Regardless of whether or not you live in the US, you’ve probably heard about the Green Card. This is the highly-coveted immigration document that allows foreign nationals to permanently live and work in the United States.

Europe has long struggled to attract many highly skilled migrants, many of whom head to the United States. Much of the issue stems from the fact that the European Economic Area is comprised of the 27 European Union countries plus 3 others. Thus, anyone seeking work in the “EEA” (as opposed to a specific country) has 30 sets of immigration laws to contend with. To rectify this, the European Commission has created the Blue Card, a European version of the Green Card. This card allows highly skilled professionals to live and work in any participating country so long as they have the Blue Card. It is designed to eventually lead to permanent residency in Europe.

Naturally, there are problems.  Denmark, Ireland and the UK (of course) have elected not to participate, the latter two limiting the benefits of speaking English. Also, some lesser-developed nations, particularly in Africa, have blasted the scheme, including some branding it a new form of “colonialism”, claiming they will suffer a “brain drain” to Europe, thus losing many of their best and brightest. EEA countries that have agreed to participate in the Blue Card have expressed sympathy for this issue and are also concerned with assimilating a new wave of immigrants who use less “desirable” countries as an entry point to Europe. As a result, participating countries are permitted to limit or exclude workers entering their country under the Blue Card scheme. Sadly, this means that the “unified” labour market the Blue Card was designed to create will still not be unified.

I’ve been watching this very carefully, but the news about and implementation of this law have been spotty at best. There’s also quite a bit of conflicting information about exactly what is proposed, so I checked what the European Parliament has to say about the Blue Card, though I suspect this information is out of date too.

[A blue card] applicant must have found a job in the EU, and have at least five years’ experience in the sector concerned or a university qualification recognised by the Member State. The applicant’s contract must guarantee an income of at least 1.7 times the average gross salary in the Member State of residence …

The “blue card” would enable holders who have spent three years in a first EU country of residence to access other Member States thereafter. The card would therefore normally be valid for three years, renewable for a further two years. If a worker’s contract is for a shorter duration, then the card should be granted for the duration of the contract plus six months, say MEPs.

Of course, the Blue Card doesn’t mean you can simply move to Europe. You still have to get that first job, but you now can have much greater flexibility in where you want to go and why. For example, Bulgaria has now implemented the scheme and you will be able to work there starting June 1, 2011, assuming a suitable offer is made to you. Other participating EEA countries are required to enact Blue Card legislation by June of this year. It will be very interesting to see how this changes immigration in Europe. However, since it does little to facilitate the initial entry into Europe, I suspect it won’t have a significant impact. (Update: was I wrong about that one! So far it’s looking good.)

We have a list of European Blue Cards and their requirements for you to consider.