Jacques Barrot welcomes the adoption of legislation on the “EU Blue Card” and on sanctions against employers of illegally staying migrant workers:
The European Union today adopted legislation that further develops its common immigration policy. In order to support Member States' and EU companies' efforts to fill gaps in their labour markets that cannot be filled by EU nationals, the so-called "Blue Card Directive" lays down attractive conditions for entry and residence of third-country nationals for highly qualified employment. At the same time, the EU is stepping up its efforts to tackle one of the main pull factors for illegal immigration, that created by employers providing illegal work. The "Employer Sanctions Directive" has been formally approved by the Council following a first-reading agreement with the European Parliament which the Parliament approved on 19 February.
"I am very glad that today we have been able to put in place two important pieces of our common immigration policy" said Vice-President Jacques Barrot, EU Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security, adding that "highly skilled migration into Europe increases our competitiveness and economic growth, and helps tackling the demographic problems resulting from our ageing population. With today's adoption of the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal that, irrespective of economic ups and downs, such migrants are always welcome in the EU. At the same time we need to do more against illegal immigration from third-countries and tackle the ease of finding illegal work in EU Member States which is a main driving force for illegal immigration. The employment of illegally staying migrants is not a trivial matter. Such migrants run a high risk of ending up in the harsh reality of exploitation and even sometimes slavery-like conditions. Illegal employment also distorts competition and the functioning of the internal market."
According to available figures, only 1.7% of the total of the employed population in the European Union are third-country highly qualified workers. With this share the EU lags behind all other main immigration countries, such as Australia (9.9%), Canada (7.3%), US (3.2%) and Switzerland (5.3%). The Directive adopted today aims at reversing this situation by introducing a special scheme ("EU Blue Card") to attract and retain on a needs-based approach more highly qualified workers from third countries. The EU Blue Card scheme will be complementary to Member States national schemes for the recruitment of highly qualified migrants, respect the principle of Community preference and not grant a "right" to admission, i.e. Member States’ right to determine the volumes of admission remains unaffected.
The EU Blue Card Directive lays down a harmonized admission procedure based on common criteria: a work contract, professional qualifications and a minimum salary level which has to be at least1.5 of the annual average wage with a possible derogation to 1.2 of the annual average wage for professions in need. Third-country nationals can apply from within or outside the European Union and successful applicantswill receive a special residence and work permit, called the "EU Blue Card", entitling them to a series of socio-economic rights and to favorable conditions for family reunification. Access to the general labour market in the first Member State is subject to restrictions for an initial period of two years after which holders of an "EU Blue Card" can move to a second Member State for highly qualified work under certain conditions. They can also benefit from much more favorable family reunification rules and acquire long-term residents status more easily. Ethical recruitment provisions have been included to limit active recruitments by Member States in developing countries already suffering from serious brain drain.
The Employer Sanctions Directive targets employers, whether companies or individuals, of illegally staying third-country workers. Under the Directive, employers will be required to undertake certain checks before recruiting a third-country national and to notify a competent national authority; simplified rules may apply to private individuals acting as employers. Employers of illegally staying workers that have not carried out the pre-recruitment check will be liable to fines and other measures such as loss of subsidies (including EU funding) or temporary disqualification from public contracts. Firms that use subcontractors can be held liable if their direct subcontractor infringes the Directive; this chain liability is further extended to the full chain of subcontractors if the firm knew about the illegal employment.Member States are required to provide for criminal penalties in five serious cases: repeated infringements, simultaneously employing a significant number of workers, particularly exploitative working conditions, knowingly using work or services exacted by a person who is a victim of human trafficking and illegally employing a minor.The Directive provides for sanctions against the employer, not the illegally staying worker. Alongside the general rules laid down in the Return Directive, illegally staying workers will under the Employer Sanctions Directive be entitled to recover any outstanding pay from their employers. Workers will be able to be assisted by third parties (such as trade unions or NGOs) to be designated by Member States. In the most serious cases, Member States will be able to grant temporary residence permits in a similar way as is already done for victims of trafficking. Ensuring that all Member States introduce similar obligations and penalties on employers, and enforce them effectively, will serve as a strong deterrent and avoid distortions on the single internal market. The Directive does not contain quantitative enforcement targets, but does require Member States to improve the quality of their inspections through mandatory risk assessments and annual reports to the Commission on their inspection efforts.