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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Unveils Plans for 'Blue Card' Program

BRUSSELS -- The European Union unveiled plans Tuesday for Europe's biggest global job-advertising blitz and set up a visa program, styled after the U.S. "Green Card," to lure skilled workers to fill gaps across the 27-nation union.

The plan aims to "improve the EU's ability to attract and, where necessary, retain," international professionals like doctors, nurses, engineers and information technology workers from abroad in a large-scale effort to fill ever growing shortages of skilled jobs across the EU, through a new fast-track "Blue Card" worker visa program, the EU said.

"We are not good enough at attracting highly skilled people," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who along with Franco Frattini, EU commissioner in charge of immigration issues, presented the plan.

Barroso said the visa plan would offer highly qualified job seekers a simpler way to get a job within the European Union and, if approved by EU governments, would do away with about 20 different complex national procedures to get residence and work permits.

The measures would seek to lure professionals from across Asia, Africa and Latin America to work and live in the European Union.

Frattini said the EU at the moment was way behind other Western nations and economic rivals like the United States, Australia and Canada in attracting skilled labor.

He pointed to EU statistics which showed that highly qualified non-EU workers accounted for only 0.9 percent of all workers in the EU, compared with 9.9 percent in Australia, 7.3 percent in Canada and 3.5 percent in the United States.

"These figures show very clearly that, for the highly skilled workers, Europe is not very attractive and this is the reason why we have decided to launch this proposal, which I am sure is going to make the European Union somewhat more attractive," Frattini said.

The EU justice and interior affairs chief has been drafting the plan for years, but he has faced opposition from EU governments that do not want Brussels to set immigration standards.

Under the plan, migrants would be able to use a fast-track application, asking for a single work and residence permit valid for a renewable two-year work visa. Those who get the Blue Card would have the right to social and other employment benefits enjoyed by EU citizens and would, after an initial two-year freeze, be able to move to another EU state if they find another job there.

The European Commission has called for EU action to set up the system, arguing that the union's working-age population will shrink by more than 50 million by 2050, leaving widespread shortages in key sectors.

The EU argues that there is an urgent need to boost the number of immigrants in the union, warning that only a steady influx of newcomers will offset the impact of low birth rates and a graying population.

Germany has already tried to attract high-tech workers, while Britain and the Netherlands have tried to attract nurses and doctors from Africa and Asia.