Changes to chaotic EU visa rules could help workers move to Europe if they receive a job offer—and their chances are better if they find work in the tech or healthcare sectors.
The European Commission proposed changes to the seven-year-old blue card visa programme for skilled workers, which has been hampered by too complicated rules and only attracted a small number of applications.
Between 2012, when the first permits were handed out, and 2014, only 30,480 blue card visas were approved. Germany gave out close to 90% of those visas.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos called the programme “unattractive, unknown and fragmented” during a press conference yesterday (7 June) in Strasbourg.
Refugees living in an EU member state can also apply for the blue card visas. But the executive insists the programme will target workers with skills that are needed and won’t replace programmes for asylum seekers.
“This is not about supporting those who are vulnerable,” Avramopoulos said.
According to the Commission, companies struggle most to fill jobs in the technology and healthcare fields. EU countries will decide themselves whether to approve a visa and can prioritise applications for jobs they need.
The UK, Ireland and Denmark are exempt from the rules.
“This is about empowering those who arrive in the European Union but also about empowering the EU,” Avramopoulos said.
EU countries are still less popular places for educated foreign workers than the United States, Canada and Australia.
Avramopoulos warned that the blue card has to compete with the US’ green card system because Europe’s workforce is set to lose more than 20 million workers by 2036.
He also said the visa programme could add between €1.4 and 6.2 billion to the EU’s economy per year.
Many technology companies say they’re already hard pressed to find qualified employees.
Tech startup associations have been asking the executive to change visa rules to attract more entrepreneurs to Europe.
Lenard Koschwitz, director of EU affairs for lobby group Alliance for Startups, wrote yesterday that Europe is “bleeding talent” in an opinion piece on euractiv.com.
Some EU member states already have national visa programmes specifically for startup companies. Those will be replaced by the new blue card visa law once it goes into effect.
The EU scheme might draw applications from a lot of US citizens—if it follows the example of national programmes.
The Netherlands approved 21 visas for startup employees in 2015 after introducing a new programme last January. Six of the people who received those visas were US citizens, four were Russian, three were Canadian, and the rest were Indian, Macedonian, Indonesian, Ukrainian, Mexican and New Zealand.
More relaxed rules under the new blue card visa programme could help Europe’s tech industry compete with other regions, according to Catriona Meehan, EU policy director of the App Developers Alliance. The association claims the market for online apps in the EU is growing fast and will be worth €63 billion by 2018.
According to Commission estimates, there will be close to 800,000 unfilled tech jobs by 2020 and around 1 million healthcare vacancies.
To boost the number of foreign workers coming to the EU, the executive wants to loosen up some of the rules it said prevented people from applying for blue card visas up until now. Applicants can expect a shorter wait under the rules: national governments will be forced to process applications within 60 days.
Under the new visa programme, applicants need to have an offer for a job that will last at least six months. The current blue card scheme only allows visas for job contracts of one year or more.
Salaries for skilled workers can also be lower than the current directive allows, but must still be higher than the average income in the country where a person applies. The new rules allow national governments to approve visas if a job offers a salary that is at least 40% higher than the national average, compared to a 50% minimum rule under the current programme.
The salary threshold is supposed to prevent social dumping and keep workers from coming to the EU for poorly paying jobs, according to the European Commission.
The EU passed the blue card visa program for skilled workers from outside the EU in 2009, but had only approved 30,480 visas by 2014. Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos called the blue card “unattractive, unknown and fragmented” in June 2016. Avramopoulos proposed changes to the program in June, including a lower salary threshold, the possibility to receive a visa for jobs limited to six months and a shorter waiting period for visas. The European Commission estimated that the highest number of vacancies are in the technology and healthcare sectors. EU countries can approve visas to fit the jobs they need to fill.