European Union Blue Card — New Rules for Highly Skilled Migrant Workers
By Sara Sousa Rebolo, Portugal Immigration Lawyer
The EU Blue Card is a residence title that gives highly-qualified workers from outside the EU the right to live and work in an EU country, provided they have higher professional qualifications, such as a university degree and an employment contract or a binding job offer in the country where the job position is. The EU Blue Card applies in 25 of the 27 EU countries, and amongst them Portugal.
Who is eligible?
To apply for a Blue Card, the applicant must:
- Prove to have higher professional qualifications, by showing a higher education qualification (such as a university degree). Some Member States may also accept at least five years of relevant professional experience;
- Have a valid work contract or binding job offer for a highly qualified employment with a duration of at least 1 year;
- Meet the minimum salary threshold in the Member State concerned (in Portugal this corresponds to €665.00);
- For regulated professions: present documents proving that the national legal requirements are met;
- For unregulated professions: present documents proving that the relevant higher professional qualifications are met;
- Present the necessary travel documents;
- Present a proof of health insurance (or a proof of having applied for it);
- In addition, the applicant must not be a threat in the view of the country for which he or she is applying.
After the 2009 Blue Card Directive (Council Directive 2009/50/EC) had been evaluated as not been sufficiently successful in attracting highly skilled migrants into the EU, the European Commission decided to revise and improve it.
So, on 7 June 2016, the Commission presented an action plan to support Member States in the integration of third-country nationals and their economic and social contribution to the EU, as well as a legislative proposal to reform the Blue Card scheme.
The aim of the revised EU Blue Card scheme is to make it easier and more attractive for highly skilled third-country nationals to come and work in the EU, thus supporting European businesses in attracting qualified and talented people from around the world. Improvements include, inter alia, less stringent admissions criteria such as lower salary thresholds and shorter required length of work contracts, better family reunification conditions, facilitated mobility, and the abolishment of parallel national schemes.
The 2020 New Pact on Migration and Asylum stresses the importance of completing the unfinished work on the directive and states that the Council and the Parliament should conclude negotiations on the file.
With these objectives in mind, the following changes were agreed to take place
- The EU Blue Card is now accessible for more people, since the salary threshold will be reduced between 1 and 1.6 times the average gross annual salary, and the minimum duration for a contract of employment will also be reduced to 6 months — instead of a year;
- The new rules also facilitate the recognition of professional skills for occupations in the information and communication technologies sector, and applicants with professional experience equivalent to a higher education qualification in some specific sectors will also be eligible to apply;
- During the first 12 months, EU Blue Card holders only need to complete a new labour market test if they wish to change position or employer. Solely after this period, EU Blue Card holders may be subject to an obligation to notify a change in their situation to the relevant national authorities;
- Highly skilled beneficiaries of international protection will be eligible to apply for an EU Blue Card;
- To attract and retain highly skilled workers from outside the EU, family members of EU Blue Card holders will be able to accompany them and access the EU labour market (although a labour market test may still be carried out before giving access);
- The EU Blue Card holders and their family members will be able to move to a second Member State based on simplified mobility rules after 12 months of employment in the first Member State. Also, periods of time spent working in a different Member State will be taken into account, facilitating easier access to the EU long-term resident status;
- Finally, to increase the popularity of the new scheme and to address the inconsistencies in the previous scheme, the revision proposes to abolish parallel national schemes.
Important notes with regards to Portugal
Some Member States apply a Labour Market Test (LMT). This is a mechanism that aims to ensure that migrant workers are only admitted after employers have unsuccessfully searched for national workers, EU citizens (in EU Member States this also means EEA workers), or legally residing third-country nationals with access to the labour market according to national legislation. Portugal does not apply a labour market test, which is a plus, since it makes it easier to obtain the EU Blue Card.
Also, the standard period of validity of the EU Blue card in Portugal is one year. The EU Blue Card is initially issued for a period of one year and it can be renewed for two years at a time.
Regarding the next steps for the changes in the EU Blue Card
The European Parliament and the Council still need to formally confirm this political agreement by adopting the EU Blue Card Directive. Once the Directive is formally adopted, Member States will have 2 years to transpose the rules into national law.
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