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Immigration

4. Europe’s labour shortage

Europe’s population is stagnant and its workers rapidly ageing. Some studies suggest that by 2050 one in three EU citizens will be over the age of 65 and that 20 million skilled jobs will vacant. In 2007, there were around three million unfilled jobs in Europe, according to Commission figures. While the problem has traditionally been linked to low-skilled jobs, filling jobs in high-skill sectors, such as engineering and IT, is also becoming increasingly challenging.

Managed migration has been held out as a key component in addressing the current and future dearth of skilled labour in the EU. But to date, European voters have been reluctant to espouse the option of more liberal immigration rules as a way of meeting labour needs. Older member states have yet to fully accept the principle of free movement of labour within the Union itself. The problem is a familiar one: certain countries are affected more than others, and nations like the UK are not interested in having labour migration issues decided upon by Brussels.

One solution to the growing shortage of human capital within Europe is a proposal to create an EU blue card, along the lines of the US green card or permanent resident visa. According to the proposal, unveiled in Strasbourg in October 2007, the EU would open itself to professionally qualified people from developing countries with at least two years of experience, a two-year work contract in an EU country and a salary at least three times the minimum salary in the destination country.

The proposal is not a new idea; in 2000, Germany introduced its own "green card" system to attract skilled professionals from India and Poland. The cards failed to attract sufficient talent and Germany scrapped the policy in 2005.

Blue card holders would have equal rights in all EU member countries and would not have to apply for work permits in every European country.

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