Approximately 55% of university-degree-holding emigrants who leave their country choose to go to the United States, while only 5% go to the European Union despite the fact that it has 27 member states. Conversely, 85% of immigrants to the European Union have no higher education whatsoever.

In an attempt to turn this situation around, the European Union adopted a directive[1] on May 25, 2009 setting the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employment. The goal of this directive is to create a "European blue card" to compete with the American "green card." The United Kingdom and Ireland were not involved in the adoption process of this directive, and are therefore not subject to its implementation. The other member states, however, must adopt legislative and regulatory enforcement measures no later than by June 19, 2011.

Title III, chapter II of the bill on immigration, integration and nationality proposed by the French government to the French parliament on May 31, 2010, is devoted to "temporary residence permits bearing the name 'European blue card.'"

Even if the intended goal of the directive is to speed up the issuance of residence and work permits and to promote greater mobility inside the European Union, the European directive gives each member state many options. As a result, there will really be 27 "European blue cards," making them less attractive than the American "green card."

Where highly qualified employment is concerned, the European Union's new "blue card" will allow for:

  • quick and easy access to the European Union's labour market;
  • improved conditions for family reunification and access to work for spouses of card holders;
  • equal treatment with nationals;
  • professional mobility within the European Union after 18 months of residence in the first member state.

This new legal framework will likely interest international groups for the mobility it will afford their officers and senior management and the resulting impact on their development in the European Union.

In its current version of the bill, the French government has tried to attract highly qualified individuals by selecting the most liberal options of the directive. The "European blue card" will, in the context of the tabled bill, have the following advantages over other French residence permits:

  • maximum period to issue the permit: 90 days;
  • the employment situation within the country cannot be given as grounds for refusing a card;
  • the welcome and integration contract is waived;
  • waiver of the family reunification procedure;[2]
  • 1 to 3 year term;
  • "private and family life" card automatically granted to spouse and children as a matter of right;
  • card remains in force until the end of its term, even in cases of involuntary unemployment;
  • easier access to "EC long-term resident" card;
  • mobility inside Europe after 18 months.

A migrant who would like to obtain a "European blue card" in France must:

  • hold a work contract for highly qualified employment with a term of at least 1 year;
  • hold a degree representing at least three years of study at the graduate or post-graduate level, or at least 5 years of equivalent experience; and
  • command a salary that is at least 1.5 times the average gross annual salary.[3]

A close eye should be kept on how the other member states will choose to implement the "European blue card" directive and to see whether they can achieve a uniformity of sorts, because harmonization is key to competing with the U.S. "green card."