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Swiss unruffled by EU blue card

Around 40 per cent of executive staff in Switzerland are foreign

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Switzerland doesn't appear too concerned by the possible introduction of a European Union "blue card" – a scheme to attract skilled workers from outside Europe.

Employers and authorities in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, say they are ready for the competition of the new scheme which, if agreed by EU states, would offer candidates a fast track to obtain work permits.

Like Switzerland, the EU's population is ageing and many member states are caught up in a "war for talent".

The planned blue card - similar to the United States' green card - aims at making the EU more attractive in a battle with other western countries for qualified staff, increasingly needed to plug labour gaps.

Switzerland is experiencing a big shortage of skilled personnel especially in the technical, engineering and finance sectors and, with the economy booming, firms increasingly have to look abroad for staff to expand their ranks.

But the possible introduction of the blue card doesn't seem an immediate concern for the Swiss.

"The new foreigner law allows Swiss firms to employ highly skilled workers who are not really available on the Swiss or EU labour markets," Jonas Montani, spokesperson for the Federal Migration Office, told swissinfo.

Thomas Daum, director of the Swiss Employers Association, agrees.

"We are aware that competition exists in international labour markets over specialists and highly skilled workers. We are following the situation and checking whether the present foreigners law covers business needs," he said. "Whether the solution is a blue card remains to be seen."

Criteria to qualify

To qualify for a blue card, a migrant would need a contract for an EU job of at least a year, according to the European Union.

As is common practice in Switzerland, EU employers must prove there is no suitable candidate from one of the 27 member states for the job in question. And like the US green card, the EU scheme will operate on a points system for skills and languages, with some weight given to family ties.

The number of blue cards to be given out will be determined by the individual member states.

"Brussels cannot decide how many engineers are needed in France or Belgium," explained EU Commissioner for Freedom, Security and Justice Franco Frattini.

But the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, tried to ease concerns over possible influxes of workers.

"We are not opening the doors to 20 million skilled workers," he said.

Family reunions

Under the EU proposal, applications for a blue card should normally be dealt with within one to three months.

Cardholders would be able to have family members join them at the latest six months after submitting a request and without having to prove reasonable prospects of obtaining permanent residence.

Swiss law governs this in a similar way. Holders of a work permit are allowed to have family members join them, "which is important for the issue of integration", explained Montani.

At the moment, the EU has difficulty in attracting highly qualified immigrant workers. Highly qualified workers from outside the EU currently account for just 1.72 per cent of the total number of those employed in the EU. This compares with 9.9 per cent in Australia, 7.3 per cent in Canada, 3.2 per cent in the United States and 5.3 per cent in Switzerland.

According to a report published in September, 40 per cent of executive staff in Switzerland are foreign.

swissinfo, based on a German article by Etienne Strebel

Key facts

Foreign workers in Switzerland at the end of June 2006 (latest Federal Statistics Office figures):
Total: 850,000 – an increase of 2.4% on 2005.
Swiss workers: 3.2 million
Italians: 19% (minus 5,000 from 2005)
Western Balkans: 18.7% (minus 2,000)
Germans: 12.1% (up 10,000 or 10.6% from 2005)
Portuguese: 12.1% (up 7,000 or 7.4%)
Spanish and Greeks: 6.2%
French: 5%
Austrians: 2.3%
Others: 24.2%

end of infobox

EU Blue Card

The European Commission adopted a proposal on October 23 for a new directive concerning a special residence and work permit called the "EU Blue Card" to encourage highly qualified non-EU nationals to work in the EU. The proposal allows for a single application procedure for a single residence and work permit.

To qualify for a blue card, a migrant would need a contract for an EU job of at least a year with a salary of at least three times the local minimum wage plus health insurance.

Cardholders would be able to have family members join them at the latest six months after submitting a request and without having to prove reasonable prospects of obtaining permanent residence.

They would also be entitled to the same access to public housing and study grants although governments can choose to grant these only after a migrant has spent three years in a country.

The blue card would be valid for up to two years and could then be renewed. It could be revoked if a holder lost his or her job and was unemployed for more than three months.

The scheme needs to be agreed unanimously by EU states to become law. It faces resistance from some countries reluctant to let the EU have a say in migration policies.

end of infobox


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