'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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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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