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The European Council last week adopted a directive aimed at facilitating conditions of entry and residence in the EU of third-country citizens for the purpose of highly qualified employment. The directive establishes more attractive conditions for third-country workers to take up highly qualified employment in the member states of the EU, by creating a fast-track procedure for issuing a special residence and work permit called the "EU Blue Card".
The EU Blue Card is supposed to facilitate access to the labor market to their holders and will entitle them to a series of socio-economic rights and favorable conditions for family reunification and movement across the EU. The directive determines the common criteria to be set by the EU member states for applicants of the EU Blue Card without prejudice to more advantageous conditions provided for by national laws.
The period of validity of the EU Blue Card will be between one and four years, with possibility of renewal. The EU Blue Card may also be issued or renewed for shorter periods in order to cover the work contract period plus three months. After eighteen months of legal residence in the first member state as an EU Blue Card holder, the person concerned and his family members may move, under certain conditions, to a member state other than the first member state for the purpose of highly qualified employment.
Under the rules set by the new directive, EU Blue Card holders are supposed to enjoy equal treatment with nationals of the member state issuing the Blue Card, as regards to working conditions, including pay and dismissal; freedom of association; education, training and recognition of qualifications; a number of provisions in national law regarding social security and pensions; access to goods and services, including procedures for obtaining housing, information and counseling services; and free access to the entire territory of the member state concerned within the limits provided for by national law.
Following its publication in the Official Journal of the EU, the member states will have two years to incorporate the new provisions into their domestic legislation.
The new rules are part of the EU's economic efforts plan. The Hague Program, adopted by the European Council on 4 and 5 November 2004, recognized that legal migration will play an important role in enhancing the knowledge-based economy in Europe, advancing economic development, and thus contributing to the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy. The European Council then invited the Commission to present a policy plan on legal migration, including admission procedures, capable of responding promptly to fluctuating demands for migrant labor in the labor market. The European Council of 14 and 15 December 2006 agreed on a series of steps for 2007, among which to develop well-managed legal immigration policies, fully respecting national competences, to assist Member States in meeting existing and future labor needs.
To achieve the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, the EU thought to foster the mobility within the Union of highly qualified workers who are Union citizens, in particular those from the Member States which acceded in 2004 and 2007. In implementing this directive, EU member states are bound to respect the principle of EC preference as expressed, in particular, in the relevant provisions of the Acts of Accession of 2003 and 2005.
The directive is intended to contribute to achieving these goals and addressing labor shortages by fostering the admission and mobility - for the purposes of highly qualified employment - of third-country nationals for stays of more than three months, in order to make the EC more attractive to such workers from around the world and sustain its competitiveness and economic growth. The EU realized that in order to reach its goals, it is necessary to facilitate the admission of highly qualified workers and their families by establishing a fast-track admission procedure and by granting them equal social and economic rights as nationals of the host member state in a number of areas. It is also necessary to take into account the priorities, labor market needs and reception capacities of the member states.
This directive is without prejudice subject to the competence of the member states to maintain or to introduce new national residence permits for any purpose of employment. The directive asserts that third-country nationals concerned should have the possibility to apply for an EU Blue Card or for a national residence permit. The directive is not intended to affect the possibility for an EU Blue Card holder to enjoy additional rights and benefits which may be provided by national law, and which are compatible with this directive.
The author is the head of the International Department at GSCB Law Firm.