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Geopolitics

'Blue Cards' And Quotas: Europe's Search For A United Immigration System

The EU introduced its 'Blue Card' system to facilitate the arrival of qualified, non-European professionals. But only one country — Germany — really takes advantage of it.

At a Berlin train station
At a Berlin train station
Claude Fouquet

PARIS — Immigration quotas of the kind that the French government wants to implement have sparked plenty of debate over the years, but they are less common perhaps than people imagine, at least in their visible form.

Two months ago, speaking before the French National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee, Jean-Christophe Dumont, head of the OECD's International Migration Division, recalled that of the 36 members of the international organization, only nine used such a quota system. Among them are the United States, Canada, New Zealand and even Australia.

In Europe, there are two types of immigration systems depending on the case: the one set up for the EU as a whole, and the national-level systems used by certain individual member states. Both can coexist.

At the European level, the official tool that all member states use to facilitate the recruitment of skilled, non-European foreign labor is the so-called Blue Card. Its purpose is to simplify procedures for admitting candidates for immigration.

Similar to the U.S. Green Card, this is a European-wide work permit that allows highly qualified non-European citizens to work and settle in most countries of the European Union. The exceptions are Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Employers no longer need to demonstrate that they are not able to find an EU citizen for a position they seek to occupy.

But the system seems to work better in theory than in practice. Just over 30,000 of these cards were used last year, the vast majority of them in one country alone: Germany, which issued 27,241 Blue Cards, or 84.5%. France, second on the list, accounted for just 4.3% of the total. Next, are Luxembourg (2.8%), Poland (1.9%) and Italy (1.2%).

This system is compatible with the implementation of national measures to promote economic immigration. Here again, Germany is the exception that confirms the rule. While being the biggest user of this system, Berlin also adopted a series of measures this year that further facilitate the immigration of qualified non-European workers.

Simple? — Source: EU Blue Card Network

Employers no longer, for example, need to demonstrate that they are not able to find a German or other EU citizen for a position they seek to occupy. Computer experts, still highly coveted, are allowed to work in the country without training. They only need to attest to several years of experience. Skilled migrants can also come without a hiring contract for a short period to look for a job.

Since 2010, EU countries have been drawn toward the quota option

Concerning the use of quotas, several European countries already have such systems in place. They include Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, according to a 2010 report from the European Parliament. Quotas are fixed based on various procedures, either after consultation with the sectors concerned or according to more general criteria.

In Austria, the total number of work permits is capped at 8% of the active population. In Estonia, it must not exceed a certain percentage of the permanent resident population. In Slovenia, the quota is proposed by the Ministry of Labor and is set each year by taking into account the fluctuations and conditions of the labor market. The United Kingdom, for its part, uses a points system to limit the number of third-country nationals entering the country.

Since 2010, with the migrant crisis and the economic slowdown, other countries have been also drawn toward the quota option. In the Czech Republic, the European parliament has just accepted, following a proposal from the government, to amend the country's law on foreigners. The text as recently adopted makes it possible to authorize the issuance of temporary visas for certain workers and, if the need arises, to set maximum quotas for economic migrants. In addition, it has extended the list of potential beneficiaries of the program reserved for the most qualified workers. Limited so far to four countries (Ukraine, Serbia, Mongolia and Philippines) it will be extended to five others (Belarus, Montenegro, Moldova, Kazakhstan and India).

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