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Blue card

May 25, 2009

The European Union has approved a new 'blue card' worker visa program as a way to attract highly skilled labor to fill growing job gaps across the 27-nation bloc.

Group of illegal immigrants wrapped in blankets
Illegal immigrants with no skills face tougher times in EuropeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The plan would offer skilled workers a single multi-year visa to work and move freely throughout the European Union, similar to the American green card permit.

Ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday also adopted a set of common standards and sanctions against employers who hire illegal foreign immigrants. These include making it mandatory for businesses to ensure that non-EU workers hold a valid residence permit and that a copy of such permits be kept on record should inspectors demand to see it.

EU-wide penalties would consist of fines, which would increase according to the number of illegally employed foreigners, and the possible exclusion of guilty businesses from accessing public funds or taking part in public tenders.

New rules designed to end abuses

On the other hand, signing up to the Blue Card scheme would give foreign workers limited social welfare rights and benefits, and allow them to bring in their families while they work in an EU country.

The new rules are designed to end abuses by unscrupulous employers who hire illegal immigrants and then pay them sub-standard wages under poor working conditions.

The European Commission's far more ambitious initial proposal was watered down significantly by national governments, which insisted that it should be up to them to decide how many migrants should enter their countries and what qualifications eligible workers should have.

Three EU members - Britain, Ireland and Denmark - are not participating in the Blue Card program, preferring instead to set their own guidelines.


Editor: Susan Houlton

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