed by the European Commission today, would offer candidates a fast-track procedure to get work permits.

It would be made it easier for them to work in another EU country, have their family join them, receive public housing and get long-term residency status, a draft shows.

To qualify for a blue card, a migrant would need an EU job contract of at least one year guaranteeing a salary of at least three times the minimum wage in the country concerned plus health insurance, the text shows.

The proposal ''aims ... to improve the EU's ability to attract, and where necessary, to retain highly qualified workers,'' the draft text to be approved by the EU executive today says.

''The EU as a whole ... seems not to be considered attractive by highly qualified professionals in a context of very high international competition,'' the text says, referring in particular to the United States and Canada.

The scheme must gain approval from all 27 member states and faces resistance in some countries, notably Germany.

The holder of a card would be able to have his or her family join them, at the latest, six months after having asked for it and without having to prove that he or she had reasonable prospects of obtaining a permanent residence permit.

The holder of an EU blue card would be treated in the same way as EU nationals regarding tax benefits, social assistance, and payment of pensions when moving to another country.

The migrant should also be entitled to the same access to public housing and study grants, although a member government could chose to do so only after the person had stayed three years in its territory.

The blue card would be valid for up to two years and could then be renewed. It could be revoked if its holder lost his or her job and was unemployed for more than three months.

The EU executive will also propose making it easier for young high-skilled migrants to get the blue card.

Those under 30 years old would need only to earn twice the minimum wage to be entitled to the scheme. Governments could decide to waive the salary requirement altogether if the migrant had obtained a Bachelor's or Master's degree in an EU state.

If they agree to the law, EU states would then have two years to implement it.

REUTERS SZ AS1510

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