The Blue Card for skilled migrants: Why isn’t it more popular in the Netherlands?
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By 2025 almost half of all jobs in Europe will require highly skilled workers, according to figures from the European Commission. Many of these jobs will be filled by talented, highly educated foreigners who need to be authorised to live and work in Europe.
To make Europe a more attractive destination for talented professionals from outside the EU, several immigration initiatives have been implemented, among them the EU Blue Card.
The EU Blue Card
The Blue Card was intended to encourage geographic mobility between different member states of the EU. The card was expected to change labour migration in Europe by making it possible for third country workers to move between different member states for work purposes.
Unfortunately, the Blue Card has fallen short of expectations, being underused in almost all EU member states except Germany.
Elsewhere in the European Union the Blue Card has largely been deemed a failure. This is particularly true in the Netherlands, where only four cards were issued between 2012 and 2014, according to figures from Eurostat.
Why has this programme met with such little success and what is being done to improve the scheme?
Weaknesses of the Blue Card
First let’s look at what the Blue Card is. Or rather, let’s look at what the Blue Card is not. The Blue Card, unlike what the name implies, is not an EU-wide residence card that allows you to work and live in any EU member state.
There is a great deal of confusion about this, perhaps because of the impression that the Blue Card is a European version of the US Green Card.
Not a Green Card
The Green Card allows holders to live anywhere in the US, leading many to think that if they are issued a Blue Card they can live, work and/or visit any other EU country on the basis of the Blue Card.
But this is not the case - Blue Card holders must apply all over again in the new country if they want to move within the EU.
A very minimal benefit of the Blue Card is that, if your nationality requires a D visa, you will not need a visa to go to the other country and apply for the new card.
A different card per country
While the Blue Card initiative is an EU scheme, each European country implemented this EU legislation according to its own rules, requirements and additional privileges for cards issued by that country.
As a consequence, in effect there is not one EU Blue Card but rather 25 different ones (the scheme applies to all EU member states except the UK, Ireland and Denmark).
The resulting Blue Card is limited to the territory of that member state where, in most cases, it exists in parallel with the national scheme for highly skilled migrants. And therein lies the problem with the Dutch Blue Card.
The Dutch Blue Card
"In the Netherlands, the Blue Card has had absolutely no success," reports Jo Antoons, an immigration lawyer at Fragomen Worldwide in a recent interview on Dutch television station NOS. "The salary threshold is too high, the procedure is lengthy and all diplomas must be recognised."
The Highly Skilled Migrant scheme
In the Netherlands the national Highly Skilled Migrant (HSM) scheme offers far more favourable conditions. The minimum salary that an employee must earn is lower, the procedure can be as quick as two weeks for recognised employers, and document requirements are simpler.
The Blue Card vs the HSM scheme
Between the two systems the Dutch authorities prefer the national HSM scheme, and this is reflected in the numbers.
The annual report of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) and the figures of Eurostat show that in 2015 approximately 11.000 highly skilled candidates from outside of Europe took up work in the Netherlands via the national HSM scheme.
"This arrangement is a tough competitor of the European Blue Card," Maria Vincenza Desiderio, of the Migration Policy Institute Europe, told NOS in their recent report on the Blue Card. "As long as such a national system persists, the Blue Card will get no real chance."
Will the Blue Card scheme improve?
The European Commission has acknowledged that the Blue Card programme in its current form has largely been a failure.
To attract more highly-skilled foreign workers to the European Union, the Commission has recently evaluated the existing EU Blue Card scheme.
As a result of the evaluation a proposal has been adopted to improve the permit by relaxing existing eligibility provisions, improving intra-EU mobility rights of workers in the European Union and reducing processing times, among other changes.
In addition, the Commission’s proposal would oblige national authorities to issue a Blue Card and not a national permit to all applicants who fulfill the conditions of the new scheme.
The proposal was released on June 7, 2016, and the new provisions must now pass through the European Union's standard decision-making process before adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
Signs of future potential
Even if the proposed revisions are entirely accepted, the Blue Card will still not be a European-wide residence card. But there would be improved options to live and work in other EU member states on the basis of the Blue Card.
It could be more than a year before we know how much of the proposal will be adopted, what kind of interaction there will be between the Dutch Blue Card and the national HSM scheme and how or if they will continue to compete against each other.
Nevertheless, we can only hope that this will be an improvement on the current Blue Card in the Netherlands.