The EU Blue Card is an approved EU-wide work permit that allows highly skilled non-EU citizens to work and live within any country in the European Union, other than Denmark, Ireland and the UK. It offers a one-track procedure for non-EU nationals to apply for a work permit which is valid for up to two years and which can be renewed. Those granted a Blue Card also have some rights to family reunification.
On 14 and 15 December 2006 the European Council agreed a series of steps for 2007, among which was to develop well-managed legal immigration policies. The Commission presented a proposal for a ‘Blue Card Directive’ to the Council in October 2007. In November 2008 the European Parliament delivered its opinion on such a directive. Council Directive 2009/50/EC of 25 May 2009, establishing the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment, was subsequently adopted. The term ‘third-country national’ applies to any person who is not a citizen of the Union (Art. 3 TEU). The legal basis for the directive is Article 79 TFEU. The Directive does not apply to third-country nationals who have been admitted to the protection of a Member state on the basis of a claim for asylum, refugee status, or who are researchers, family members of Union citizens, seasonal workers or have long-term residency status. Member States have until 19 June 2011 to transpose the Directive.
The rationale for the Blue Card is in its contribution to the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy, through enhancing the knowledge-based economy in Europe and through fostering mobility. The Blue Card applies to third-country nationals for stays of more than three months through a fast-track admission procedure. Successful applicants are granted the same economic rights as the nationals of host Member States. Most possess ‘higher professional qualifications’, that is ‘qualifications attested by evidence of higher education qualifications or, by way of derogation, when provided for by national law, attested by at least five years of professional experience’. Higher education qualifications require studies of at least three years (Art. 2). Blue Card holders must also be paid no less than the minimum salary level comparable with the salary levels in Member States for similar professional qualifications, which must be at least 1.5 times the average gross annual salary in the Member State concerned (Art. 5). Member States must set a standard period of validity for the card of between one and four years and, if less than a year, it must be issued or renewed for the duration of the work contract plus three months.
To be eligible for the Blue Card, an applicant must have a valid work contract or binding job offer for highly qualified employment for at least one year (Art 5). For the first two years of entry, a card holder must do the job for which the card was originally issued. After this the Member State can give the holder wider access to the European job market (Art. 12). Blue Card holders enjoy equal access to the social security rights already provided to third-country nationals who have cross-border elements between Member States. On admission under the Blue Card scheme, the holder and his/her family acquire progressive residence and mobility rights. The Blue Card is separate to any other system of national residence permits for third-country workers that the Member State might introduce.
Third-country nationals in possession of a valid travel document and a Blue Card issued by a Member State applying the Schengen Agreement in full have rights of entry and free mobility within the territory of any other Member state that also fully applies the agreement.